On Sunday, Max Verstappen won the fourth race of the 2022 championship for Red Bull at the Spanish Grand Prix. The reigning world champion would have won the race in Barcelona. But it did not transpire without drama as the Dutchman made an error before his DRS malfunction issue resurfaced again. 

Max fought to recover from his early trip to the gravel as he tried to find a way to get through George Russell. However, the inconsistency of his car’s DRS stopped Verstappen from overtaking the Mercedes driver on several occasions. The DRS malfunction recurred during the qualifying on Saturday. It restricted the Dutchman from a fight with Charles Leclerc for the pole position. 

Red Bull was quick to replace the DRS actuator and flap pivot pins on Max’s RB18. However, it was not enough to resolve the issue, and Verstappen struggled with the DRS during the race. So what is DRS, and how does F1 allows the use of these overtaking systems during the race?

Red Bull Verstappen
Red Bull RB18

Drag Reduction System(DRS)

The DRS is a device controlled by the driver while overtaking another rival. This increases the probability of more closer action between F1 cars. The button on the driver’s steering wheel opens a flap in the car’s rear wing. The opened flap reduces the aerodynamic drag and provides top speed when the car is within a second of the car running in front. However, drivers can only use DRS when they are in the designated activation zones. First introduced in 2021, the DRS has become a major overtaking tool in F1’s 2022 ground rule effects emphasizing dirty air effect reduction and increase of wheel-to-wheel 

How Does DRS Work In F1?

F1 drivers are only allowed to activate the DRS when they are running within a second of the car ahead, even when the car is being lapped. The drivers have the liberty to use the DRS at will during the practice and the qualifying but only in designated activation zones. 

Drivers could use DRS at will until 2013 during the qualifying. However, it led to the reduction of wheel-to-wheel racing as the teamed overused the system. Hence, F1 came out with the crucial one-second gap between cars to activate the DRS and only within certain zones of the track for the efficient use of the system. 

DRS F1

The distance between the two cars is measured at a detection point before the DRS zone using electronic timing loops on the track surface. A signal activates the car’s DRS in the ensured zone if the following car is found within a second of the leading car. A dash light on the driver’s steering wheel activates to inform them about the DRS availability. The attacking driver can activate the DRS manually by pressing a button on their steering. 

Further, the drivers cannot use the DRS during the first two laps of the race or after a restart following the safety car procedure or red flag periods. FIA’s race director has the power to disable the DRS if the conditions are unsafe, like rainy conditions. Moreover, an off-track car or dropped debris at any given point could lead to a temporary deactivation of the DRS.

DRS

Meanwhile, the front-running drivers can also use their car’s DRS if they are within a second of the following car. The activation of defending the car’s DRS leads to the nullifying of the DRS benefit. It undoes the effect of a speed boost in case a lot of cars are gaining, keeping the gap stable. The phenomenon is called the “DRS train.” 

The drivers need to close the rear wing before accelerating or braking after DRS activation. They are shown a black flag with an orange disc if their rear wings are stuck. The drivers are inclined to get back to the pit and manually shut it by mechanics, not to be used again until repaired. There have been several incidences when a DRS failure led to a crash. For instance, Marcus Ericsson escaped a high-roll during the Italian GP in 2018 while driving for Sauber. The flap did not close when Marcus braked at high speed, leading to a heavy crash.

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