DRS In 2013 – RedBull territory

RedBull have been famously weak at power circuits such as Spa and Monza in previous seasons, down on power compared to their rivals, straight line speed has always been an Achilles heel of the Newey designed RB cars, but is that set to change in 2013?
Thursday, November 22, 2012

November 21th, 2012 (F1plus / James Parker).- The Drag Reduction System, or more commonly known DRS, has been a permanent fixture in the Formula 1 regulations for nearly 2 years. Labelled by some as a “gimmick” whilst others see it as a god-send, it has created its own form of controversy since its introduction at the start of the 2011 F1 season. Aimed at increasing the amount of overtaking through a Grand Prix, (a problem that has plagued F1 for some years since aero dependence took over) it has been optimised as best it can by the FIA to become as effective as possible for each circuit where overtaking has been notoriously difficult.

Currently the rules on DRS use by drivers (the device cutting the aerodynamic drag on a car by utilising a flap on the rear wing) varies during the weekend, which see’s drivers able to use it whenever they feel comfortable on a lap during Practice and Qualifying sessions, but only in designated “zones” during a race come Sunday.

For 2013 however, the FIA plan to completely shake-up the way DRS is to be utilised throughout a Grand Prix weekend, with news appearing today that drivers will no longer be able to use the system at their own free will during Practice and Qualifying, instead the device being governed by the designated “DRS zones” as seen in the race on a Sunday afternoon.

This could see lap times fall by as much as 3-4 seconds at some circuits with speeds of course dramatically being reduced during the entire lap. At power circuits like Spa and Monza the benefits of the unlimited DRS usage during Qualifying for the Mercedes powered cars has been clearly evident, over their Renault counterparts. These circuits are where we saw the RedBull at their weakest, their most vulnerable, so with the latest announcement of a DRS limited qualifying session, Christian Horner and Adrian Newey must be rubbing their hands together, with them safe in the knowledge that the “RB9”next season will not suffer this same torrid onslaught at power circuits.

Of course these past 3 seasons, the Achilles heel as such with the Newey designed cars has been the much speculated straight line speed capabilities of the RB6, RB7 and the RB8. The Renault unit in the back of the RedBull car is known to not generate the same core horsepower of their Mercedes and Ferrari counterparts, giving away as much as 30hp to the Stuttgart giants situated in the back of the Mercedes, McLaren and Force India cars.

However the Renault engine gives a much flatter torque curve through its entire rev range and is known to be much more economical in race trim allowing RedBull to short fill their cars to a much greater degree than their rivals. Newey with this information has purposely injected a design philosophy into his RedBull cars aimed at minimising this disadvantage as much as possible. Focussing all his efforts on perfecting the aerodynamic efficiency of his cars, utilising the torque curve characteristics of the engine, it means out of slower to medium speed corners, Newey has allowed his RB creations to enjoy a huge advantage. Aerodynamic efficiency has always taken priority with Adrian in his career over anything else in terms of the design of a car, the belief that time gained in corners, far outweighs the advantage gained from a stronger donkey in the back, and with RedBull well on their way to a third straight WDC and WCC you would be hard pressed to disagree.

McLaren's Button making use of his DRS unit. 

So for 2013, it appears that disadvantage RedBull have had to fight at power circuits like Spa in Qualifying, will be nullified through this regulation change, therefore Christian Horner will be believing that the ball is firmly back in his court for the new season. At the moment gear ratios have to be compromised between qualifying and the race. When fuel is low, and DRS is active through the whole lap, of course a 7th gear needs to cater for the much higher straight line performance, but there is of course a down side to that. If you go too aggressive in qualifying in terms of a long 7th gear to maximise your speed in qualifying, it means that come raceday, when 150 kilo’s worth of fuel is added and designated zones define when DRS can be used, that long 7th gear will leave you a sitting duck when out of DRS, the engine out of optimum rpm due to the V8’s having such a narrow power band (right at the top of the rev range). RedBull have combated this both this season and last, by utilising a very aggressive short 7th gear in qualifying, meaning the power deficiencies of the Renault engine are not as noticeable come raceday, relying on the superior aerodynamic advantages they possess in qualifying to make up for the low straight line speed in gaining grid position.

When the DRS regulations come into force for 2013, the reliance on this strategy will become much less important and therefore less of a determining factor during a weekend. With DRS only being used in the designated zones during qualifying, it means the disadvantage at choosing an aggressive short 7th gear on power circuits like Monza will be incredibly small compared to previous years, therefore favouring RedBull and more importantly Sebastian Vettel hugely. This I am sure will be highly frustrating to the Bull’s rivals, McLaren, Ferrari and Lotus (less so) who rely on those circuits to take vital points off RedBull, and maximise the qualifying advantage they currently possess – that most evident in Monza this season where Mercedes powered cars were comfortably quickest.

But there is an alternative twist in the tail here. This regulation change will once again bring to the fore a particular device that has been so talked about this season. The Double DRS or DDRS for short, is currently banned in its current form for 2013, the device that Mercedes pioneered early this season, which many have followed to implement this year was developed to use the DRS effect and then transfer it onto the front wing through channels in the car, stalling the front wing and therefore reducing drag, the results? Increased straight line speed.

Many teams have looked to utilise it, including title rivals RedBull in Suzuka and Lotus (the other front running Renault powered team on the grid) but both differ in their designs. Whilst the Lotus team utilises a fluid switch which directs airflow to the front of the car through the force of the airflow going over the car meaning it is completely passive, the RedBull system is more like the Mercedes system, linking the DRS to the main beam of the wing and therefore channelling air off the rear wing and the result is reduced drag.

Lotus DRS activated by Raikkonen (Glenn Dunbar/LAT Photographic)

The Lotus system due to it being completely passive and not relying on the DRS, will be completely legal for 2013, it not considered a moveable aerodynamic device, whereas the Mercedes and RedBull systems are, through it being directly influenced by the DRS. This means for 2013 this could potentially make way for passive stalling devices to become the innovation of the season, much like exhaust design this year, creating a flurry of development at the head of the field. Adrian Newey is not normally a man that get’s left behind in the development stakes, famous for being “the innovator” himself in exploitation of the regs, I would bet my house on him currently developing a passive system for 2013, with the knowledge of how beneficial it potentially could have been for Lotus if raced this year.

If RedBull can successfully adopt a passive system, this would even greater reduce the disadvantage experienced in the speed traps, and with the reduced DRS use during a qualifying lap, it would double the effect given to the current double world champions. Of course we will not know until the 2013 season starts, just how this regulation change will affect things at the head of the field, but I expect it to considerably help the RedBull cars to a great extent, nullifying their only weakness in essence and therefore only enhance their chances at power circuits like Spa, Canada and Monza.

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