Fernando Alonso, McLaren, Silverstone, 2018

Why Silverstone’s new DRS zone ‘didn’t help’

2018 British Grand Prix

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Formula 1 cars are producing more downforce and lapping faster than ever before. But that increase performance has made it harder for drivers to follow each other closely and overtake.

The problem will be addressed in the long-term by new regulations currently under discussion for 2021. A medium-term remedy is also planned: a revised aerodynamics package has been agreed for the 2019 F1 season.

Until then the sport has fallen back on DRS, its sticking-plaster fix introduced seven years ago, as a short-term means of helping drivers to overtake. Last weekend Silverstone became the latest track to add a third DRS zone.

However the reaction to the new zone, which ran through the high-speed Abbey and Farm corners (turns one and two), was mixed at best. FIA race director Charlie Whiting, who has championed DRS, admitted he was disappointed in the results.

“The idea was that drivers might get a little bit closer than they would have done otherwise and therefore be in a better position to attack on the straights on turns five [Aintree] and six [Brooklands],” he said after the race. “I don’t think it actually helped.”

The main problem with the new zone was that even the quickest cars couldn’t commit to tackling it flat-out with DRS open. Asked by RaceFans before the race whether it would be possible to follow another car through Abbey with DRS open on full fuel tanks, Valtteri Bottas revealed it hadn’t been possible in qualifying trim.

“We couldn’t even do it with low fuel, alone, with DRS open,” he said. “We had to close it for maybe one second.”

Red Bull had enough downforce to tackle Abbey flat-out with DRS open from the start of the weekend. However they were forced to trim back their wing levels for the race because of their lack of straight-line speed, which meant the corner was no longer flat-out for them too.

The drivers in the midfield teams quickly sussed there was no way they could keep DRS open through Abbey. Pierre Gasly was one who tried.

“I had a massive snap right in the middle and went wide,” he said after qualifying. “From all the midfield no one managed to do it.”

“At turn one I switched it off a really short time. I turned in, and before the apex switched off, and then just past the apex I switched it on because there is a bump still there. Just on the bump I switched it off and then opened it again after.”

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In the race, drivers are only allowed to use DRS in the zone when they are within a second of another car. However the loss of downforce associated with running close to a rival, plus the extra weight of fuel compared to qualifying, severely restricted how much DRS could be used through turns one and two. Marcus Ericsson’s high-speed crash when he failed to close DRS while following Sergio Perez indicated the risks involved.

There was another reason why drivers avoided using DRS at this point on the track. As Pirelli’s sporting director Mario Isola pointed out, using DRS through high-speed corners increased the risk of sliding and damaging the tyres.

Sebastian Vettel, Ferrari, Silverstone, 2018
Vettel made his race-winning pass with DRS
“With the DRS if you slide more on the rear there is the risk of overheating,” he said. “And here in general the average temperature of the tyre is quite high because the level of energy of the fast corners we have in Silverstone are putting a lot of energy.

“With this weather obviously you have an average temperature that is quite high. If on top of that you are sliding a little bit you increase the surface temperature.”

So the only drivers that had a chance of using DRS at this point on the track were those with an abundance of downforce and no concerns over tyre wear. Fortunately for Sebastian Vettel, that was the situation he found himself in at the end of the race while trying to pass Valtteri Bottas for the win.

In the laps prior to his decisive move, Vettel was able to open DRS as he rounded Farm for several laps in a row. This helped bring him close enough to mount his successful attack on Bottas at Brooklands.

So while the new DRS zone may not have helped most of the field most of the time, it arguably played a role in the most significant move of the race. Should it therefore be considered a success or a failure?

Perhaps the more pertinent question is whether DRS should exaggerate the performance advantage of the front-running cars over the midfield, as it clearly did at Silverstone.

This may turn out to be a moot point, however. In 12 months’ time the cars are expected to have considerably less downforce. If the new DRS zone is still there, perhaps none of them will be able to use it. Alternatively, if the revised 2019-specification front wings do what they’re supposed to, perhaps it won’t be needed to begin with.

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Quotes: Dieter Rencken

2018 F1 season

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Keith Collantine
Lifelong motor sport fan Keith set up RaceFans in 2005 - when it was originally called F1 Fanatic. Having previously worked as a motoring...

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16 comments on “Why Silverstone’s new DRS zone ‘didn’t help’”

  1. I doubt it really made a difference in the end. I think Seb’s passing move on Bottas into Brooklands that eventually proved to be decisive for the race win would’ve happened even if DRS weren’t activatable on the S/F straight.

    1. @jerejj Vettel went (alt least once) through turn 1 with DRS opened when chasing Bottas. I don’t know if he did it just before he overtook Bottas, because the camera switched to Verstappen. But it’s likely that he did (since he was able to), so the extra DRS-zone likely contributed to the decisive overtake for victory.

      1. @matthijs Yes, but the overtaking move itself occurred into Brooklands that is preceded by a separate activation zone, so long after Abbey or T1, which means that even if he did keep DRS activated through T1 it still wouldn’t have had a direct impact on the Wellington straight activation zone as he still wouldn’t have had it activated through turns 3 (Village) and 4 (Loop). The point is that even without DRS on the S/F straight he still would’ve been able to stay close enough through Abbey, and into Village, and subsequently at the start of the Wellington straight to be able to pass into Brooklands.

        1. @jerejj The way I read the article is that the DRS at the finish straight was supposed to increase the overtakes in Brooklands. If Vettel used it, the extra DRS (may have) worked.

          The idea was that drivers might get a little bit closer than they would have done otherwise and therefore be in a better position to attack on the straights on turns five [Aintree] and six [Brooklands]

  2. The reason Vettel got past Bottas was that Bottas’ tyres were worn out. Vettel went almost 2.5s quicker after passing Bottas. That huge a delta should be plenty to pas an F1 car even without DRS.

    All three cars (Vettel, Hamilton and Raikkonen) went past him pretty easily when his tyres really started to give up.

    Ricciardo was 8 tenths if not a full second slower, so he didn’t have enough of a delta. Plus besides the power deficit he set up his the car to be quicker through the corners and therefore was slower on the straight.

  3. I think it shows that just because you can have more DRS doesn’t mean that you should have more DRS.

  4. It’s good that they’re trying it none-the-less I think. I’m not sure which seasons had it where you could open it whenever you wanted in qualifying, but I remember playing the F1 game in a co-op multiplayer season that year and it was definitely exciting in practice to learn and see which corners you could be game enough to tackle with DRS open.

    Just hearing the drivers talk about being challenged and maybe being able to take the corner with DRS open and having that risk/reward component is exciting to me. I think the risk of higher tyre wear or in worst cast a spin going off track is a good one, as long as it could guaranteed produce a faster lap time and the reward is worth that risk then it can only be a good thing…

    1. Just hearing the drivers talk about being challenged and maybe being able to take the corner with DRS open and having that risk/reward component is exciting to me.

      @skipgamer – I agree, nicely put. The number of drivers who made errors due to DRS deployment this weekend was noticeable (“I closed it a little too late”, “My finger slipped off the button”, etc.), and I like what it represents – rewarding drivers & cars capable of keeping DRS open for that little bit longer, and punishing those who go too far. If only RBR had the horsepower to run their Friday setup, it could have made things even more interesting.

      1. As much as I despise DRS, I think the DTM have the best solution. Limited “laps” of DRS, which can be used 3 times per lap at any point. It was really dull watching LH come through the field, as indeed it is when any of the top 3 cars have to do the same. The passes are all a foregone conclusion as soon as they get close. If LH had to hang on to some of his DRS “laps” for the end of the race, while most of the passes would still be easy, at least they would have to be done on the brakes into the corner, rather than simply driving past. Also we would get to see who has the stones to risk using the DRS in unconventional places.

        1. @hollidog ”The passes are all a foregone conclusion as soon as they get close”
          – Yeah, but that’s due to the significant pace advantage the top-3 cars have over the rest rather than DRS, and besides most of Hamilton’s passing moves into corners preceded by DRS activation zones were completed in the braking zone rather than halfway down the straight.

          1. @jerejj I don’t disagree, and to be honest I don’t recall each of LH’s overtakes at the weekend, such was the mundaneness of the “comeback”. But it was not just last race that this happened, remember Paul Ricard, SV did the same thing there. Surely you agree a non DRS overtake is more exciting than a DRS overtake, even if that car is almost guaranteed to go by anyway? If they can’t get past without it, they have to tactically decide whether its worth using up the “lap” of DRS to get through when it may be needed at the end of the race to attempt a pass on a car in its own class.

    2. Up to 2013, wasn’t it? I specially remember the blown diffuser era, Red Bull generated so much downforce that they were the only team capable of going through Blanchimont in Spa, or 130R in Suzuka flat out with DRS open.

    3. Completely agree. Regardless of its impact on overtaking (and really, we saw a lot of great overtaking anyway in this race), it added a very welcome element of intrigue.

  5. Brendan Queenan
    11th July 2018, 7:47

    There was plenty of overtaking in the race so the DRS worked from that point of view. I would again say if anything they were still too easy so should be limited more. Sebs final move on Bottas was DRS nothing more and nothing less. Yes he had to out brake him… big deal he was on really really old tyres with 10mph speed advantage due to DRS. For me that is nothing to get excited about.

    Without DRS we would of had a great battle of a car on old tyres defending against a driver with fresh tyres but worried out losing championship lead. The perfect and fair game of chess on a race track I think most of us want to see.

    Finally I am still confused why Charlie is still in F1.

  6. If the majority of people reaaaly want overtaking like in the superbikes then I wonder if increasing the DRS activation to 2 or even three seconds would not give them this. If you can have DRS while being three seconds behind then you will be saving fuel? You would not hurt your tyres and should be able to attack with success after a number of laps of saving fuel. This may in theory cause a game of cat and mouse where you would not want to be the lead car until the very end of the race, so you might let someone pass you at the start or middle of the race as it is more beneficial to be behind them.

  7. We should either drop DRS all together or allow the following driver to operate in every corners instead of straights. Differentiate drivers’ bravery and skill of operating the car at unpredictable corner limit is the pioint of racing.

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