DRS in F1: All About the Drag Reduction System

A drag reduction system (often abbreviated to DRS) is a device that is fitted as a part of the vehicle’s rear wing to reduce aerodynamic drag and improve fuel economy. These systems can be found on high-performance racing cars and a few production vehicles.

We have everything you need to know about DRS in F1 explained in this overview.

Key Points

  • What Is Drag Reduction System
  • How Does It Work
  • Why Is DRS Used in F1
  • Who Can Activate It
  • When Can DRS Be Used
  • What Are DRS Zones
  • Other FIA Competitions That Use the System

What Is DRS in F1: A Brief Overview

DRS stands for Drag Reduction System, and it’s a concept introduced to Formula One races in 2011. It’s an automatic system activated via F1 car controls at several instances throughout the lap, and it allows the cars to reduce their drag.

DRS was first used in F1 races in 2011 in Barcelona, when it was introduced as a safety mechanism to reduce the chance of collision between cars during overtaking maneuvers.

The idea behind it is simple: when open, DRS allows drivers to take advantage of high-speed corners and straights by reducing their drag coefficient (which means they can go faster through those sections of the circuit).

This can be especially important during qualifying sessions or when trying to pass another driver who’s trying to defend their track position; however, there are certain restrictions on when DRS can be used during an F1 race and how many zones there are per track.

DRS Open on Lewis Hamilton’s Mercedes W12

How Does DRS Work?

The way a DRS works is pretty simple: when activated, it opens up a flap on the rear wing of the car, which increases its downforce and reduces drag.

This gives the cars more velocity on the straights but less grip in corners. Enabling DRS provides around 6.2-7.5 mph of a top speed advantage to the car behind. By activating the system just before entering a corner, drivers can use more throttle than they otherwise would have been able to apply due to increased grip from using less downforce elsewhere on their car.

Why Is DRS Used in F1?

DRS is basically an overtake button in F1 and one of the ways that the organization tries to promote more action on the track. As well as making it easier for drivers to follow each other closely, it’s intended to make already superfast cars even faster in a straight line by reducing downforce. The resulting increase in straight-line speed should help them pass other vehicles more efficiently.

Another aspect of this is security—using the system makes overtaking actions less risky if the car doing the action has a DRS advantage.

Who Activates DRS in F1 Cars?

Is DRS automatic?

Not fully. While the system opens and closes by itself, it’s still the driver of each vehicle who activates DRS when they reach specified zones on the track. This is done by pressing a button on their steering wheel, which causes a flap on the rear wing to open up.

When Can DRS Be Used in F1?

The DRS rules are simple—drivers can only use DRS when they are less than one second behind the car in front, including backmarker traffic.

Given that most drivers are within one second at the start of the race, the DRS is enabled after two completed laps when the field is more spread out.

Unforeseen circumstances such as Safety Car deployment due to crashes or extreme weather can also impact the possibility of activating DRS—in these instances, the DRS can only be enabled when the conditions on the track are deemed safe enough by the race director.

In practice and qualifying, DRS use is unrestricted by the proximity of other cars, but it’s still only allowed in the designated zones.

What Is a DRS Zone and How Many Are There?

The DRS zones are the areas on a circuit where the system can be activated. There are only a few of these zones and they are clearly marked.

DRS activation zones are different from DRS detection lines (shown below), as detection zones are designated to determine whether the driver has the right to use the concept in the following DRS zone on the track.

Belgian-GP-DRS-Zones
Belgian GP DRS Detection and Activation Zones

Typically, each main straight on a circuit features a DRS zone. But if a circuit has a particularly poor reputation for passing, additional zones can be created—and these can include runs featuring shallow corners. Examples of such a run would be the lengthy, meandering zones through the final corners and onto the pit straight in Baku or between Turns 9 and 11 in Miami.

Do Other FIA Series Use the DRS Concept?

The system has also been used in the following racing categories:

  • Formula Renault 3.5 series since 2012,
  • Germany’s DTM championship from 2013 through 2016,
  • GP2/FP3 for its inaugural season in 2009,
  • GP3 Series (formerly known as World Series by Renault), 
  • FIA F2 Championship, and 
  • European Formula 2 with the introduction of a dedicated inter-category Superlicence points table in 2017.