Lewis Hamilton, Mercedes, Baku City Circuit, 2023

F1 drivers blame shortened DRS zone for lack of overtaking in Baku

2023 Azerbaijan Grand Prix

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Formula 1 drivers questioned the decision to shorten the DRS zone on the main straight after struggling to overtake each other during the Azerbaijan Grand Prix.

The FIA announced at the beginning of the year it would review the configuration of the zones used at the first five rounds on the 2023 F1 calendar. It did so based on overtaking data it obtained last year, when it introduced new technical regulations devised by F1 aimed at making it easier for drivers to follow each other.

The DRS zone on the start-finish straight in Baku was shortened by 100 metres compared to last year. However following last weekend’s grand prix and sprint race several drivers said overtaking had been too difficult.

“They shortened the DRS this year down the straight,” said Lewis Hamilton. “I don’t quite know why they did that, we’ve always had great racing with where the DRS was. But by the time you switch the DRS, it was too late.”

Lando Norris said he found it “pretty much impossible to overtake” during the race. “Especially with our straight-line speed. It’s not helped by how much shorter the DRS is now compared to where it was last year.”

The decision to shorten the DRS zone was a point of discussion before the race began, said Norris. “All the drivers questioned it in the drivers’ briefing.”

Some drivers said overtaking has become more difficult in the second year since F1’s new aerodynamic regulations were introduced. “It certainly didn’t make any sense that they made it shorter, because the cars are harder to follow this year with the rule changes,” said Kevin Magnussen.

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“Also just the cars getting more complex and the involvement in aerodynamics is causing it to be harder to follow. So if anything, it should be the same or even longer.”

Logan Sargeant also believes F1 and the FIA should rethink the decision to shorten DRS zones.

“You can’t do much,” said the Williams drivers. “You get stuck behind the cars in front. It’s really difficult to overtake and get close enough. I just kind of had to settle in and just race my race – it was a pretty lonely one unfortunately.”

“For starters [they should], extend the DRS zones as they were last year. We’ve been making them shorter and shorter, 100 metres shorter this year compared to last year in Baku and just makes it too difficult to make a move at the end of the straight.”

Not everyone was convinced the change to the DRS zone was to blame after two largely processional races in Baku. “I’m not sure that 100 metres more DRS would have made a difference,” said Mercedes team principal Toto Wolff. “Maybe just.”

However before the weekend began his driver George Russell, who is also a director of the Grand Prix Drivers Association, had raised concerns about the decision to shorten the DRS zone and the lack of consultation around it.

“The overtaking is harder this year than it’s been last year,” said Russell in response to a question from RaceFans. “As the cars have evolved away from the initial regulations that F1 introduced, overtaking has become more difficult.

“Obviously they’re shortening all the DRS zones as well, which the drivers have had zero input on, and been a little bit disappointed again that we weren’t in that loop to hear that because I’m not even sure the FIA are aware that we feel that the overtaking is harder, yet they’re basing the DRS off historic information.”

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2023 Azerbaijan Grand Prix

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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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    37 comments on “F1 drivers blame shortened DRS zone for lack of overtaking in Baku”

    1. Hilarious

    2. As I pointed out before, shortening Baku’s S/F straight activation zone was at least more justifiable than Sakhir’s equivalent straight, given no easy-looking passes have happened on the latter, regularly or occasionally, not even in last season’s Bahrain GP, but still, shortening for the sake of shortening is somewhat pointless, especially as following is seemingly slightly harder than last season.
      Miami Autodrome also didn’t feature easy-looking passes on the back straight in the thus far only Miami GP, so shortening that straight’s zone (if that happens) would also be redundant.
      Toto’s point is also good, but FIA should generally listen to drivers more on this matter.
      From the remaining circuits, I expect shorter activation zone for at least Montreal’s back straight (occasionally easy-looking passes like on Baku’s longest full-throttle section) & Kemmel straight, the latter which would be the only truly justifiable one from the entire race calendar, or alternatively an experiment of not using DRS on that straight in the sprint would be good.

    3. Crazy solution – how about they just create better technical regs that lead strictly to better racing cars?

      1. couldntstopmyself
        1st May 2023, 10:22

        The had ‘better technical regs’ last year, but FIA then decided that rather than let them race, they should all raise their cars, and undid a lot of the progress.

        1. Except that this year’s technical regs are identical, bar mandating a very slightly different floor and higher ride height.
          And how often was the actual on-track racing better last year? Not very – as far as I can remember.

        2. couldntstopmyself
          1st May 2023, 11:12

          A further play on words: give them Skirts rather than DReSses.

      2. I could not agree more. DRS overtakes are not racing and are bad for Formula 1 both as a sport and as a show. If cars can not overtake without it, that just means the cars need to be fixed, not that they need more DRS.

        Actually, I think each of the last three races has been ruined by DRS, as first Alonso of Aston Martin, then Hamilton of Mercedes, then Leclerc of Ferrari, led initially but couldn’t defend their position and the Red Bulls breezed past with just a press of the button. DRS has simply got to go.

      3. Good luck designing a set of technical regulations that don’t dramatically reduce the performance of the cars. DRS is not a good thing, I hate it with every fibre in my body, but we now have ‘expectations’ the need to be met for passes. You can design technical regs that make the cars follow easier and this also includes a re-think on tyres too, but to guarantee it you might be shaving off seconds off, and a lot of them. This means F1, to maintain it’s clear dominance within the FIA’s hierarchy, requires other motorsports to potentially see their cars pegged back too. F1 doesn’t exist in pure isolation.

        This really isn’t an easy process to get right.

        1. As is inevitable when DRS has been around for 12 years, everything is now designed around it. The cars are designed expecting to use DRS, and the new tracks are designed for DRS passes. And new fans now expect overtaking to be easy. And drivers now expect to be able to overtake easily and with no skill required because of DRS.

          All of this is a problem and it is far easier to rectify by banning DRS now and trying to correct those problems under a set of rules without DRS. Right now the mentality seems to be looking at a race with DRS and thinking, ‘if there was no DRS, overtaking today would be too difficult,’ and with this mentality, it will never go.

          1. As is inevitable when DRS has been around for 12 years, everything is now designed around it. The cars are designed expecting to use DRS, and the new tracks are designed for DRS passes. And new fans now expect overtaking to be easy. And drivers now expect to be able to overtake easily and with no skill required because of DRS.

            Agree with all of that EXCEPT what you say ‘fans’ expect.
            Viewers don’t want or expect easy overtakes, IMO – but they do want and expect overtakes to be possible most of the time throughout an event. The option must be available to competitors, and the current cars only really allow that through DRS for all the reasons you describe.

            F1 won’t remove DRS even a little bit until they decide they absolutely don’t want it any more, years prior to a major rule change. The only way it won’t be relied on is when it isn’t even a design consideration.

        2. Good luck designing a set of technical regulations that don’t dramatically reduce the performance of the cars.

          But that’s the point – the cars are too fast to be good racing cars. They affect the air (and the air affects them) far too much.
          Slow the cars down, and the problem shrinks proportionally with the reduced speed. Make the cars physically smaller and simpler, and the problem, equally, becomes smaller and simpler.
          It’s really not that hard to make huge improvements without fundamentally changing what F1 stands for.

          F1 isn’t just about being the fastest – in fact I’d suggest that being the fastest isn’t even really all that important at all. The main point of F1 is that the teams build their own cars to whatever regulations they are given.
          If the regulations lead to cars that can’t race each other consistently well, then they are the wrong regulations.

          Who would really care if they went 5 seconds per lap slower? They’d still be the fastest even then, anyway.

          1. S, I really agree with every word of this. Being ultra fast doesn’t necessarily lead to good racing. OK I don’t think anyone would want F1 to be a lot slower than other formats but things would adjust over time.

          2. Agree, Mr S!

            Simpler, smaller, actual racing cars would be preferable to these awkward aero-panel-vans. However, Liberty/FIA can’t risk dropping the stop-gap DRS feature until…. the end of time.

    4. There had to be an experiment to shorten the DRS zone because unchanged zones (and in fact increased zones as we’ve seen) are a tacit admission the new regulations have failed in their stated goal. It’s really an impossible scenario for F1. Once they entered the concept of designing technical regulations to satisfy a very hard to execute predetermined goal they entered a realm of nightmarish doom-loops.

      I wasn’t convinced last year’s cars were much better, but at least observationally the new raised floor regs have created cars which are almost indistinguishable from F1’s worst era for dirty air racing. I’ve just loaded up some races from 2004, and the cars are following round Imola around .7-1 second, which is arguably better than now. It does seem that way. Has to be said the cars look and sound fantastic, and with the refueling it’s nice to see that even if overtaking was minimal they were absolutely lit up speed wise.

      Obviously tyres seem to be a factor as well. The problem is that without the big drop off the Pirellis sometimes produce you don’t get the time differential required for a pass to occur. But to get tyres that produce that, there are susceptible to getting mullered in a following closely scenario.

      The ‘fix’ for F1 requires a radical change in motorsport in general. To get the result the F1 stated they wanted (Brawn said removal of DRS was a goal) probably requires a removal of wings from F1 cars, or at least a dramatic reduction. For F1 to remain comfortably the fastest speed wise, then the FIA might need to mandate changes in almost every other form of major car racing competition. This is why the solution to this is way more gargantuan that some realise.

      1. Once they entered the concept of designing technical regulations to satisfy a very hard to execute predetermined goal they entered a realm of nightmarish doom-loops.

        It’s not that hard. Other series manage to do it just fine, at a fraction of F1’s budget. Raising the cars at Mercedes’ behest and failing to control the increased outwash has significantly diminished the 2022 concept for 2023, both by reducing the effectiveness of the floor and increasing the amount of disturbed air around the cars.

        Obviously tyres seem to be a factor as well.

        Indeed, the tyres should be a non-factor. That means making them slightly harder, but that’s no big deal. F1 tyres are among the softest in motorsport. Some of them last like 20 minutes at best. It’s silly.

        1. What series has achieved it? WEC has BOP so not comparable. IndyCar is single-make chassis so not comparable. I can’t think of another series that is in a similar position to F1. It needs to maintain a very high performance level to differentiate it and has multiple-manufacturers who will all but ignore the ‘intent’ of the regulations (not a bad thing btw).

          I think the ride height issue might be a red-herring. All the warning signs were there last year. The races were heavily dependent on DRS. I think it’s likely we’d still face the same issues this year with no changes.

          1. The WEC has BoP now. It didn’t throughout the LMP1 era. And while that had problems of its own, the raceability of the cars was not one of them.

            The performance F1 has is not a challenge to engineers. The difficulty is in finding that performance within the very restrictive regulations. They could easily be made much faster, just like Porsche taking the muzzle off their 919 instantly made them faster than F1 cars around a track like Spa-Francorchamps, even without much effort in terms of practise or favourable weather conditions.

            The BoP the WEC has introduced for LMH/LMDh is actually quite clever, as it starts with a set of performance guidelines that a team cannot exceed. Hence the very different aerodynamic solutions chosen between the teams; they’re all easily reaching that limit. Only then does the FIA/ACO tinker with the performance a bit to keep everyone somewhat similar. F1 has taken the opposite approach, promising unlimited performance but trying to keep it under control with ever more complex regulations.

      2. @Alan Dove Well-put & COTD-worthy. The situation is indeed difficult for FIA & F1 to find a solution that pleases everyone, not to mention wouldn’t unfairly penalize other major circuit-racing categories only to keep F1 the fastest overall, etc.
        In hindsight, the 15mm floor edge raise has proved somewhat unideal for racing quality.
        Of course, the safety argument was used for this alteration within stable technical regs.

        1. Too many grammatical errors for COTD worthiness :) I am terrible for that kind of stuff!

          I think the ride height change might be a red-herring though. I think there were warning signs last year of what was going to happen this year. The cars could follow a little closer, but the sport was still heavily reliant upon DRS. It wasn’t a dramatic change. Naturally we were going to get a raft of aero improvements on the cars this year so with unchanged regulations, who knows where we’d be. I am not convinced it’d be a materially better position.

          1. I understand I am contradicting my initial post about ride-heights, but yeah, on retrospection I am not convinced

        2. couldntstopmyself
          1st May 2023, 11:23

          Of course, the safety argument was used for this alteration within stable technical regs.

          The argument was used, but it was red-herring (as Alan argues above); the FIA already had the perfect tool: measuring and limiting the maximum vertical oscillation based on the doctor’s advice.
          The ride height was never a problem; the problems was that (some) car designers couldn’t (or rather: didn’t want to) keep the porpoising under control.

    5. So tinkering with rules for the sake of porpoising had detrimental effects, as was predicted by the students from the technical forum.
      You’d think the FIA would learn some lessons from mistakes made in the past. They simply refuse to learn.

      1. It’s an argument. Not all cars suffered badly with porpoising last year. Maybe the FIA reply should have been, well go away and redesign your cars until porpoising stops. This is probably an oversimplification but we get the idea.

      2. After the first few races there was no longer any real problem with porpoising last year as team adjusted their setups.

        There was a problem with the Mercedes W13. Thankfully, this season it’s all diff… oh wait, never mind.

        How the FIA made that puzzle fit is anyone’s guess, though one assumes they had reasons.

    6. Congratulations to the FIA. The decision to lift the cars floor for “”””safety reason””” compromised the ground effect and related advantages.

    7. If the drivers are bored just trundling around waiting for the DRS zone, why should we bother to watch them?

      Can’t blame the Red Bull drivers for using their superpower, but you’d think a Haas or Williams driver stuck in the dreaded train would think more creatively (or maybe that’s why they are driving for Williams or Haas.)

      Alonso and one or two others made moves before DRS was activated. Proper, risky, exciting racing passes. Is that just cold tyres? Surely drivers can apply pressure, elsewhere in the lap, throughout the race. It seems like they’re not even trying. That’s a big part of the argument for taking away DRS altogether.

      1. + 1. I agree. It’s about driving the car to the best of their ability. Not driving around the circuit according to how fast your car is and waiting for DRS to do the rest. Maybe modern drivers are just not as good? What a thought.

      2. Sainz was right behind Leclerc and the door was left open for Alonso. Was very risky, but really only possible during a first lap kind of scenario. Once tyres got some heat in them and field spread started to kick in it’d not be a possible more without a decent pace deficit.

        The problem is two fold with DRS. If you pass someone before DRS they can get you back, so a driver is disincentivised to look at a DRS pass a lot of the time. Sure there’s an exception or two (Alonso Bahrain another notable example) but DRS basically kills off passes elsewhere.

        The second problem is DRS passes are generally risk free. In a budget cap era damage is way more costly than it used to be. A written off car doesn’t just mean possible grid penalties, it means possible developmental penalties. The regulations are not conducive to hard racing. It’ll only get worse as the budget cap era continues. Creativity can have big consequences.

      3. Yeah, I do think that having DRS makes drivers just rely on that to get by as well @bullfrog.

        Verstappen also showed time and again that when needed he can actually find a space, although it takes longer, is harder and is a bigger risk. I wholly get why they now do not risk it (and surely get told by their teams to not risk too much) because the attitude is almost always to avoid extra (not simulated to death) risks when they think strategy or DRS will solve it.

        But ultimately that is not why people tune in to F1. We tune in exactly BECAUSE these drivers are able to push more, make spectacular moves work, or at least have a go and sometimes see it end up with a mess of carbon fibre!

        By the way, I actually really enjoyed most of the fight for the lead between the two red Bulls. It felt so classical F1 with drivers knowing they only need a small mistake and the other guy wins. But i am convinced that there were many opportunities drivers throughout the field could have at least tried to grab, but did not because they avoided the risk.

    8. This is also the reason there was no passing in Alabama last night. No DRS on those goofy Indycars!

      Oh wait.

      1. F1 is the best advertisement for Indycar.

    9. The single file sections of the track basically enforce a 6 tenths gap. There are no options for getting side by side or taking different lines. If drivers can’t make up sixth tenths by the first corner they can’t get past (or maybe 5 tenths is close enough for a lunge).

      Another issue was that tyre deg was too low and the benefits of softer tyres too low to create speed differentials making alternative strategies pointless.

      Hopefully next year they bring softer tyres to create some more variables

    10. I think shortening the DRS zone was 100% the right call given how boringly easy most of the DRS highway passes have been in Baku over the years.

      There may not have been loads of overtaking this year but at least we got to see some real, exciting & memorable overtakes rather than a load of boringly easy push of a button DRS highway passes like in previous years at this track.

      1. I fully agree, Baku is often very broring in that sense. Drivers wait until the straight and then an easy DRS pass, extremely boring imo, regardless of how many passes were made.

    11. If Baku made one thing clear it’s that we don’t need DRS. It would have been much more fun to see leclerc defend his position. instead we got some boring DRS overtakes that are unable to defend. I can understand the position of the drivers behind but you will always see the DRS effect level out by a DRS train or a car in front with a good straight-line speed no matter how long the DRS zone is.

    12. The irony of watching Verstappen sail by the Ferrari then reading how the DRS zone was too short

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