A pain in D-RS?

Right, I’ve got nothing to do for the next ten minutes, so why not batter out some F1 related words, even if not on a particularly interesting or original topic. Just ten minutes. DRS. Good, bad or somewhere in-between?

To cut to the chase, I think bad. Why? Because in my view it’s an unnecessary gimmick, as we have enough going on in F1 2011 with the Pirelli tyres and KERS without having the need for somewhat artificial overtaking as well. And what’s more, I reckon it’s quietly killing one of things that makes up the rich tapestry of F1 racing, as I’ll explain in a minute.

Don’t get me wrong, I’ve got nothing against rule changes that make things closer or more competitive (don’t get me started on weight ballast or penalising people for winning races though). It’s just that DRS seems a bit, well, contrived. You cross a line. If you’re one second or less behind the car in front a wee slot opens up in your wing and you can power past. This activation line is only at one point on the track, and sometimes you can get a second hit of the wing opening for good measure if the race organisers have decided to have a double zone. That, to my mind, is a gimmick of the kind more suited to WWF or Gladiators or similar – a bit like giving footballers two points if they score from more than 30 yards out, if you will.

Regardless of its rather contrived and artificial nature – after all, one could argue that people racing human-built cars on tracks constructed entirely by other homo sapiens is in itself a constructed thing – what’s really been getting my back up about DRS is the people it benefits or doesn’t benefit. Until recently, there was a phenomenon known as the Trulli Train. For the uninitiated, I’ll explain quickly. Italian driver Jarno Trulli used to have a habit of qualifying very well but then pacing himself during the race. This meant that he’d be quite high up the grid, going quite slowly with a queue of faster race drivers stuck behind him unable to get past.

Now, Trulli wasn’t a bad driver – he won the Monaco Grand Prix no less – but he wasn’t the fastest either. Nonetheless, by being quick in qualifying and reasonably crafty over the course of the race, he was able to punch well above his weight and get some danged good results. Now, what we’re seeing this year is the guys in faster cars who have maybe had problems or bad qualifying sessions creaming back through the field with ease, as they are able to blast back past the guys who are perhaps in slower cars but have through good fortune or clever racecraft found themselves in an elevated position.

Take Canada for instance. Japanese driver Kamui Kobayashi, in a mid-
grid spec Sauber, found himself in second place at the restart due to some good fortune in not having to pit for tyres before the race was paused due to heavy rain. After the restart, though, on a drying track faster car after faster car after faster car whizzed past (in fairness, Kobayashi did make a wee mistake, and his team really should have pulled him in for tyres a lap earlier, but still…) He ended up seventh, most gallingly with factory Ferrari pilot Felipe Massa – who hadn’t been able to get past Kamui until the Japanese made a mistake and then took his nose off trying to lap the slowest driver on the track – taking him on the line by virtue of getting a temporary slot in his wing. Now, I know I am what you would call a Kobyashi ‘Fanboi’, but I wasn’t alone in feeling he was robbed.

My point in short is this. DRS is giving us overtaking, that’s true. But all it really seems to be doing is helping to stratify the cars on the grid in terms of power and aerodynamic capability. It seems to be the midfield teams, the Force Indias, Toro Rossos, Saubers and Williamses, that are losing the chance to punch well above their weight by getting ahead through tactical gambles or good racecraft. And is a whole season of watching Red Bulls, McLarens and Mercedes scythe through the also-rans really better entertainment than watching someone like Paul di Resta fend off a hard-charging frontrunner for an unlikely podium? This observer’s not convinced.

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