What Is DRS In Formula 1?

What Is DRS In Formula 1?

Since 2011, fans and drivers of the Formula 1 (F1) community debated the use of the Drag Reduction System meant to improve racing excitement with more overtaking.

A driver activates Drag Reduction System (DRS) by holding the DRS button on his wheel if he is within the DRS Zone and within 1 second of the car ahead. An activated DRS opens the car's rear wing to reduces the air resistance (or drag) to assist in following and overtaking. Every F1 track has at least two DRS zones. 

Hamilton DRS

DRS button on Lewis Hamilton’s 2013 season steering wheel
Source: Reddit r/F1Technical
DRS Flap
Photo: Formula One car rear wing in DRS closed vs DRS open position
Source: f1.fandom.com 


We are going to explore further on the DRS and its many critics.

How DRS work

In motorsports, especially Formula One, aerodynamics is important. There are 4 forces of aerodynamics: Thrust, Drag, Lift, and Weight.

When the rear wing is in the default closed position, there is increased drag due to air resistance acting on the rear wing. When the thrust created by the engine of the F1 car turning the wheels in a manner that pushes the car forward is greater than the drag acting in the opposite direction, the car accelerates. 

With DRS to reduce drag, the driver can accelerate his car faster and gain an advantage over and potentially overtake the car ahead of his. The car ahead cannot use DRS to defend its lead.

DRS Zones

In every Formula One track, there are at least two DRS zones. These are usually long straights where cars record their greatest speed across the entire circuit.

DRZ Zones are the only areas where DRS is permitted. Using DRS outside of the DRS zones will result in a penalty or even disqualification due to the unfair advantage it would create for drivers using it.

DRS Detection Zones

Prior to every DRS zone, there is a DRS detection zone. These zones interact with onboard telemetry from F1 cars to determine whether or not the chasing car is within 1 second of the car ahead.

If it is deemed ‘eligible’ to use DRS, and a dashboard light will signal this to the driver, who can engage DRS with the push of a button on his steering wheel. From there, DRS remains open until the driver releases the button, or when he brakes his car.

Photo: DRS Zones and Detection Zones on the Marina Bay Street Circuit
Source: f1.com

History of DRS Problems

Video: Nico Hulkenberg’s engineers use some interesting techniques to rectify an open DRS
Source: Reddit r/formula1

During the 2017 Japanese Grand Prix, Nico Hulkenberg had the DRS of his Renault stuck in the open position, leading to him coming into the pits where his engineers used some rather questionable methods to try to rectify the situation, before deciding to retire him from the race altogether than face the risk of penalties from the race stewards.

More notably in 2019, DRS was disabled for 17 laps of the 2019 Abu Dhabi Grand Prix. This was due to a server issue which resulted in cars not being able to receive the necessary data so as to ensure that DRS could only be engaged in the DRS zones, and not on other parts of the track. (https://www.racefans.net/2019/12/01/server-crash-caused-drs-black-out-during-abu-dhabi-gp/)


Typically, DRS can only be enabled two laps into the start of the race or the restart of the race following an incident or safety car deployment. This is so as to give drivers time to establish leads and gaps between each other so that not everyone will have DRS at the same time. Such a situation might be disastrous when one considers the amount of close proximity overtaking which may occur should all drivers be given DRS at the start of the race.

DRS may also be disabled as a result of weather conditions, where it may be considered too dangerous to give drivers the option to go even faster than they already are. In such situations, the race director will have the discretion as to whether or not to, and when to re-enable DRS. 


DRS was first introduced in 2011 in order to help boost the low amount of overtakes in races at the time. In the seasons following the introduction of DRS, the number of overtakes in races actually increased (https://www.autosport.com/f1/news/127597/how-drs-has-skewed-f1-overtaking-records), before falling again as a result of the changes to the technical regulations for Formula One in the 2017 season, which saw F1 cars become wider and faster overall, making overtaking difficult once again.

Formula One again sought to rectify this by adding a third DRS zone to circuits which saw low overtaking numbers such as Marina Bay in Singapore and the Bahrain International Circuit. (https://www.formula1.com/en/latest/article.third-drs-zone-added-for-2019-singapore-grand-prix.4kvO24mLl17DGMeMTRsU4T.html) Whilst overtaking did see an increase from that point, the numbers never did return to pre-2017 regulation changes levels. 


DRS has had its fair share of both criticism and praise since its introduction in 2011. Whilst initially praised for bringing excitement back to races by increasing the number of overtakes in races, many also complained about the lack of skill required from drivers to execute overtaking maneuvers with the use of DRS. 7-time F1 race winner Juan Pablo Montoya likened giving drivers DRS to ‘giving Picasso Photoshop’. (https://www.autosport.com/f1/news/113650/montoya-overtaking-too-easy-with-drs)

The main criticism of DRS is that the defending driver does not get an equal opportunity to defend his position, as only the attacking driver behind him will get the option to engage DRS. This especially influences situations where a driver enters the DRS detection zone just marginally ahead of another driver and enter the DRS zone side by side only to lose their position.

When interviewed in 2018, 4-time Formula One World Champion Sebastian Vettel claimed that he would rather ‘throw bananas’ out of his cockpit à la Mario Kart than use DRS. (https://www.topgear.com/car-news/formula-one/vettel-throwing-bananas-cockpit-more-fun-drs)

All in all, it seems that the underlying issue behind the DRS debate is that DRS makes for a very artificial method to encourage close proximity racing between drivers, with many opting to blast past the opposition than attempt audacious and daring moves. Reigning World Champion Lewis Hamilton, certainly shares this view when he told ESPN ‘While I think DRS enables overtaking, it's like a Band-Aid for the ultimate flaw in the whole concept of a Formula One car: that you can't follow.’ (https://www.espn.co.uk/f1/story/_/id/21441932/lewis-hamilton-drs-band-aid-f1-biggest-flaw)

The 2021 regulation changes (now pushed to 2022) seek to reduce the amount of downforce loss due to dirty air produced by cars ahead of a chasing car from 40% to as low as 5%. This seeks to encourage closer racing, and for more battles between drivers. They also seek to make spending by teams fairer by introducing a cost cap on teams. (https://apnews.com/7e01a9da1a97f2169425985cef86b64c)

The changes look set to produce a fairer playing field with no teams having significant technological advantages as a result of the cost caps, and perhaps then, we will be able to see even closer racing and battling for positions between drivers, without the need for DRS to facilitate that.

Efforts have been made to get the information as accurate and updated as possible. If you found any incorrect information with credible source, please send it via the contact us form
Author: Alex Low
He is a polytechnic student, studying Law, interested in all sports, including Formula One. Have some thoughts on the driver lineup come 2021 and wouldn't mind giving his two cents on that.
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