What is DRS and how does it work?

Formula One cars are highly sophisticated machines with various high-tech gadgets that make them go as fast as possible. And because of the amount of gadgetry used in a Formula One car, it can get quite confusing for fans to keep track of each one of them and understand them easily, especially if you’re a fan who has only started watching F1 recently. DRS is one of those high-tech gadgets used in Formula One cars to make them go faster. DRS stands for Drag Reduction System, and it is an overtaking system, which was explicitly designed to try and make racing more exciting.

F1 cars are designed in such a way that the whole car is generating downforce (pushing the car down to the track), but one of the consequences of this is that it produces a lot of turbulence called drag, and drag reduces the top speed the car can achieve in the straights of tracks. The rear wing is one of the parts of an F1 car that generates a lot of drag. The DRS is an adjustable part of this rear wing, and when it is activated, the flap of the rear wing moves horizontally. And when activated, the DRS reduces the drag created by the rear wing, and therefore it increases the top speed of the car and helps in overtaking.

DRS being activated

Even though everyone has DRS installed in their car, it can only be used in certain parts of the track when certain conditions are met. The first condition for DRS is that it can only be used by a car following another car, and the gap between them is within 1 second. This means that one can’t use it whenever they want to, which was allowed when  DRS was initially introduced in 2011. Back then, a driver could use it in any part of the track(besides the corners, because that would be dangerous to do so) during free practice and qualifying. However, during the race, DRS was only allowed in certain parts of the track. A rule which is followed to this day.

Bahrain international circuit with DRS zone highlighted in pink

DRS can only be used by drivers in parts of the track called a DRS zone. Depending on the track, there are usually about one to three DRS zones on each track on the straights. These DRS zones differ in length, and they mainly consist of two things: a detection point and an activation zone. Sensors located at the detection points determine whether the gap between the two cars is under a second or not. And if the gap is under a second, then the car behind or the chasing car can press the DRS button to activate it in the specified DRS zones. Activating DRS gives the driver following a speed advantage of about 10-12kmph over the car in front and helps them get that much closer to the car ahead and maybe even overtake them.

In addition, DRS can be used as a defense mechanism by the leading car if they are also within one second of the car in front of them, which is usually a backmarker (a driver at the rear end of the field). Another condition that regulates DRS usage is that drivers cannot use it within the first two laps of the race start, a race restart, or after a safety car has been deployed. DRS also cannot be enabled if it is deemed by the FIA that the race is unsafe, such as due to rain.

DRS was initially introduced in Formula One in 2011 with the main reasoning behind it to ensure that overtaking could be easier for the drivers, but without reducing the skill level required from the drivers. This would make racing more competitive and exciting for the fans to watch also. However, DRS isn’t the magic overtake button that many people thought it would be. Because not only is it useable in certain situations, but whether someone can overtake the car in front depends a lot on the actual abilities of each car because a car trying to overtake needs enough power and speed to get past the car in front. Another thing to keep in mind is that the effectiveness of DRS varies from track to track because of the things like the track design and track layout.

A lot of people don’t like DRS because they believe it to be an artificial way of overtaking. But what people don’t realize is that a lot of strategy is required to maximize the effectiveness of DRS. The rules and conditions that need to be met for the use of DRS prevent it from being overused and helps to make races more exciting.

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