What is DRS in F1, how does it work and is it automatic? (2023)

The Drag Reduction System (DRS) is a controversial driver-controlled device aimed at aiding overtaking and increasing the chances of wheel-to-wheel racing in Formula 1.

The system, which involves the driver opening a flap in their rear wing to reduce drag levels and gain top speed when running within a second of a car in front, was introduced back in 2011. It remains in use with the new rules reset from the start of the 2022 season.

But, as it did when it was first adopted over a decade ago, DRS continues to be a source of contention among F1 competitors and fans.

Why is DRS used in F1?

DRS is primarily an overtaking aid. It was introduced in 2011 to make overtaking easier. It allows drivers to increase straightline speed by dumping rear wing drag through a slot that can be opened when a car is running within one second of the car in front. Drivers can also use the system on practice and qualifying laps, even when running alone on track.

The device is often criticised because by pressing a button to gain a speed boost, drivers are artificially able to gain time on rivals ahead.

Therefore, it is often claimed that this takes away from the skill of pulling off a challenging overtaking manoeuvre. Juan Pablo Montoya – the former F1 driver and double Indianapolis 500 winner famed for his bolshy passes in the era that predated DRS – compared the device to “giving Picasso Photoshop”.

But DRS is not a simple ‘overtake button’ that automatically means getting past the car in front. While there have been plenty of occasions where its power has been deemed to be too great and so passes have occurred well before braking zones on straights, the tool is generally aimed at assisting overtaking when drivers would otherwise be stuck in dirty, turbulent air.

What is DRS in F1, how does it work and is it automatic? (1)

A DRS sign and circuit detail

Photo by: Zak Mauger / Motorsport Images

However, as the latest generation of F1 cars have been designed to allow drivers to follow more closely with a reduced ‘dirty air’ effect, many people had hoped this would lead to DRS being dropped. While that is an aim of F1’s sporting bosses in the coming years, the device’s continuing usage remains disputed.

Since wing-produced aerodynamics became an integral part of F1 car performance in late 1960s this has had a direct effect on how closely the cars are able to follow each other.

(Video) How Does DRS Work? | F1 TV Tech Talk | Crypto.com

But as engine parity in the era before 2014 meant teams could rarely rely on a major grunt advantage to start ahead of or overcome a rival car, the smaller performance gaps placed a greater emphasis on the ‘dirty air’ effect in racing.

This is the phenomenon of air that has already been pushed around by one car landing on the front end of a car following behind, leading to unpredictable handling and increased tyre wear due to increased car sliding.

In the era around the turn of the millennium, the ‘dirty air’ problem was so great, teams would often pit a chasing car to try and jump ahead when their leading rival stopped, which significantly reduced on-track passing. This, in turn, was criticised by fans and observers as an inferior F1 racing product.

DRS continued to be used in the turbo hybrid era, which dramatically altered F1’s competitive order up to the end of 2021. From 2022, F1 has returned to ground effect rules to reduce the dirty air effect and increase wheel-to-wheel passing.

While this is generally accepted to have worked, the altered aerodynamics have reduced the slipstream effect. This, allied with the championship reaching greater engine performance parity ahead of a rules alteration in that area of the cars for 2026, means DRS continues to have a major impact in overtaking manoeuvres.

What is DRS in F1, how does it work and is it automatic? (2)

Rear wing and DRS actuator on the Williams FW44

Photo by: Mark Sutton / Motorsport Images

What is DRS and how does it work?

The DRS uses an actuator controlling a flap in the middle of an F1 car’s rear wing that can be opened when drivers push a steering wheel button after they enter a designated part of each track. These areas are known as DRS ‘Activation’ zones. The open flap reduces rear wing surface area and so serves to reduce aerodynamic drag, rapidly increasing straightline speed.

In races, this is allowed when a driver is running within one second of a car ahead – even if this car is being lapped. In practice and qualifying, DRS can be used at will, but only within the set activation zones. Until 2013, drivers could use DRS at any point on track to reduce drag on a qualifying run. This led to teams implementing set-ups that were for perfect use in qualifying, but hampered drivers attempting to race wheel-to-wheel.

The critical one-second gap between cars is measured at specific points before a DRS zone – known as a ‘detection’ point. Here, electronic timing loops in the track surface measure the distance between two cars. If the following car is measured at running less than one second behind, a signal is sent to the car, allowing its DRS to be activated in the ensuing zone.

Typically, the drivers are informed they can use DRS by dash lights activating on their steering wheels. For the car in front, teams generally radio their drivers to warn if a rival is within the vital gap. The attacking driver will manually activate DRS by pressing a steering wheel button – this can be arranged on the front or back of the steering wheel depending on driver preference.

(Video) How will DRS work on the 2022 F1 cars?

If running with DRS active and the rear wing open, drivers will turn off DRS and shut the flap the next time they lift off the accelerator or press the brake pedal. The steering wheel button also closes the rear wing flap if pressed a second time per activation.

What is DRS in F1, how does it work and is it automatic? (3)

Red Bull Racing RB16B DRS gap checking

Photo by: Giorgio Piola

Drivers can choose to close the wing before braking into a corner, if they are concerned about the aerodynamic load reattaching to the full rear wing and possibly leading to corner entry instability.

Drivers do not have to activate DRS if running within one second of another car. Plus, pressing the button too early means it will not open at the desired point, leading to a delay before the wing can then be opened.

DRS cannot be used on the first two laps of a race or after standing or rolling restarts following safety car or red flag periods. The FIA race director officials can also disable DRS at their discretion if conditions are deemed to be unsafe – for example due to rain. A car going off track or dropped debris at a certain point can also lead to DRS being temporarily deactivated in a specific zone.

Defending drivers can only activate DRS if they too are within one second of a car in front. This generally occurs in a phenomenon known as a ‘DRS train’. This essentially undoes the DRS benefit, because it negates the impact of a top speed boost if many cars in a group are gaining and gaps typically therefore remain stable.

It is also common for a defending driver to redeploy their electrical energy usage via the hybrid elements of modern F1 powertrains – this is typically called an ‘overtake’ button, but for some teams this is known as a ‘SoC’ (state of charge) button – to accelerate faster onto a straight. This is typically deployed as a bid to reduce the chance of being overhauled by a car chasing behind with DRS active by the end of an activation zone.

What is DRS in F1, how does it work and is it automatic? (4)

Sergio Perez, Red Bull Racing RB18

Photo by: Mark Sutton / Motorsport Images

How many DRS zones are there?

The number of DRS zones varies per track and the figure is also determined by other venue characteristics.

(Video) How the DRS (Drag Reduction System) works in Formula 1

Typically, each main straight at every track features a DRS zone. But if a circuit has a particularly poor reputation for passing, additional zones can be created – and these can include runs featuring shallow corners. Examples of such a run would be the lengthy, meandering zones through the final corners and onto the pit straight in Baku or between Turns 9 and 11 in Miami.

At the recent 2022 Australia GP, the reprofiled track was originally listed with four DRS zones. The thinking behind this was to use two of the zones – the run down the pitstraight and the new curving section that replaced the old chicane in Melbourne – to allow drivers to close in on rivals and then attempt a pass using DRS through the other two zones into corners that encourage overtaking with big braking zones (Turns 3 and 11).

The DRS zone between Turns 8 and 9 at the 2022 Albert Park layout was removed on safety grounds ahead of final practice following lobbying from certain teams. This meant the highest number of DRS zones used in an F1 qualifying or race session remains three.

Although DRS can be used through corners that have very shallow angles – and at some tracks these curves may not even by designated as official turns by the FIA – it is generally unsafe to run with a rear wing slot open through most corners.

Although the reduced drag would increase top speed, the corresponding lack of downforce severely reduces car control. This can lead to big accidents given DRS zones usually finish at the end of long straights or acceleration zones.

For certain specific corners, the FIA has allowed drivers to attempt to take them with DRS active.

A famous example was at the 2018 British GP – where a third zone running down the Silverstone pitstraight and through the very fast opening two corners was included. But two big accidents at the first corner – Abbey – for Romain Grosjean and Marcus Ericsson respectively followed in practice and the race. For 2019 the zone was removed has not returned to F1 use at Silverstone in the following two season.

What is DRS in F1, how does it work and is it automatic? (5)

Romain Grosjean, Haas F1 Team VF-18

Photo by: Glenn Dunbar / Motorsport Images

The possibility of a DRS failure can lead to drivers being shown the black flag with an orange disc if their rear wings get stuck open.

If this happens, a driver would be required to return to the pits to allow the flap to be manually shut by mechanics and then not used again if it could not be repaired. A famous example of a DRS failure leading to a crash occurred at the 2018 Italian GP, where Ericsson crashed heavily at Monza’s first chicane as the DRS on his Sauber car did not close as expected when he braked at high-speed.

(Video) What is DRS and Why is it So Important in Formula 1?

What can drivers do with DRS?

Drivers can only activate DRS when they are in the designated activation zones and when they are within one second of a car in front in races – this includes backmarker traffic.

In practice and qualifying, DRS use is unrestricted other than only being allowed in the designated zones.

What other series uses DRS?

DRS is also used in Formula 2 and Formula 3 on the F1 support bill.

When it was first introduced to FIA F3 in 2017 – when the series was known as GP3 – drivers could only activate and use the system on a maximum of six laps per feature race and four laps for sprint events. Since 2019, DRS usage in F3 has been run in line with F1 rules. DRS has been used in F2 since it was known as GP2 back in 2015, with the series continuing to include DRS when it introduced its new F2 2018 car for the 2018 season.

Other series have previously used DRS in the same way as F1, such as the DTM in the years before it adopted GT3 rules in 2021.

Overtaking aids are common in other motorsport series. But these involve boosting engine performance for a set amount of time each race (such as IndyCar’s push-to-pass and Super Formula’s Overtake System), or as with Formula E’s attack mode, which allows drivers to temporarily run in a more powerful energy deployment setting, while the total amount of time can be different at each race.

What is DRS in F1, how does it work and is it automatic? (6)

Juri Vips, Hitech Grand Prix battles Ayumu Iwasa, Dams

Photo by: Mark Sutton / Motorsport Images

FAQs

Does F1 DRS open automatically? ›

The detection of the one-second gap between cars is fully automated via sensors in the cars as they enter the detection zone on the race track, however, the actual deployment of the DRS system is completed manually by the driver pressing a button on the steering wheel.

Is DRS in F1 automatic or manual? ›

If a driver is eligible for DRS, it can be activated by the driver with a button on their steering wheel. DRS can be deactivated either manually by the driver or automatically when the brakes are applied.

How many times can you use DRS in F1? ›

Drivers can use the DRS as many times as they want in the assigned DRS activation zones if they pass through the detection zones less than one second behind the driver in front.

Who triggers DRS in F1? ›

For the car in front, teams generally radio their drivers to warn if a rival is within the vital gap. The attacking driver will manually activate DRS by pressing a steering wheel button – this can be arranged on the front or back of the steering wheel depending on driver preference.

What happens if DRS gets stuck open? ›

However, if due to a mechanical or a technical issue, the DRS wing remains open, the driver would have to stop and get it fixed in a pitstop or retire his car as he would lose huge downforce on the corners making it really difficult to drive the car.

Why cant F1 use DRS all the time? ›

The reason DRS is not available to use in all parts of the track is because the rear wing is there for a reason, and that is aerodynamics. This helps generate downforce that pins the car to the ground and keeps it from sliding or losing traction while cornering (when the lateral forces are acting on the car).

Is DRS deactivated automatically? ›

As far as I'm aware, DRS is disabled automatically the moment driver hits the brakes. I think they also can disable it manually before then.

How fast can a F1 car go with DRS? ›

Top speed: 300km/h / 186mph approx.

Can the leader in F1 use DRS? ›

In addition, a driver can only activate the DRS in the zone if he is within one second of the car ahead of him. Hence, the race leader cannot use DRS unless he is behind a few cars who are getting lapped in a DRS zone. The number of DRS zones are different for each race track on the F1 calendar.

How close do you need to be for DRS F1? ›

The drivers can only use the DRS during designated activation zones. To ensure that overtaking is not too easy, the length and location of the zones are carefully controlled. They must be within one second of a car in front to be able to use the DRS.

Can DRS be used in last lap? ›

The system can only be used in the designated are (typically called the DRS zone) The system can only be used 2 laps after the race start, or re-start or after the safety car has been deployed. The race condition is not deemed to be dangerous by the race director.

Does every F1 team have DRS? ›

What is DRS? DRS, or drag reduction system, is a clever system on all F1 cars to aid in close racing and overtaking.

How do F1 drivers know when to brake? ›

They use the distance markers that indicate how far they are away from the corner ahead as reference points.

Does DRS push the car down? ›

This system was introduced in Grand Prix racing to facilitate overtaking. The rear wing of an F1 car is designed to generate downforce (pushing the car down) but as a consequence it also produces massive turbulence called drag. And drag reduces the top speed of the car.

Why is there no DRS after safety car? ›

If the DRS system is used by the defending driver, then it defeats the purpose of DRS. DRS reduces the drag of the car following so that it can catch up to the car in front with the intention of overtaking it. If the car in front also reduces its drag, then the car behind can't catch up.

Whats faster F1 or IndyCar? ›

IndyCar machinery reaches top speeds of approximately 235mph from twin-turbocharged 2.2-litre V6 engines, whereas F1 cars reach top speeds of approximately 205mph from turbocharged 1.6-litre V6 hybrid engines - although in 2019, both Sebastian Vettel and Sergio Perez managed to hit 223.5mph at Monza and Mexico City, ...

How many DRS can be used in a race? ›

Most tracks have one DRS zone, although some have two. The DRS can only be used once a driver has closed to within a second of the car ahead at a specified 'detection point' on the circuit.

What is overtake Button in F1? ›

If you press the overtake button in F1 22, the energy from the battery is made available to your car, which enables additional horsepower. This effectively makes your car faster. You can not only use the overtake button to overtake, but also to defend yourself, or in qualifying to simply drive a fast lap.

How long can a DRS zone be? ›

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.

Can DRS system be manipulated? ›

Hemant Buch, who has been the broadcast director for more than 100 Tests, said while a human error is possible, it is highly unlikely that the ball-tracking visuals could be manipulated, as implied by the India captain. The ball-tracking technology is supplied by Hawk-Eye, one of the two vendors approved by the ICC.

Why DRS is not available in rain? ›

So, why cant DRS be used in the rain? Well, the sacrifice for that speed boost is that the rear end of the car basically removed around 30% of its downforce. This causes the centre of pressure to move forward and put more load on the front tyres.

Can F1 cars use DRS in rain? ›

Specific rules are in place during rainy races in F1 to ensure the safety of everyone. First, the race may start behind a safety car for a few laps, allowing the vehicles to navigate the track while drying out the racing line safely. Next, the FIA does not allow using DRS on a wet track.

How much fuel does an F1 car hold? ›

The fuel cells in the cars hold approximately 18 US gallons, although the teams will attempt to put in as little as possible at a time in order for the cars to be lighter and therefore quicker.

What speed do F1 cars idle at? ›

Normally, the Formula 1 racing engine idles at 5000 RPM—and revs all the way to 15,000—but obviously that isn't acceptable for a street car that needs to pass emissions testing. "You have leakage in the throttles in Formula 1 and nobody cares, because it runs at a 5000-RPM idle," Moers added.

Which F1 track has the most DRS zones? ›

1. Bahrain International Circuit. The Bahrain International Circuit is home to three DRS zones, which means flat-out racing in three sections of the track. There is also a long straight between turns 13 and 14, allowing drivers with cars good on high-speed straights plenty of opportunities for overtaking.

Why do F1 drivers get weighed? ›

F1 drivers are weighed after races for two reasons. The first reason is to see how much weight the driver has lost during the race. The second is to make sure themselves and the car are above the minimum weight mentioned in the rules. All of the drivers are weighed immediately after a race.

What do F1 drivers do after a race? ›

When F1 drivers don't go home after a race, they'll usually stay in a 5-star hotel or a fancy short-term rental apartment. This is completely up to the driver and their partner (if they join them for the race weekend). This will be paid for by the team, though, as the driver is there for work purposes.

How does the DRS work in F1 2022? ›

DRS stands for Drag Reduction System. It allows the drivers to adjust the amount of drag caused by the rear wing. If drivers reduce their drag, they can increase top speed, which is helpful in overtaking other cars. However, there are limits on when drivers can use the DRS which F1 22 adheres to.

Why can DRS be used all the time? ›

The DRS is an overtaking aid, but drivers can only use it in designated DRS zones that are set before the start of a race weekend. Most tracks have one DRS zone, although some have two. The DRS can only be used once a driver has closed to within a second of the car ahead at a specified 'detection point' on the circuit.

How much speed does an F1 car gain with DRS? ›

The way a DRS works is pretty simple: when activated, it opens up a flap on the rear wing of the car, which increases its downforce and reduces drag. This gives the cars more velocity on the straights but less grip in corners. Enabling DRS provides around 6.2-7.5 mph top-speed advantage to the car behind.

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