Lando Norris, McLaren, Spa-Francorchamps, 2023

Stella: Ground effect cars easier to follow, harder to pass at high speed circuits

2023 F1 season

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McLaren team principal Andrea Stella believes that the current generation of Formula 1 cars are naturally more difficult to overtake at high speed, low downforce circuits.

The sport introduced radical new technical regulations for the 2022 season last year, allowing teams to exploit underbody ground effect aerodynamics for the first time in four decades in a bid to allow for closer racing.

However, while drivers have routinely said that the new generation of cars allowed them to run closer to rivals ahead than previous cars, drivers have been complaining about the impact of dirty air making it difficult to overtake increasingly this season.

Asked whether the limitations of F1’s rule changes were beginning to show 18 months after their introduction, Stella said that data suggests drivers do have a better time running closer to cars behind compared to 2021.

“I think what we have observed already last year with this new generation of cars is definitely easier to follow in the corners,” Stella explained.

“We saw some tracks where it was very difficult to overtake, like Hungary for instance, they are now tracks in which you can follow. And then in complexes where you have corners and once you can go out of the last corner, you are actually closer to the car ahead and then you can attack thanks to the DRS. So I would say this aspect of racing has been helped very much by the new generation of cars.”

With the introduction of ground effect aerodynamics, there had been speculation about reducing or even eliminating the controversial Drag Reduction System overtaking aid. However, F1 drivers have been vocal in their views that the divisive system must remain to allow them to continue to make on-track passes.

Stella believes the nature of the current cars means that there is a clear impact on slipstreaming when cars are running low-downforce configurations at high speed tracks like Spa-Francorchamps or Monza.

“When it comes instead to configurations like Spa or Monza, where you need to have a lot of towing effect to overtake, I think with this generation of cars you have less ‘suction’ from the car ahead, so in this kind of circuit it has actually become slightly more difficult, possibly,” Stella explained.

“So there, if you want, is the two faces of the same medal. But I would welcome the fact that we now can follow cars more easily than it was possible with the previous generation of cars.”

Formula 1 will head to Monza for the Italian Grand Prix in two weeks’ time following the Dutch Grand Prix at Zandvoort to commence the second half of the season next weekend.

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Will Wood
Will has been a RaceFans contributor since 2012 during which time he has covered F1 test sessions, launch events and interviewed drivers. He mainly...
Claire Cottingham
Claire has worked in motorsport for much of her career, covering a broad mix of championships including Formula One, Formula E, the BTCC, British...

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18 comments on “Stella: Ground effect cars easier to follow, harder to pass at high speed circuits”

  1. They keep insisting that DRS is needed because the slipstream is less effective and yet we continue to see that even on low downforce tracks like Spa on laps before DRS is enabled the slipstream is still powerful enough to produce better racing compared to when DRS gets switched on.

    Go watch the opening laps at Spa for example and you see lots of slipstreaming & lots of great side by side battles down to Les Combes. Once DRS is enabled you start seeing less good racing & more too easy push of a button highway passes.

    Same at higher downforce tracks such as Baku. You see loads of great bits of racing down to T1 without DRS on the first few laps & then less so when DRS is enabled as it starts making passing too easy.

    I think F1 has just talked it’s way into thinking that they can’t get rid of it & have thus become unwilling to try it. They are keen to talk about experimenting with different weekend formats, With bonus points & such gimmicks yet have for over a decade now been completely unwilling to try anything different with DRS.

    And I think by this point it’s become obvious that the reason they don’t wish to experiment with DRS is because it’s purpose isn’t to assist overtaking to create better racing but is instead just to create as much passing as possible to pad the stat books even if the passing it ends up creating is detrimental to the actual quality & excitement of the racing.

    1. @roger-ayles The main beneficiaries of DRS are the big teams, who thanks to DRS will all quickly slot into their proper places regardless of any mishaps in qualifying or the early race. The same top teams who, through their power over their engine clients or even direct subsidiaries, make most of the rules.

      Stats are only really interesting to people with an above average interest in F1 and its history, and they’re generally no fans of DRS. But not even the so-called ‘casual’ fans get much out of DRS and its supposed ‘excitement’, as shown by the commentators not even bothering to hype these passes up anymore, and even the official highlights will usually feature two or three sulky comments from said commentators that the passed driver ‘had no chance to defend’.

    2. @roger-ayles The Red Bull passes on the opening lap + Max for the lead in the sprint were exactly like the passes involving DRS use on that same straight, though, so zero relevance outcome-wise & the later passes in this year’s edition weren’t in the end any easier-looking than Max’s & Checo’s without DRS.
      The point is that an easy-looking pass is easy-looking regardless of where DRS is activated or deactivated.

    3. @roger-ayles I think you are correct. DRS is having a detrimental effect at some circuits. Why can they not try some races without it? Let’s see what happens.

  2. +1 absolutely agree. Instead of trying out all sorts of formats and (tire) rules why doesn’t the FIA simply run a weekend without DRS? Of course there will be less passing – but I rather see a few proper overtakes – than a race full of simple DRS passes.

    1. Such an experiment would be extreme, but a single sprint session without DRS on some tracks (that effectively happened at Spa-Francorchamps because of wet-weather conditions) would be decent.

      1. No @jerjj you’re wrong. What’s extreme about it? That it might expose the truth?

        1. Should have been to @jerejj

    2. I only hear about with or without DRS…
      wasn’t de gap in the wing 85mm, why not try do decrease this to about 50mm, and have the best of both worlds: no easy passes, but still able to attack at least, or bring the excitement of real close racing.
      I’ve seen lots of races without a pass, but with very close following, wondering if a passing-attempt would be made
      (and I know that is still with DRS)

  3. Was wondering about this recently since I came to the conclusion that the races I most enjoyed this season so far have all been on high-downforce tracks – I actually enjoyed Monaco the most to be honest.

  4. The FIA is keen on experimenting, so why not reduce the length of the DRS zone? That would be a first step easy to implement and revert if it doesn’t produce the desired effect.

    1. ICYF & as Will pointed out below, FIA already did so in the early-season phase, eventually stopping that because of push for that by drivers, so doing so again would be pointless especially as following is harder than last season & might be harder next season versus this season.
      In the end, out of those shortenings, only Baku’s was justified to any extent & even that was unnecessarily extreme.

    2. For me, they could reduce the activation interval, the gap they need to be within to use DRS, at least. We’ve seen that it’s much easier to get within a second now than it used to be, so making it so they need to get within, say, 0.6s (or less) would be an interesting experiment. It would be more of a challenge, at least, and should reduce the length of the DRS trains.

  5. They started reducing DRS zones at the opening rounds of the season, but then stopped due to feedback from drivers.

  6. I still defend (more than a decade saying this…) that, apart from less aero and make it easier to follow, the key is that the gap to the leading car shall be reduced at the beginning of the straights, not at the end. Big speed diferentials, apart from dangerous, create those boring, defense-less DRS overtakes. The advantage should work in the first half of the straight and then, once the car is firmly on the tow (less than 3 tenths), use only the slipstream to perform the move. It’s much more spectacular, the overtaken driver can defend and they will create more long-lasting duels, which by the way is what people wants to see, much more than “driver comes and 1 lap later is ahead”.

    KERS is exactly the system they would need to use. The reason it partially failed until 2013 was because the leading driver could use it as a defense, making it useless. I propose to use it as the DRS (only if you are 1 second behind another driver), and I think the overtakes will be much, much better.

    Obviously, at this stage of the PU era it’s difficult to create this system, so instead I would use a less-effective DRS system (reducing the variation angle: for instance, rotating the flap into a Monza spec instead of completely flat). In long straights, you could even activate it earlier, making it a bit of a slightly-overeffective tow. The point is to help the driver behind at the beginning of the straights but not creating a massive speed differential.

    1. @diezcilindros There was a lot of tweaking of the hybrid deployment in LMP1 when it became obvious that any Equivalence of Technology wouldn’t hold up against the enormous benefit of them being able to pass slower cars coming out of corners. The FIA knows how to handle these things.

      Also, in 2026 there will be a linear cap on the amount of kW that can be deployed relative to speed in F1. This is on top of the normal cap, so it essentially means it’ll only be capped above 300 km/h because below that the linear cap is higher than the normal cap. More to the point: it would be very much possible, if F1 wanted to, to limit the cap a bit more and to then but give an electric ‘push to pass’ option instead of DRS.

      Something like 300 kW normally, 350 kW as a DRS replacement, and then down to 150 kW at 340km/h as per the current 2026 rules.

  7. I can’t help but wonder whether or not the skills involved in overtaking have been degraded by DRS and by the amount of marbles that seems to have increased due to artificial tyre deg.

    In years past, the driver behind would spend a good few laps harassing the driver in front whilst working out where they might attempt a pass off line. These days most just spend a couple of laps working out where the best DRS pass will happen and just cruise past.

    No real effort is made these days spending time and effort trying to force a mistake or faking a few attempts before actually having a serious attempt at an overtake.

    Sometimes, the best racing is when an overtake doesn’t happen and two drivers just battle hard lap after lap, not the ones where someone just succumbs meekly because DRS is too strong.

    1. @dbradock correct I think. I am not sure that some of these drivers know how to battle to force a pass. I think it’s all become a bit too simple for them. Especially those in the fastest cars.

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