He said what?! – Canadian Grand Prix edition

Sorry for the lack of posts since last week but, as you may know, TPL was on location for the Canadian Grand Prix in Montréal and, for the most part, in no shape to write a coherent blog post.  A couple posts on the race weekend experience are on the way; in the meantime, here is our usual grand prix wrap-up:

This week, our ‘he said what?!’ moment comes courtesy of Mercedes team principal Ross Brawn.  After relentlessly chasing down Lewis Hamilton, sitting in second place following the last round of pit stops, Fernando Alonso finally passed him as they crossed the start/finish line to begin lap 63.  At the time, BBC broadcasters Ben Edwards and David Coulthard happened to be having a conversation with Brawn from the pit wall.  When asked whether there was anything more Hamilton could have done to hold off the Spaniard, Brawn replied, “DRS is such a factor that when someone gets on the back of you like that, it’s difficult.”

The Drag Reduction System (DRS) was introduced to Formula One for the 2011 season, and it has been a controversial addition.  DRS  is supposed to make passing easier (and it certainly does), but many people think it makes passing too easy.  More on that shortly.

First, how does the DRS work?  The system is actually quite simple.  If a driver is within one second of the car in front of him at a specified point on the track (just before a long straight), he will be able to press a button on the straight and a flap will open on his rear wing, reducing drag (hence the name) and allowing his car to go faster than the car in front.  There are one or two DRS zones on each track (Canada had two), and there is not much the car in front can do to defend, since it is often traveling at least 10 km/h slower than the car passing it.  The flap closes when the driver lifts off the accelerator or hits the brakes.

drsDRS open (top) and closed (bottom).
Photo credit: Gil Abrantes (slitzf1) – original; Sasha Krotov – crop and merge via Wikipedia

The DRS can be used even if the car in front is being lapped, and it is negated (except for the front car) when there are three or more cars in a queue (provided they are within one second of each other, they all get to use it).  There are a few situations where DRS is disabled for all cars by race control: for the first two laps of any race or after a re-start; in the rain; and when there are yellow flags (no passing is allowed anyway in a yellow sector).

Now for the criticism.  Back in the day, if your car wasn’t fast enough to pass another car, you couldn’t pass it.  Then, some people got bored with the lack of passing and thought up some ‘solutions’.

That is a bit facetious, but DRS certainly does take some of the skill out of passing.  The other problem is that the driver being passed is basically defenseless – the other system created to help increase passing, KERS, which can be used any time and gives the car a horsepower boost, is more fair because all drivers are allowed to use the same amount every lap.

Whereas a true racing pass is often one of the most exciting moments of a grand prix, most DRS passes seem inevitable.  You can see them coming, eliminating the drama, and drivers in position to pass will often wait for a DRS zone to do it, further limiting the number of real passes.

drs passJean-Éric Vergne passes Timo Glock using DRS at the 2012 Hungarian GP.
Photo credit: _chrisUK via Flickr

While it did used to be occasionally frustrating to watch an obviously faster car stuck behind a slower one, DRS takes overtaking to the opposite extreme.  It is now too easy, and anything that detracts from the actual racing in the preeminent motor racing series in the world cannot be a positive addition.

Let us know if you don’t agree: theparadelap@gmail.com

Canadian Grand Prix notes

  • Tragically, a track marshal was killed after the race while helping to remove Esteban Gutierrez’s stranded Sauber from the tyre wall at the second turn.
  • Sebastian Vettel won his first Canadian GP in his fifth race at the Circuit Gilles-Villeneuve.  There are now only three races on this year’s calendar that he has not won in his career: Germany, Hungary and the United States.
  • The teams were supposed to test a new type of Pirelli tyres during Friday practice, but the track was wet for most of the day.  As the cars were only able to put in a few laps on dry tyres, the new tyres will not be used for the British GP in three weeks, as originally planned.
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