Apart from Pirelli, there were two big talking points in the F1 world heading into the Australian Grand Prix, KERS and DRS. The return of the Kinetic Energy Recover System and the new for 2011 Drag Reduction System were seen as a way of enabling closer racing and more overtaking. Of course it is difficult to judge after one race, but how effective were these systems after the Australian Grand Prix, and what did the fans make of the introduction of these systems?
KERS made a return to the grid after 2009, where it was only used by a handful of teams over the course of the season, most notably McLaren and Ferrari who used the system throughout the 2009 campaign while other teams decided to remove their KERS systems. This time it was embraced by all of the top teams, with the only exceptions being Team Lotus, Hispania Racing Team and Marussia Virgin Racing.
The biggest talking point with KERS in Australia however, was the news after the race that the Red Bull team did not run the system during qualifying and the race, but the team still walked away with Pole Position and the race with Sebastian Vettel having a 0.8s advantage over Lewis Hamilton in qualifying and comfortably winning the race leading all but 3 laps.
With DRS, there were many comments going into the season about the effectiveness of the system. Some thought that it would be too easy to overtake with the amount of drag that would be removed on the straights and the car which had it activated would be able to breeze past, some drivers commented on the safety aspect of moving the flap on the rear wing at high speed.
During the race, we saw DRS being deployed by a few drivers on the main straight, but it did not have the effect that everyone thought it would. It allowed the driver behind to close up to the car in front, but more often than not, the move would not stick going into turn 1, so after the Australian Grand Prix, we can see that the drivers still require some skill to be able to overtake.
But does the Australian Grand Prix provide an exception? With a difficult corner leading onto a short main straight there would more than likely be a negligible speed advantage that the Drag Reduction System would bring to be able to pass into turn 1. This could be supplemented by the use of KERS by the driver to gain an additional boost in speed to be able to make the move stick, but we did not see this often during the race.
Factor in both cars being fitted with KERS and the whole situation changes. The trailing car could deploy his DRS to close up to the car in front, and use any KERS charge he has available to gain an additional speed boost. Once both drivers cross the start and finish line, both will have a full charge of KERS available which the driver in front could deploy to be able to stay in front. With the relatively short run down to turn 1, it would always be more likely that the car in front would be able to stay in front under braking for turn 1.
In theory, Malaysia should provide a better platform for these new overtaking aids. The long straight will allow for better use of DRS as the higher speed will enable more drag to be lost, added to the use of KERS, this should allow for better overtaking opportunities compared to those seen in Australia.
The wider question then seems to be, does Formula 1 need these systems? Fans seem to have mixed views on the use of these systems and their place in Formula 1.
I personally believe KERS does nothing for F1, apart from the added expense of developing and using such a system. The only appeal for running KERS would be for the sport to be seen to be promoting a green image while trying to aid overtaking with the power boost available through the lap.
The reality of KERS however, is that we get two drivers with the same amount of boost, and with the system fixed in terms of the power it can produce and the amount of time it can be used, the systems end up cancelling each other out.
The 2009 season was different in that it allowed some mixture on the grid, that was mainly down to the front running cars not using the system, so we had cars equipped with KERS and their extra boost in the form of McLaren and Ferrari who stuck by running KERS, racing against cars that were not using the system, most notably Red Bull and Brawn GP.
With the DRS system, I also believe that this is a form of artificial overtaking. Formula 1 has always been about the purest form of racing and it is my view that it should not be up to the FIA to dictate when the driver can activate a device to allow him to pass the car in front.
What we have seen in Australia is just a start of this systems introduction and did not quite allow the full potential of this system to be shown. Of course it is not easy to judge these things just after one race, so a lot rests on the Malaysian Grand Prix and what effect this will have on the long straights of Sepang.
What this does not need is constant tinkering and adjustment of the rules by the FIA going in to each race. We have already seen that the FIA will amend the DRS Zone for the Malaysian Grand Prix. If the requirements to use this system are amended on a race by race basis, then this will definitely be seen as an artificial means of overtaking, customised for each race.
There are calls to allow the use of the DRS system all throughout the lap to allow the drivers to activate whenever they choose to, rather than whether they meet the FIA criteria of being a second behind at a specific point in the lap, but that would turn into an unfair advantage for the driver who is overtaking as he could just open this rear wing element on any straight with the driver ahead not being able to do so.
So have KERS and DRS helped in increasing the amount of overtaking and bringing closer racing? From what we have seen in the Australian Grand Prix, the answer is no, but this was only a first step into these new additions taking up by Formula 1. It is how they work over the course of this season that we will see whether or not they have been an effective and welcome addition to the racing in Formula 1. Does F1 need these systems? The answer to that will only come at the end of the season, once we have seen how effective they are on all the circuits raced in 2011.
I canvassed the opinion of KERS and DRS to F1 fans on twitter, here are a rundown of some of the comments I received. Thank you to all those who contributed:
“I’m fine with KERS, but DRS is a waste of time/money/resources… DRS only really helped Jenson Button a couple of times. Alonso used it a few times but didn’t really help… I fail to see how KERS would help much if 2 cars are using it in an overtaking maneuver.”
“Think KERS is unnecessary but DRS is good. Provides opportunities to pass without giving it to person behind!”
“Think more thought needs to go into KERS as the pro’s v con’s seem equal… and DRS… not sure it’s use should be dictated bar the ban during opening laps.”
“saw no advantage from DRS today… personally I think DRS is just another folly – best way to allow more overtaking, keep the rules the same for a few years allow the lower order to develop their cars based on data they already have”
“in my opinion there not as productive as expected.. winning car didn’t have, & flaps didn’t seem effective..”
“Think its too early to say about DRS, don’t think it added anything to todays race though. KERS is ok, not sure F1 needs it… I’m sure it will at circuits with longer straights. Thing is, its only needed at circuits where overtaking is impossible, but if F1 is going to circuits with that problem should they be going there at all?”
“kers has been tried before didnt work 2 yrs ago and red bull dont use it. think DRS will be very good when they get it right… Will be an entertaining tool when they work out how to use it… Should also help ‘middle’ teams challenge top 3 during a race. Mix things up a bit”
“i think we hav to giv it time.. the effects will be more evident in malaysia bcoz of the track nature.”
“were cars equipped with KERS & DRS??? Didn’t notice them during the race…no point to add them… for the moment it doesn’t seem to need it…it hasn’t brought novelties to the race in my opinion. RBs didn’t use KERs for example… Then Pirelli tyres brought strategy to the race. But the interest goes to the pits and not into the race and on to the track… races should be decided on track on not during the pitstops…but don’t see KERS and DRS helping”
“for DRS the FIA need to let it be used all over&drivers need to be smart with it… you saw them being used to good effect a little in aus but its not right track 4 it.”