Recently I’ve seen a fair few comments on social media from those curious as to how and why DRS will stay in Formula 1 for the 2022 technical regulations overhaul.
The shake-up’s most radical changes will be principally noticeable on the upper body surfaces of the car, and subsequently to the wake sensitivity. The underside is to be a particular focus of downforce production through ground effect in the producing closer racing.
The Drag Reduction System will indeed stay in the sport for 2022 and is easily implemented on the radically different rear wing displayed on the multiple mock-ups and mule cars unveiled since the 2019 United States Grand Prix.
Photos of these mule cars, particularly the one unveiled at the 2021 British Grand Prix at Silverstone, do not feature a DRS actuator or movable flap which sparked debate as to whether the system had been quietly outlawed.
The shape of the 2022 car’s rear wing will create a rotating airflow wake which subsequently collects the rear wheel wake and sends it towards the flow exiting the rear diffuser. Even though teams will work to reduce this effect and produce downforce from it instead, the lingering dirty air behind the cars will reduce in strength.
So if you’re wondering why its still necessary after the promised reduction in ‘dirty air’ comes into play, making it easier to follow more closely, the answer is in the changing power of the slipstream.
A decrease in the dirty air coming off the car is achieved by reducing the wake produced by the upper-surfaces of the car, which will subsequently reduce the effectiveness of an organic straight-line slipstream too. That’s the part that perhaps isn’t emphasised enough.
Less wake produced by the car ahead means the DRS improves the situation for the driver following by a lesser degree, because there’s less ‘dirty’ wake to be allowed through the opened slot gap in the rear wing of the car directly behind – so a reduced advantage to be gained.
Therefore the DRS is absolutely necessary for now even if it is labelled as an experimental device in 2022. If it’s judged unnecessary for the sport then it can easily be dropped for 2023, but the enormous impact team’s always make on their respective cars’ downforce levels in time will rightly impact the decision.
No matter how strict the regulations are, the more aerodynamically developed and downforce-laden a car becomes over time, the more dirty air it produces. Ross Brawn and F1’s technical working group will know this all too well.
For next season it’s a double-edged sword. The new rules should lead to closer racing, but a less effective slipstream without the continuation of DRS.
The system often labelled as too drastic a ‘gimmick’ for the pinnacle of motorsport is here to stay for now.