Last week the FIA announced that the 2013 season would see a change to the use of the Drag Reduction System (DRS). Instead of using the system at will during qualifying as opposed to only one location during the race, the new season would restrict qualifying to use only in the designated deployment zone. Some teams argued that they could easily set the cars up to make the most of the rest of the circuit ignoring the DRS zone since it was not as impacting if you could not use it at will during qualifying.
The FIA have countered that argument and suggested that they will now have two DRS zones wherever practical at each race in 2013. This would make the notion of ignoring DRS-sensitive setups for the cars impossible to do. A team would have to factor dual DRS zones into their equation or risk being seriously hampered by the dual deployment zones with a car ratio that wasn’t set up to take advantage of these zones.
Quibbling over DRS zones and car setups is all well and good but expanding a construct in order to increase the artificiality of passing is an odd direction for Formula One to take. While the tams and drivers may all be paying compliment verbally to DRS, it’s not a natural element in racing and perhaps the most discriminating element in F1 in years. Regardless of how quick a teams car is, adding a construct that hampers a driver and benefits another is not parity. F1 has a big enough lack of parity via team budgets and adding two DRS zones only complicates the overarching issue of aerodynamic pervasiveness that is the culprit for the lack of passing in F1.
DRS may be a needed element in order to instigate passing but it is not delivering true overtaking. It’s an element of F1 that taints even the purest of drives by reducing a leader’s ability to fend off a challenge and now that will occur twice a lap instead of once in 2013. Unlike other forms of racing, passing is not its own reward in Formula One. Passing is a tactical element of a race that is only afforded to those good enough, brave enough and quick enough to do so. If the series suffers from aerodynamic oppression, then certainly something has to be done. Is DRS the answer? Possibly but the system itself should be scrutinized for it’s availability, duration and deployment. A simple limit of DRS activiations during a race would at least add an element of parity such as the push-to-pass button that unleashes the Kinetic Energy Recovery System (KERS). Limited use makes each application tactical and the benefits rare but critical. Sure, DRS can be cool but its application is still wanting.
In the end, if F1 wants more overtaking, reduce the impact of aerodynamics. Fans don’t resonate with KERS or DRS and have little interest in racing elements that have large impacts on the sport but can’t be seen from the TV screen. Too many gimmicks reduce the series to an “Extreme Sports” mentality…what’s next? Pump 120 decibel loud, anthemic pop/rock music over the speakers whenever the cars are running to get the crowd excited about a sport that, on its own, is unbearably boring if we didn’t have loud music to create energy? This is Formula One, not winter festival snowboarding or BMX biking.