The overpowering benefit of the drag reduction system (DRS) in 2022 will again be on full show in the inaugural Miami Grand Prix, as the FIA have confirmed three DRS zones.
While DRS is still essential for overtaking in Formula 1, the success of the new car regulations should bring into question the overwhelming advantage given to trailing cars in 2022.
What is DRS?
The drag reduction system (DRS) was brought into F1 back in 2011 as a method to make it easier to overtake.
By opening the flap in their rear wing, therefore reducing drag, drivers benefit from up to an extra 12 kilometres per hour down the straights in dedicated DRS zones.
In the 2011 regulations, the FIA calculated that DRS zones of 600 metres at the end of straights was a fair length to encourage reasonable overtaking.
“The FIA believes that the 600-metre passing zone is the right length to ensure that overtaking is possible – but is also not too easy,” the regulations read.
However, the laws were made for cars with vastly different aerodynamic characteristics than the ones we will see in Miami this weekend.
The new regulations
While trailing cars down long, high-speed straights is beneficial for drivers due to the slipstreaming effect, it turns detrimental when they approach corners.
Formula 1 cars are extremely sensitive to disruptions in smooth airflow, so when closely following opponents while turning, the cars lose downforce and can’t carry as much speed.
The FIA’s switch to ground effect cars in 2022 was specifically made to reduce this issue.
The changes have worked. In 2021, Formula 1 cars suffered a 35 per cent loss in downforce when trailing 20 metres behind another car.
In 2022, the loss in downforce at the same distance has been reduced to just four per cent.
The result of all these changes is that drivers are now able to follow closer out of corners, and when that corner is followed by a DRS zone, it makes overtaking much easier.
Drivers are still getting that 600-metre speed boost, but they’re starting with less of a deficit to make up.
This is why the full 600-metre DRS zones into turn 11 and 17 at Miami are going to be prime overtaking opportunities for cars with even just a slight pace advantage.
In the second round of the 2022 F1 season in Saudi Arabia, we witnessed an unforeseen impact of this ease of overtaking.
In the last ten laps of the race, there was a hard-fought battle for the lead between Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc and Red Bull’s reigning world champion Max Verstappen.
Leclerc was in the lead, but well aware that the Red Bull had his number with more power down the straights.
So, in order retain his lead, Leclerc allowed himself to be overtaken going into the final corner, which also acts as the DRS detection zone for the main straight at Jeddah.
Aided by his ground effect car, Leclerc followed closely through the last turn, opened up his rear wing and easily re-overtook Verstappen down the stretch.
Verstappen eventually wised up, highlighted by both drivers over-breaking and locking up their tyres in an attempt to earn DRS on lap 45.
Leclerc admitted to the tactic is his post-race press conference.
“I tried to have the DRS in the last corner, it worked twice but it didn’t work the last time,” he said.
The DRS detection zones at Miami are safely tucked away after corners, unlike the Jeddah circuit, so we shouldn’t see any similar cat-and-mouse games.
However, the Saudi Arabia example is more evidence that the strength of DRS should be reconsidered.
What’s the solution?
Some say that the DRS system should be abolished all together, however that doesn’t seem to be popular opinion among drivers.
Leclerc’s teammate Carlos Sainz suggested post-race in Jeddah that the FIA should instead investigate the relative power of DRS.
“We might need to consider the speed delta that there is with DRS might be a bit too much,” he said.
A simple solution is to re-evaluate to length of the DRS zone.
If no DRS zones makes overtaking too hard, but 600 metres makes it too easy, then the sweet spot has to lie somewhere in between.
DRS zones one and two at the Miami International Autodrome are set to receive the full 600-metre complement.