Thursday Thoughts: DRS

So Jackie from VivaF1 has resurrected Thursday Thoughts as there is very much a burning issue in F1 these days – the Drag Reduction System or DRS for short.  Jackie wants to ask:

What do you think of the Drag Reduction System?

Firstly, a little background.  It was designed to facilitate overtaking, because no matter what the rule makers have tried, it seems that once a car gets within a second of the car it is chasing then it is almost impossible to overtake them.  The fans have been crying out for more overtaking for years and last year’s dry races were not exactly thrilling to watch.

If you want to see the mechanism in action, anotherf1podcast have a great video on the subject (bear in mind the use of DRS is unrestricted in practice and qualifying, but can only be used in one part of a circuit by a chasing car less than one second behind in the race):

So what do I think of the DRS then?

Well, although I have been an F1 fan for a long time, I felt that F1 was getting a bit boring to watch last year – the dry ones at least.  And I really disliked that the championship came down to the wire and yet was effectively decided by a slower car being able to block a much faster one.

DRS, KERS and Pirelli tyres have transformed F1 this year into a sport with loads of strategy and overtaking – I blogged more about what I thought about the new rules after the Chinese Grand Prix, but needless to say that the sport has been transformed into something exciting and entertaining that people are really embracing – many of my friends have been coming up to me telling me how much they love F1 this year when they barely gave a stuff about it before.

The main criticism of DRS comes in multiple parts:

1. It’s Gimmicky and artificial

Yeah it is – but so were grooved tyres, KERS, wings, Turbocharging, frozen engines, in fact any rule over the last 50 years that restricts a car’s design could be referred to as artificial.  And besides, they look much better than the F-ducts they replace, which were monstrous :(

2. It’s unfair as it gives the defending driver little chance of success

A valid point.  But then the defending driver becomes the attacking driver the next time around, no?  Often the defending driver is slower anyway, so why should his race be ruined because of the way an F1 car is designed?

Which brings me to the next criticism:

3. Why not just ban wings? That would solve the ‘dirty air’ problem!

Great idea.  In fact, why not just make replicas of the Lotus 49 – after all, they had some great slipstreaming races in those days?  Except they weren’t all like that.  You have probably seen the Villeneuve vs. Arnoux video on YouTube (heck of an excuse to plug it anyway):

Guess what though?  That was 3 minutes out of a 90 minute race, which only came about because Villeneuve’s tyres were shot.  Yet nobody called that race artificial and gimmicky, did they?  Tyre management is a central part of a driver’s skill in most series.  It was only a tyre war between Michelin and Bridgestone anyway that made the tyres last so long.  In effect we ended up in a situation unlike any other F1 season last year.  So Pirelli have actually given us a specification of tyre that seems to be historically correct then?

We can’t unlearn technology – even shaped under body cars apparently may not solve that problem of dirty air anyway.  And F1 is supposed to be the pinnacle of the sport, the fastest a car can lap a circuit.  Wings are an integral part of a single seater “look” and more cynically, would never get banned as they are too good an advertising space ;)

4. It makes overtaking too easy

Not necessarily.  We have only had four races and in Australia the DRS didn’t work.  Malaysia and China seemed to work well, giving the cars a good boost, while in Turkey the DRS zone was too long and therefore the attacking driver gained a little too much.  But the drivers still had to make the moves stick, and apart from seeing some “3-wide” overtakes, we saw drivers using the DRS zone to catch up and plan an overtaking move in another part of the circuit which wasn’t really possible before either.

Conclusions

There are the purists (some quite high profile) who say that this is all bad for the sport and that F1 is pandering to the masses while ignoring the hard-core fans.  But how could they have enjoyed the races how they used to be?  I find it mystifying myself – as far as I am concerned, in 2011 we have great racing, proper strategy and interesting stories after each race.

We didn’t have this in dry races before.  Only wet races were exciting like this.  So the only other alternative was Bernie’s sprinkler idea.  Would you prefer that instead?

I feel strongly about this because in most fan surveys we all cried out for more overtaking and to fix the dirty air problem.  We now have a formula that works great and has fixed all this, yet there seems to be a lot of people that are still unhappy.  Maybe F1 has had so many drastic rule changes over the years that it now has an identity crisis – maybe people’s perception of F1 is governed by when they started watching it?

I personally think DRS and the other rule changes for this year are going to make for great racing and the best season in years.  I just hope the FIA continue to tweak it so that we get more races like China and none like the dreadful Abu Dhabi finale (amongst countless other races) that we had before this year…

A Great Piece of Fine China

Wow – that was quite a race! Strategy, overtaking, action all through the field… who knew that this year’s Chinese Grand Prix would be such a classic?

One of the main highlights was the battle for the lead between Vettel & Hamilton, which I will analyse here.  But  I also want to look at the brilliant drive from 18th to 3rd by Webber and also the great pace of Rosberg’s Mercedes.  These particular battles were all caused by the relative tyre strategies of each driver and how they managed the increased tyre wear of the Pirelli tyres over the course of the Grand Prix.

The Fight for Victory

Vet Ham

So first let’s look at the race between Vettel & Hamilton.  Both drivers planned to run two stop strategies for the race, but McLaren chose to switch both drivers to three stops as they had concerns over tyre degradation.

Looking at the first stints the drivers run almost identical lap times – save for Hamilton’s last lap of the first stint, which apparently he wasn’t supposed to do but had to – because Button had apparently stopped a lap later than he supposed to and therefore pushed Hamilton back a lap as well.

Hamilton’s second stint was a lot shorter than Vettel’s – it is in this stint where the team decided to switch strategies.  Hamilton’s second in lap is much quicker than Vettel’s and after his second stop is between half a second to a second per lap faster.  It was a great call that paid dividends for Hamilton, who made some great overtaking manoeuvres to keep up the pace without getting stuck behind traffic – finally catching and passing Vettel on lap 51.

Webber on a Charge

Red Bulls

Webber’s strategy couldn’t have been more different – he started 18th after trying to qualify with a KERS problem and a set of hard (prime) tyres that wouldn’t warm up.  But this meant that he had extra sets of unused soft (option) tyres for the race that others would have used in qualifying.

So he started the race on hard tyres and then used 3 sets of soft tyres for each of his pit stops.  This was a great strategy because by using up the hard set first and pitting him early it gave him a clear track to make up ground on his subsequent stints on softs.  Which if you look at his lap times in the next 3 stints you can see that he is faster than both his team mate and Hamilton.

It was still a big gamble and it required Webber to keep a clear head and stay out of trouble, but he did and overtook a lot of cars to make the strategy work.  He wasn’t convinced of himself and a lot of people believe that he could overtake too easy because of the DRS, but without a fast car, a decent strategy and a driver who can punch in fast and consistent lap times without being held up, Webber would not have made up so much ground.  Maybe if it was 2010 he could have got somewhere like 8th if he was lucky, but the new rules allowed him to really have a decent crack at the race.  It was a great drive from him and he was my driver of the day, definitely.

A Great Drive From Rosberg…

Rosberg

The final part of the race that I want to look at is Rosberg’s strategy.  He was leading the race for a while and managed to get a good result for Mercedes – fifth place.  So how come he was able to lead the race?

Upon closer inspection of his lap times, it’s all to do with his first stint.  He pitted a lap or two earlier than the leaders and had a faster in lap, allowing him to jump ahead of the other drivers – and he stayed there with comparable lap times in his next two stints.  His strategy falls apart in his last stint however – because his next two in laps were slower (implying that he pitted slightly too late) and when he changed to the hard tyres to finish his race, his lap times dropped off.  Perhaps the last set of tyres were not new, or he couldn’t get as much heat into them, or that the track didn’t rubber in as much as expected.  But the end result was that he slowly went back down the field to finish in fifth place.

It’s still a great result and I think with Ross Brawn on the pit wall, we could yet see Mercedes get a ‘dark horse’ victory this year.  Sadly in China this was not to be.

So that was the Chinese Grand Prix.  A very entertaining race with plenty of stories throughout the field.  The rule makers have got the mix just right in 2011 and I do hope that we see a lot more races like this – because it’s the shot in the arm F1 needs right now and I have had a lot of people come up to me and tell me how much they are enjoying F1 this year.

Roll on Turkey in 10 days!

Sauber’s Sizzling Speed Stuns Smiling Spectators!

So that was the first Grand Prix of the year.  Not the worst or the best, but not bad either.  It was interesting to see who was fast and who was slow, whether the new technologies would help the racing out, but most important to me was how the new Pirelli tyres would degrade and what strategies the teams would employ with them. Continue reading

Turning The Amp Up To 2011!

Hey guys! Are you excited? I sure am!  I cannot wait for the action to begin tomorrow and like many others I have no idea what’s going to happen…

  • Will the speed of the Red Bulls give them domination?  Will tyre management be more important?
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Blunder on the Orient Express

So you’ve probably seen by now that a few drivers had a little scuffle during the Turkish Grand Prix a couple of weeks ago ;)

Now, a lot has been said and written, lines have been drawn, but really nobody has properly explained what happened between the Red Bull and McLaren drivers which led to their respective incidents.  So I thought it would be a perfect reason to extract the data and look at the lap times… Continue reading

Monaco – Driver Consistency

So… Monaco.  I had to drive and take a train across the country just to make it home in time for the race… but I did, and I plonked myself down on my mate’s couch with his big telly and watched it with a whisky and coconut water in hand and a nice meaty BBQ… Nice!

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Driver Consistency – Malaysia

Note – this post was written the week after the Grand Prix due to the author being on holiday.  For posterity the post was written so that the data may be used in future Analyses…

So we got a full race then.  There was quite a bit of action on the track caused by faster cars coming through the field, so it was a fairly entertaining race.

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Sepang – Qualifying Analysis

Note – this post was written the week after the Grand Prix due to the author being on holiday.  For posterity the post was written so that the data may be used in future Analyses…

After a rain-shortened race last year, a lot of questions were asked whether it was a good idea to hold the race at a similar time of day just to appease European audiences.  The session times were moved back an hour this year, but qualifying was still affected by rain.

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Bahrain Qualifying Analysis – First GP of 2010!

The action finally begins!  After all the drama, talk and hype of the off-season, we finally got to see the cars turn a wheel in anger today … and while we saw some things we expected, by golly we got some surprises too!

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