Grand prix race director Charlie Whiting talks us through the DRS movable rear wing system that is putting a buzz back in Formula One.
For years, F1 has resisted the appeal of movable aerodynamic devices, but this year that’s all changed with the drag reduction system (DRS), better known as the movable rear wing. Once a lap, if there’s a close battle on track, the following car gets a little bit of a speed advantage to counter the turbulence of the car in front. Purists howl, realists shrug and armchair punters get to see a better race. But how does it work? Charlie Whiting, the man with his finger on the button, is the best person to answer those questions…
People talk about the DRS being ‘armed’ – but you don’t press anything in race control, it’s all handled by the timing computers and the electronics in the car?
It’s all done automatically, race control has no input. A timing loop [buried in the track] registers if a car is within one second of the car it is chasing; that information is passed to central control. At the next loop a signal is passed back to the car, informing the driver he will be able to use DRS, and at the third loop he can push the button and the wing will operate. It is entirely automatic, but the way in which the driver gets the signal is entirely configurable by the team.
What happens if the driver presses the button too early?
If you press it too early, it won’t work. You will have to release the button and press it again in the correct zone.
'If we’re going to make a change, we need a clear reason'
And what puts the wing back down again at the end of the zone?
The first time a driver brakes, the system resets. It won’t be usable again until the driver receives another signal on a subsequent lap. Equally, if he comes onto the straight, having been given the DRS activation signal, and doesn’t use the DRS, as soon as he brakes the system with reset – so he should use it or he loses the chance.
Why can drivers use DRS whenever they want in practice and qualifying, but only under very specific circumstances in the race?
The problem is that if we don’t allow it to be used in practice there will be probably a tendency for the teams to gear the cars for optimum performance and they wouldn’t use the DRS at all in the race, because they wouldn’t sacrifice qualifying speed. They’d use a different top gear and consequently wouldn’t have the right top gear for the race.
Is there anything you can do about that?
There has been a suggestion that maybe during practice and qualifying, we configure the system so it only works on the section of track where it works in the race [but without the one-second-following stipulation]. We need to do some work to see if that is worthwhile. If we’re going to make a change, we need a clear reason to make it.
This all seems a bit complicated…
I certainly attempt to try and make things as simple as possible! If they’re complicated it is difficult for commentators and you guys to try explaining them. But Formula One is quite a complex sport, isn’t it? Personally I think it looks quite interesting. I think the TV guys have done a great job in showing when it’s used, how it’s used, how different drivers use it and the mechanical differences between the wings. When the Red Bull flap comes up it’s almost horizontal. Others look as if they’re only half-open. They’re not, they’re just designed differently, and that I think is a fairly interesting element to it.
The DRS is either open or closed, there’s nothing in-between?
That’s correct, there is nothing in-between. It is up or down.
'We are certainly going to consider DRS at more than one point on the track'
Some drivers are saying it’s difficult to use DRS and KERS at the same time – would you consider changing the way it works to give them fewer buttons to push?
If you have two or three drivers saying they’re a bit overloaded, and you have 10 drivers saying, ‘we’re fine, thanks,’ what do you do? Do you cater for the three that are finding it hard, or do you encourage them to try to find the same solutions the others have? As always, I think they’ll all catch up, to be honest.
The system won’t be used if the cars are on full wet or intermediate tyres – but what happens if the race starts dry and rain falls later?
If it started dry and turned wet, as soon as cars started to change to wets, we would disable DRS. Then if it stopped raining and the track dried out and there were no more spray – and generally speaking the spray goes before they start to change back to dry weather tyres – as soon as we were happy that visibility were good again, we would enable it again.
There are rumours doing the rounds of DRS being allowed at more than one point on the track, for future races – is that a genuine prospect?
Yes. It’s something we are certainly going to consider. But it’s quite a complex matter just to get a detection point, a notification point and an activation point for one straight. We want to make sure all the things are working first and then if that looks promising there’s no reason we couldn’t use it in other places.
Any further thoughts?
Beyond that, we are looking towards a GPS-based system that could give us more proximity-detection opportunities without having to jump from one loop to another loop to another – but we really ought to see how it goes first. We don’t want to run before we can walk.
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