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Formula 1 DRS Explained

Everything you need to know about F1’s drag reduction system (DRS), an automotive feature meant to ratchet up the excitement on the track excitement.

The world of auto racing is always tinkering with ways to increase the entertainment value of their product while preserving a commitment to safety. In this spirit, Formula 1 has made countless changes since its inception in 1948.

From weight regulations and chassis design to engine specs and the number and types tires each team can bring to a race, competitive balance is the main goal for its participants, and over the past decade-plus, F1 has showcased the use of DRS (drag reduction system), an innovation that increases the chances of overtaking on the track.

So, what is DRS in F1, and how does it work? It’s time for some Formula 101.

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What is DRS in F1?

The drag reduction system was first introduced to Formula 1 in 2011. Simply put, it’s a rear-mounted wing on an F1 car that a driver can activate to increase speed by enhancing its aerodynamics.

DRS is a notable departure from canonical F1 guidelines that have strictly prohibited the use of auto parts meant to be moved or adjusted mid-race.

How does DRS work?

In normal circumstances during an F1 race, the rear DRS wing exists in a “closed” position at an upward angle, though not entirely perpendicular to the track. This positioning increases downforce, permitting better handling and traction.

When a driver activates DRS, the wing moves to a position essentially parallel to the track, reducing the aerodynamic drag on the car to facilitate overtaking.

When and where can F1 drivers use DRS?

Let’s start with a few basic rules:

  • Drivers cannot use DRS during the first two laps of a race or the first two laps following a safety car or restart
  • They must be within one second of the car they wish to overtake
  • The car to be overtaken must be within a designated DRS zone
  • Race directors reserve the right to suspend DRS based on track conditions

DRS zones are typically straightaways; you won’t see the wing activated in any sort of cornering situation. Because the system is theoretically available to every car within a second of one another except for the race leader, straights on a track can produce “DRS trains” with multiple cars using drag reduction in an attempt to attempt to pass each other in succession.

Drivers and their teams receive a signal from a sensor placed at specific points near curves on the track to confirm the necessary gap of one second or less. Drivers can then press a button on the steering wheel to activate the rear wing. As a driver begins braking for a corner at the end of a DRS zone, the wing returns to the “closed” position.

Has DRS improved Formula 1?

Aerodynamic adjustments have been around as long as transportation itself, and auto racing is no different. Speed is naturally the main ingredient for victory, and the drag reduction system has become fundamental to an overall race plan like fuel and tires. We’ve witnessed more opportunities for multiple cars to jockey for position with a legitimate chance of overtaking. In theory, that adds suspense and excitement to a race. That often ends up being the case, but sometimes, since a race leader isn’t permitted to use the rear wing, two drivers can end up locked in a sort of game of “DRS chicken.”

All told, DRS is here to stay in Formula 1, but the regulations around it are likely to evolve. In the meantime, the teams and drivers that can most effectively weave it into their race strategy are the ones most likely to compete for the biggest prizes in the sport.

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