We're stuck with DRS but could it be made fairer?

Lewis Hamilton chases down Fernando Alonso in Canada before finally using DRS to pass him a lap later ( Ferrari)
12 June 2012 by Daniel Chalmers | M

The ease in which Lewis Hamilton overtook Sebastian Vettel and Fernando Alonso in the closing stages of the Canadian GP has re-opened the DRS debate.

Watching Hamilton battling his way back from third to first on fresher tyres should have been very exciting. However DRS made his moves on Vettel and Alonso much easier than they should have been, and we lost out on what could have been quite a spectacle.

In fact Sebastian even accepted the inevitable and didn’t even bother to defend his position. It would be better if there was no need for DRS but it seems its here to stay. However it could be utilised differently.

Even without DRS chances are Hamilton was always going to get past. His tyres were much fresher and he had much better traction coming out of the corners.

However at least without DRS Vettel and Alonso would have tried harder to defend, and make Lewis work for the position.

In a battle where the cars/drivers are evenly matched, DRS works very effectively. In years gone by there was no chance of passing a car in an even battle.

At least DRS means that an overtaking move in this scenario is possible rather than impossible. It gives the drivers a chance to at least battle each other. This is when DRS works.

However as we saw in the Canadian GP a situation where the car behind is not only much quicker, but has considerably fresher tyres, added with the use of DRS, the move becomes a slam dunk.

It should be remembered that it isn’t just an actual pass that is exciting. Wheel to wheel battles that last a number of laps before the actual pass is made are the most exciting to watch.

What is DRS? The drag reduction system was introduced in 2011 to increase overtaking. There are no restrictions on use during practice and qualifying (other than in the Monaco tunnel and through Eau Rouge), but during the race a chasing driver may only use it in a pre-determined zone and when within a second of the car ahead.

Also the tension in seeing a slower driver keep a faster driver at bay can also be thrilling. Think back to Alonso and Michael Schumacher at Imola in 2005.

Those two scenarios are something that DRS has extinguished on a number of occasions.

Last year I wrote about how DRS should be made fairer, and here was my solution which I still stand by.

The most effective way to make DRS fairer and more interesting is to limit the amount of times it can be activated in a race. For example the rule could be that DRS can be used 10 times per race anywhere on the circuit and in any situation.

This then adds a very intriguing tactical and sporting element to the race. It would be up to the drivers how they manage their allocation of activations.

Do they use it to help attack a rival or defend against them?

A driver could is use it two or three times in one lap around the pit stop phase in order to gain crucial lap time. This could help a driver leapfrog their rivals during the pit stops.

The drivers would have to decide which sections of the track would be the best places to use it. Ideally they would probably opt for the sections where they can keep the wing open the longest.

If a driver is overtaken they could react immediately, and utilise part of their allocation on the next straight to fight back.

Managing the allocation of activations would also be critical. You wouldn’t want to use up all of your allocation early in the race. Otherwise you may be come susceptible to some DRS attacks with no defence or no DRS to attack one of your main rivals later on.

It would also be important to make each activation count. It would be a waste if you used it to overtake a rival, and you didn’t pull the move off. The same thing applies when using it to defend.

Currently we know exactly when drivers will open the wing. With this different approach we would be looking to see if the wing is opened, particularly when two drivers are racing each other.

The permutations are endless and could add something to the show. The main thing would be that the on-screen graphics tell us when DRS is being activated, and how many more times the driver concerned is allowed to use it.

Could it be made fairer? Why not limit its use to ten times a race, with the driver deciding when to use it, at any point on the circuit? It could be used for both attacking and defending then.

Above all the rule would be the same for all the drivers. All 24 competitors would be allowed to use DRS the same number of times.

We would get rid of the nonsense of only being able to use DRS in one place. Only using it when within one second of a car would no longer apply either.

Best of all the drivers can use it how they want, as opposed to not being allowed to use it to defend as is currently the case. The whole thing would be less contrived.

If you applied this regulation to last weekend’s Canadian GP you can imagine how it could have been a different outcome.

After the first pit stops Alonso leapfrogged both Vettel and Hamilton. However Hamilton breezed back past immediately in the DRS zone as the Fernando was struggling to warm his tyres up.

However under the suggested set of rules Alonso could have used his DRS to defend against Hamilton, whilst he was warming up his tyres. Had he been able to defend his position the complexion of the race would have been very different.

Then in the closing stages of the race Vettel and Alonso may have had some of their allocation left to defend against Lewis with. Furthermore, say Lewis had run out of his allocation by that point, passing his two rivals may have been a bigger challenge.

Ultimately the best solution would be to sort out the car design, so that drivers can battle each other without needing artificial aids. There was talk of re-introducing ground effect but that appears to no longer be on the cards.

Radical changes to the design of a F1 car seem very unlikely. The teams know it would be very expensive. Also the top teams will remember what happened the last time the aerodynamic regulations were changed significantly back in 2009.

They were initially usurped by teams marooned in the midfield the year before. Every team outside Red Bull also knows that when new rules come in, Adrian Newey is the man who always comes out on top.

At the moment there is also quite a bit of focus on the new engine which is in the rules from 2014. That’s going to be a costly exercise in the short term (if it does happen as there are some against it) so a change of car design to help overtaking wouldn’t be very welcome at all.

For the teams DRS is an effective and cheap solution to the overtaking problem. It seems that we are going to be stuck with it whether we like it or not. So why not go for this alternative approach, and at least make it fairer and potentially a lot more interesting.

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