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What is DRS? All about the Drag Reduction System in F1

Written by Ariba Yousuf, Edited by Sameena Khan

Image Credits: Clive Mason - Getty Images

DRS, or drag reduction system, is a driver-controlled device in which an actuator controls a movable flap on the middle of a Formula One car's rear wing to facilitate passing manoeuvres and increase the likelihood of overtaking. The idea, which was put in place in 2011 to make overtaking more manageable, is still in effect with the new rules.

When DRS is activated, a flap on the car's rear wing opens, increasing the pursuing car's speed by up to 20kph (approximately 12.4mph). The rear wing of an F1 car creates downforce, which means it pushes the car down. Unfortunately, however, it also makes a lot of drag. And drag reduces the car's top speed.

Some criticise DRS. Critics and fans alike think it's a driver's most important weapon and helps drivers manoeuvre around "dirty air" instead of being stuck. Others believe it makes racing less accurate because pressing a button gives a speed boost and the chance to get ahead of other cars. Therefore, the DRS arguably diminishes the skill required to execute a challenging overtake.

However, F1 regulations restrict the use of DRS. It is only permitted when the vehicle behind is within one second of the vehicle in front (this includes lapped cars when the next car is in an overtaking zone as defined by the FIA before the race). This area for passing is referred to as the DRS zone.

DRS is not activated for the first two laps following a restart or deployment of the safety car; the system may also be disabled if the race director deems the racing conditions hazardous, such as when it is raining heavily.

DRS zones are predefined and depicted on the circuit map and only occur on straightaways. A line on the track shows where the one-second proximity detection is happening. This location is referred to as the DRS detection point. The activation point is another line on the track that indicates when DRS can be enabled. There is also a sign on the track marked "DRS" at the beginning of the DRS zone.

Image Credits: Martin Rose - Getty Images

A light on the steering wheel alerts the driver when DRS can be activated. The driver then presses the DRS button on the steering wheel to release the rear wing flap. When the driver presses the brake at the end of the straight, the flap closes automatically.

DRS is utilized in Formula 2 and Formula 3 as well. In many other motorsports series, passing aids are standard. These, however, involve boosting engine performance for a set time during each race or, as with Formula E's attack mode, allowing drivers to temporarily run in a more powerful energy deployment setting, with the total time varying from race to race.


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