After the pre-season tests of Formula 1’s radically altered technical regulations, drivers gave contrasting views on whether the Drag Reduction System is still needed to assist overtaking.
Those differences persisted after the first two races for the new machines. While some drivers remain convinced overtaking would be impossible without DRS, others said passing has become much more straightforward, allowing positions to be swapped repeatedly for lap after lap.
Charles Leclerc, who finished second in the last race after being passed by Max Verstappen, was among those who thinks DRS is still needed.
“I think DRS needs to say for now otherwise the races will be very boring,” he said. Leclerc believes this despite acknowledging F1’s changes have made it easier for cars to run closely together.
“Following has been better from last year to this year and it’s a very positive step. I like this step as a driver, I also think that it is very positive for the sport. But I still think it’s not enough to get rid of the DRS.”
Leclerc swapped places several times with Verstappen during the last race. At times the pair tried to avoid being the first to reach the DRS detection line before the last corner, in order to avoid giving the speed boost to their rival. For Leclerc, this is a part of modern F1 racing.
“It’s part of it and I actually quite enjoy it,” he said. “It’s part of the strategy for each driver in terms of defending and overtaking and it’s part of racing for now.”
His team mate Carlos Sainz Jnr also believes DRS is still needed to allow overtaking.
“Without DRS it’s almost impossible to overtake nowadays,” said Sainz. “What it has improved is the predictability of the car and following. It’s giving us a much more predictable balance and the ability to stay closer through the corners.
“But without those three or four tenths that DRS gives you in each straight, it would be impossible to pass.”
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Sainz suggested DRS needs to be made less powerful for safety reasons. “Because the slipstream is lower than this year we might need to consider making the DRS effect a tiny bit lower just to not have the [difference in] speeds that we see nowadays that some overtakes are maybe a bit too easy.
“But I think the DRS is here to stay because so far with the speeds that we are doing in the corners, it is still difficult to overtake.”
Not all drivers drew the same conclusions, however. Some found overtaking easier than others because of differences in the performance of their power units or due to the different rear wing levels they were running.
Esteban Ocon was pleased with the performance of his Renault power unit in Jeddah. “We didn’t have to be shy of anybody,” he said. “As soon as I had the DRS open, I could pass. I could overtake easily the Aston of Nico, Lando [in] the McLaren.”
The combination of cars which can follow more closely and the power of DRS gives drivers multiple overtaking opportunities, he explained.
“Before, basically, as soon as you had a chance you had to go for it because you might only have one chance. Now you have two or three chances in the lap to overtake so you need to time it right.
“You need to make the gap at the right time. And you know that if you don’t make the gap to the cars behind, they are going to have DRS and they can get you back.
How easily drivers found it overtaking in the first race with F1’s new rules came down to a mix of factors, including how many cars of similar performance they could race with. The Ferrari drivers only had the Red Bull for company, while Ocon was in the heart of a midfield scrap.
As teams begis to discover overtaking is not as difficult as before, that will increasingly be factored into their strategies and set-ups. Ferrari have already taken notice of the lower downforce level Verstappen ran which allowed him to overtake their cars, as team principal Mattia Binotto explained.
“Max was on slightly higher downforce level on Friday, then he reduced it,” he said. “We decided ourselves to stay on a higher level of downforce because we believed that was important for tyre degradation. But finally in the race the tyre degradation was very little and I think that their choice somehow merits some analysis from our side.”
Meanwhile F1 has added a fourth DRS zone to Albert Park for this weekend’s race#. But changes in how the teams configure their cars for the event may also contribute to easier passing. The challenge for F1 will be separating the cause from the effect, and judging whether its new rules or DRS is making the difference.
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