The turbulent air released into the slipstream of Formula 1 cars makes overtaking in the discipline something of a fine art. The driver behind suddenly finds his car’s aerodynamic efficiency is significantly reduced, which – at some circuits – can rule out any hope of attempting a passing manoeuvre. Conscious of this situation, in 2011, the sport’s governing body introduced the Drag Reduction System, which is better known by its abbreviation ‘DRS’.
This device modifies the configuration of the car’s rear wing in order to offer a temporary increase in top speed at certain parts of the circuit. In their normal position, these wings generate aerodynamic downforce through the corners, which in turn considerably increases grip. On the flipside, however, they also create resistance to air along straights – or drag, to give it its technical term – that slows the cars down.
DRS reduces this drag by lifting the adjustable flap on top of the rear wing, thereby offering the driver an immediate and noticeable boost in top speed:
Around the Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya where Sunday’s Spanish Grand Prix will take place, the deployment of DRS will generate an increase in top speed of 17kph, which translates to an improvement in lap time of half-a-second!” explains Ciaron Pilbeam, Chief Race Engineer for Renault Sport Formula 1 Team.
It goes without saying that the use of this aid is strictly regulated. It can only be used in the race from Lap 3 onwards and may only be used by drivers who are within a second of the car in front of them when they cross one of the detection points around the lap specified by the FIA. If they meet the above criteria, they have the opportunity to deploy DRS when they cross the following activation point line:
The driver pushes a button on the steering wheel that hydraulically controls the adjustable flap on top of the rear wing," continues Pilbeam. “This flap automatically returns to its standard position as soon as the driver presses the brake pedal. Alternatively, the driver can also use the button to deactivate DRS.”
The programme in charge of the hybrid powertrain remains unchanged when the driver employs DRS. That said, if a prospective overtake is crucial to the outcome of the race, the driver may activate an additional ‘joker’ alongside DRS:
The steering wheel also features an ‘overtake’ button that the driver can press if he wishes to access the most high-performance engine management mode, but it is only available to use once,” cautions Pilbeam.
The Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya benefits from two DRS zones, one of which is the longest of the season – a factor that may encourage some drivers to throw caution to the wind in the first European race of 2017…
The DRS reduces the drag on the car. It’s enough to assist you if you’re trying to overtake the car ahead but it’s not like having a significant power boost. You hear an electronic tone to signify the DRS has been deployed and you get a light on the steering wheel. The DRS concept is the same for 2017 so there’s not much difference in comparison to the DRS of previous seasons. It’s just another aspect of racing so it’s not disturbing."
Jolyon Palmer, Renault Sport Formula One Team’s driver