Has the DRS made Overtaking in Formula 1 Artificial?

Rosberg is one Formula One driver who is very happy with the DRS systemThe FIA’s decision to introduce the Drag Reduction System (DRS) that is meant to increase overtaking has certainly been controversial raising questions over safety and fairness to all the drivers. But among all the problems and questions there are some that regard the DRS as a good idea however by making overtaking essentially artificial has the FIA misjudged how the DRS will affect racing in 2011.

The DRS is designed to counteract the loss of down force when following another car and is achieved by the opening of a driver activated flap on the rear wing that reduces the aerodynamic drag of the car. In races drivers are allowed to activate their DRS when within one second of the car in front, usually on the straight of the track, helping them to catch up to the car in front and overtake. The introduction of the rule was supposed to address problems drivers have had with overtaking from previous seasons and within the first few races we have seen overtakes as a result of the DRS such as Mark Webber on Jenson Button in Shanghai.

Despite the evidence of overtaking using the DRS the biggest opposition that it faces is that it provides the car behind with an unfair advantage. This is because the car that is in front of the driver activating its DRS has no way to defend its position and is effectively a sitting duck. Even with this unfair advantage on the straight F1 has ultimately seen more overtaking with KERS and the new Pirelli tyres than it has seen with the DRS. So does F1 really need a gimmick that is unsporting and artificial to make the racing exciting?

It can be argued that it does in fact make the overtaking in the race less exciting as it actually takes away from driver and car ability. Viewing audiences do not want to see drivers losing positions that they have fought hard for because the car behind can activate the DRS, it makes overtaking trivial and tedious rather than exhilarating, sitting on the edge of your seat viewing.

The DRS has met criticism from both teams and viewers but there are some that support it, Nico Rosberg being its biggest fan. The Mercedes driver described the DRS as the “best idea ever” and considering Mercedes is regarded to have the best DRS in the pit lane his view is rather expected. And it can be seen that whilst drivers are more likely to lose and gain places to the DRS on the straight it does ensure that drivers are closer together for the rest of the lap and therefore there is a higher chance of overtaking elsewhere on the lap.

Even with the increase in overtaking the DRS has faced some problems with multiple teams and drivers having teething problems with the device that has consequently compromised their qualifying sessions and races. It has also raised safety issues as when used incorrectly or if there is slight misjudgement on the drivers behalf it could cause accidents. The unreliability of the system was highlighted when Fernando Alonso’s DRS opened incorrectly during the Chinese Grand Prix after it was seen to open going into turn 1 instead of on the straight. This sort of failure could cause horrendous accidents or even allow drivers to gain an unfair advantage.

The safety issue was further raised when it was revealed that the FIA was considering a ban on the DRS in Monaco as it was deemed too dangerous to use on a street circuit that has no straight. Perhaps this one race lapse in the use of the DRS will prove to the F1 world that overtaking need not be artificial to be entertaining or increase the number of overtakes however it may just demonstrate that the DRS is now necessary for overtaking.

Whilst the failures have caused the teams and drivers considerable hassle the DRS has been enjoyable to watch when used by the drivers in Free Practice and qualifying, during which they can use the DRS when they want. This use of the DRS is a reflection on the driver’s ability behind the wheel and doesn’t give any driver an unfair advantage over another. But come the race the DRS’ only purpose is to create mediocre, rapid and easy passes for the drivers that are both tiresome and unoriginal. We do not get to see any driver talent and flair which seemingly diminishes the whole idea of making overtaking exciting.

It is true to say that the most thrilling racing has come from drivers battling wheel to wheel when attempting to pass, which is much more entertaining as it is genuine rather than manipulated by an artificial system. The support for the system has been few and far between and many teams and drivers seem to be reserving opinion just yet. Rosberg’s over enthusiastic appreciation for the system seems to show that it is driver preference over whether they enjoy it or not.

It is apparent that the DRS seems to be the Marmite of F1 and undoubtedly if it comes to affect the outcome of the Championship there will certainly be a further divide between those who love it and those who hate it. Whilst there has been some increase of overtaking on the straight due to the DRS, this artificial form of racing really does seem to make a mockery of overtaking in F1.