Formula 1: Consecutive DRS zones ruining racing?

Max Verstappen, Red Bull, Charles Leclerc, Ferrari, Formula 1 (Photo by Eric Alonso/Getty Images)
Max Verstappen, Red Bull, Charles Leclerc, Ferrari, Formula 1 (Photo by Eric Alonso/Getty Images) /

As the new Formula 1 regulations have proven to work, other issues such as the power of DRS have propped themselves up as the new issues afflicting racing.

Having begun the 2022 season with two rounds at high-speed circuits in the Middle East, Formula 1 has kicked off a new era with unanticipated success from the new regulations introduced to bring back closer racing.

While they have proven to be successful in keeping rivals within striking distance following downforce-dependent sections of track, a new issue has arisen from an old friend.

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Originally introduced as a “band-aid” solution to Formula 1’s dirty air problem under the past generation of regulations, Drag Reduction System (DRS) has become a central figure in wheel-to-wheel battles for the 2022 season, as the gains from the open rear wing often far outweigh the gains of track position entering lengthy straights.

Max Verstappen showed us this with a series of lunges on Charles Leclerc into turn one in Bahrain, coming back from as far as the boundary of DRS detection at the beginning of the main straight.

This, combined with a Red Bull Powertrain which has shown a tangible advantage in straight-line speed, was a dangerous mix facing Ferrari going into a Jeddah Corniche Circuit which utilizes a sequence of three consecutive DRS zones at the end of the lap.

The Saudi Arabian Grand Prix went on to be a quick realization for drivers that they would be far more successful waiting to overtake until turn one, despite having massive over-speed on leading rivals going into the final corner.

This led to an awkward dynamic in which drivers either conceded track position or intentionally slowed themselves for the advantage of DRS.

This was highlighted by the dual lockups of Verstappen and Leclerc before the DRS detection line prior to the braking zone of turn one.

This unconventional racing dynamic was a spectacle to behold for all fans but proposed a new question that will dictate the immediate future of Formula 1 regulations: should drivers ever be incentivized to intentionally slow themselves for a strategic advantage?

This question does not apply to fuel or tire strategies that have made Formula 1 such an entertaining sport throughout its history, but to on-track elements such as the current DRS dilemma.

The double-DRS of Bahrain offered a unique field of tactical play into turn one which required neither driver to abnormally reduce pace, but the triple-DRS of Jeddah provided too strong of an advantage to the trailing car.

Thankfully, despite the start to the season suggesting a potential for this to be a season-long trend, the track designs of these first two circuits give us only a small sample size of specific track types regarding the layout of DRS.

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Other double-DRS tracks which could see the issue of voluntary non-overtaking are Canada, Austria, Mexico (single detection point), Brazil, and Abu Dhabi. With both Canada and Austria midway through the season, Formula 1 decision-makers will be able to adjust the DRS zones of the final three races accordingly for the best racing possible.