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F1 Technique: Explaining the activation of the Drag Reduction System (DRS)

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Khatir Soltani
Laurent Mekies, chief engineer of the Toro Rosso Formula 1 team, explained how the DRS, the Drag Reduction System is operated.

F1 DRS Toro Rosso
The button to activate the DRS is the blue one located to the right of the thumb of the driver. (Photo: Getty Images/Red Bull)

This system was introduced in Grand Prix racing to facilitate overtaking. The rear wing of an F1 car is designed to generate downforce (pushing the car down) but as a consequence it also produces massive turbulence called drag. And drag reduces the top speed of the car.

The DRS allows the flap of the rear wing to move horizontally, reducing drag, increasing top speed and therefore facilitating the passing manoeuvres.

F1 DRS Toro Rosso
The Toro Rosso STR7 with the DRS closed.

During the free practice sessions and qualifying, the drivers can use DRS as they wish. “We don't need to do computer simulations to know where to use the DRS. The driver must activate it everywhere with the obvious exception of the corners. There's always a gain in lap time when using the DRS as often as possible,” told us Mekies.

F1 DRS Toro Rosso
The Toro Rosso running with the DRS open. (Photo: Getty Images/Red Bull)

“The moment the driver starts braking for a corner, the flap moves back to its original high-downforce position. We must also take into account the time that takes the two flow of air to reattach, which takes about half a second,” Mekies continued.

During the actual race, the DRS cannot be used anytime. “There are timing loops embedded in the tarmac and the system calculates the gap between all cars. When the pursuing car is within one second of the car in front when both cars cross the detection point, this turns on a light on the dashboard and the driver can activate the DRS and try to overtake,” he explained.

“The detection of the gap between the two cars and the lighting system are fully automatised. It's the timing system that allows the DRS to be activated or not,” he ended.

Khatir Soltani
Khatir Soltani
Automotive expert
As a car enthusiast, he tests and compares vehicles from different categories through the eyes of the consumer, ensuring relevant and objective reviews.
  • Over 6 years experience as a car reviewer
  • Over 50 test drives in the last year
  • Involved in discussions with virtually every auto manufacturer in Canada