A third Drag Reduction System (DRS) Zone has been added to the Red Bull Ring by motorsport’s governing body the FIA in a bid to facilitate more overtaking.
DRS, a system which alters the angle of the rear wing flap to reduce drag, can be activated to generate a brief speed boost in one of a circuit’s pre-arranged zones when a chasing driver is within one second of the car in front.
But while a perceived lack of excitement in F1 has been an issue for some time, not all drivers are happy with the amendment, suggesting it could limit the impact of creativity and skill.
“I don’t know if it is a solution to put in [extra] DRS zones,” Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel told reporters. “Don’t get me wrong, there are a lot of people that maybe like the idea of Mario Kart — including myself, I played it when I was young — but then again I think it shouldn’t get artificial. We will see how it works out.
“Maybe it helps with overtaking and so on, but if you end up driving past another car it isn’t very exciting either,” added Vettel, who has never won at the Red Bull Ring — one of six circuits on the current F1 calendar. “There is more tension and more excitement if the car is behind and maybe something will happen rather than just sailing past.”
Vettel wasn’t the only one to allude to the famous Nintendo game.
“When I saw it first of all, I was a bit skeptical because I think it’s a lot of DRS zones, basically on every straight,” said Haas driver Romain Grosjean. “So we just need to see how it goes into racing and if it’s not like Mario Kart where I pass, then you pass, then I pass back.”
The extra DRS activation point covers the start-finish straight, in addition to the extant zones situated on the run up to turn three and the run down to turn four.
For Kimi Raikonnen, whose 139th career start will see him tie Felipe Massa for the second-most appearances in Ferrari’s history (behind Michael Schumacher’s 179), more overtaking is a good thing up until the point where a driver’s skills play second fiddle to the technology.
“Yeah, I mean half of the track is DRS,” said Raikonnen, “so it should make it pretty easy. I don’t know if it’s too easy or not. Obviously, we want overtaking but there must be a point where it’s kind-of artificial overtaking. Let’s see.”
But not everyone was opposed to the idea.
Red Bull’s Daniel Ricciardo — aiming to become the third man to win a Grand Prix on his birthday, after James Hunt (Holland 1976) and Jean Alesi (Canada 1995) — said he would approach the adjusted circuit with an open mind and doesn’t “see a negative with it at the moment.”
Meanwhile McLaren’s Stoffel Vandoorne openly embraced the addition, insisting it would “add to the spectacle.”
“I really enjoy this track,” said Vandoorne, who finished 12th at the Austrian GP for McLaren Honda last year. “I think Turn 3 is a good corner for racing — you can out-brake another car here, and the addition of a third DRS zone along the straight between Turns 1 and 2 should add a new element to the race.”
For Championship leader Lewis Hamilton, the situation isn’t perfect but it’s an acceptable compromise.
“I think ultimately they’re doing that to try and make racing more exciting because it’s not exciting enough, and the fundamentals are too big to change within the season,” Hamilton said. “We’re trying to make the best with what we have. I think the way they’ve got it set up, you can get DRS in one zone, you can overtake, and then the other guy can get DRS in the next part.
“So it could be good maybe. It’s not particularly the easiest of tracks to follow on, so it will be interesting.”
With drivers hitting average speeds of around 150mph (240kph), the 2.6-mile (4.3km) circuit is one of the fastest around.
Typically operating on full throttle for two thirds of the course, the current generation of cars are expected to finish each lap in just over a minute.