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GP Week : Issue 180
Wasn’t that a race and a half? With passing manoeuvres aplenty, constant shuffling of the pack, and a four-way battle for the podium, the 2013 Chinese Grand Prix had all the ingredients of a nail-biting race. Except it really wasn’t. The vast majority of overtakes on Sunday afternoon in Shanghai came about thanks to the drag reduction system, that passing panacea that takes all the drama out of a closely-fought race. The FIA introduced the DRS in 2011, after years of aerodynamic advancement – coupled with the ever-durable Bridgestone rubber – led to a seemingly endless stream of processional racing. The increased use of concepts relating to double diffusers and blown exhausts generated such a turbulent wake that cars were prevented from close running, as front end grip was reduced as gaps diminished. In its maiden year, DRS had limited impact. Not only was the FIA still trying to determine the ideal length and placement of the DRS detection and deployment zones, but Red Bull were so dominant that year that the best efforts of the various Working Groups involved in the introduction of the drag removal system came to naught. By coincidence, DRS arrived in Formula One at the same time as Pirelli. The Italian tyre manufacturer had stated their intention of shaking up the racing by taking a new approach to F1 rubber, but it was impossible to know how much of an effect Pirelli would have until the tyres had been seen in action. The Pirelli effect is undeniable. Love it or hate it, the highly variable rubber and daring choice of compounds has added to the drama on track. In 2012, Kimi Raikkonen was set for a podium finish in China until his lack of grip cost him the best part of ten places when he was tantalisingly close to the chequered flag. This year’s Australian Grand Prix was a battle of tyre strategies, with the brains on the pit wall weighing up the choice of pitting for fresh rubber and extra grip versus the amount of time lost in the pits with an extra stop. Seven-time world champion Michael Schumacher, who dominated the sport in the sprint era, blamed his less-than- successful comeback on his inability to get to grips with the Pirelli rubber, which the German racer compared with driving on eggshells. Despite his complaints, however, at the 2012 European Grand Prix Schumacher was able to secure a podium finish thanks in no small part to his team’s decision to make a late stop and give their driver the fresh rubber advantage. The amount of time it took teams the length of the pitlane to get to grips with best-practice tyre management and strategy was one of the contributing factors behind 2012’s record-breaking seven different winners from the first seven races. DRS, on the other hand, has created a system of racing in which overtakes are both plentiful and pointless, with drivers following each other closely – but not too closely – and pouncing in the relative safety of the DRS zone. Real overtaking – real racing – is becoming all too rare. And when we do see an excellent manoeuvre? You can bet your bottom dollar that Pirelli will have had a role to play. DRS – the drama removal system F1 >>> CHINA 13 GPWEEK.com // 13 GPWEEK.com // PARTNERS: