Consecutive DRS zones ruining the race?

While the new Formula 1 regulations have proven effective, other issues such as DRS power have emerged as the new issues affecting racing.

After starting the 2022 season with two rounds at high-speed circuits in the Middle East, Formula 1 has launched a new era with unexpected success thanks to new regulations introduced to bring racing closer together.

Although they managed to keep their rivals within striking distance by following downforce-dependent sections of track, a new problem arose from an old friend.

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

Max Verstappen showed it to us with a series of lunges over Charles Leclerc on the first corner in Bahrain, coming back from as far as the DRS detection limit at the start of the main straight.

This, combined with a Red Bull powertrain that showed a tangible advantage in straight-line speed, was a dangerous mix against Ferrari entering a Jeddah corniche circuit that uses a sequence of three consecutive DRS zones at the end of the tower.

The Saudi Arabian Grand Prix was then a quick wake-up call for the drivers that they would be much more success waiting to overtake until the first cornerdespite massive overspeed on the main rivals entering the final corner.

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

This was evidenced by the double lock-ups of Verstappen and Leclerc before the DRS sense line before the first corner braking zone.

These unconventional racing dynamics were a sight to behold for all fans, but prompted a new question that will dictate the immediate future of Formula 1 regulations: should drivers ever be incentivized to intentionally slow down for a strategic advantage?

This question does not apply to the 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.

Bahrain’s double-DRS provided a unique tactical playing field in the first corner that didn’t force either driver to unduly slow the pace, but Jeddah’s triple-DRS gave too much of an advantage to the following car.

Fortunately, despite the start of the season suggesting that this could be a season-long trend, the track design of these first two circuits only gives us a small sampling of specific track types regarding the provision of the DRS.

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