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What Is A DRS Zone In F1? (Explained)

DRS has been an integral part of Formula 1 since 2011. Despite its usage being limited to specific zones, the overtaking aid has been the subject of lots of debates over the years. But many fans may not understand how the system works, and what the DRS zones actually are.

DRS zones in F1 are areas of the track, usually on the straights, where the driver can activate their drag reduction system. Each circuit is unique, and some have up to 3 DRS zones whereas others might only have 1 DRS zone. DRS activation zones are found after DRS detection zones.

Zones are used to prevent drivers from using DRS all the time. If all drivers used DRS at any point on the circuit, no driver would gain an advantage, which means that the system would not promote overtaking. Below, we take a closer look at the different DRS zones in F1. 

What Is DRS In F1?

The Drag Reduction System, also known as DRS for short, was introduced into F1 in 2011 as a way to improve overtaking. DRS is a flap in the rear wing that opens up when the driver activates the system. With the flap open, the car produces less drag, allowing it to go much faster in a straight line.

DRS has been a topic of debate over the years as many people dislike the fact that the system makes overtaking more artificial in the sport, with drivers often relying on DRS to overtake other cars. However, simply getting your car into the DRS zone in order to activate the system is a challenge in Formula 1.

When Can Drivers Use DRS?

Drivers can only use their DRS if they are within one second of the car in front when they pass the DRS detection zone. The driver can only activate their DRS when they reach the activation zone (usually a corner or so after the detection zone), and they will only be allowed to use their DRS within that specific zone.

In some instances, the drivers will be allowed to use DRS in two zones with just one detection point. This happens when two DRS zones are separated by a corner – the most prominent example of this is the Gilles Villeneuve Circuit which allows the drivers to use DRS down the two straights that lead to the start/finish line, which are separated by a chicane.

What Is A DRS Detection Zone? 

A DRS detection zone is the point on an F1 track at which the time between 2 cars is measured to decide if the trailing car can use DRS. If a driver is within 1 second of the car in front when passing the detection zone, denoted by a line on the track, they will get DRS in the next activation zone.

DRS detection zones are incredibly accurate, and they can measure the gap between cars down to the thousandth of a second (0.001 seconds). The gap between the cars is measured by an electronic timing loop. These are placed all around the circuit to measure the intervals between cars, and the same precision technology is used at the DRS detection point.

Accurate Measurements 

Each Formula 1 car has a transponder fitted to it, and when the car passes the timing loop the gap between one car and the next is measured. This gives Formula 1 the most accurate possible reading of the gaps between cars, and from there the decision is made – by a computer – whether the attacking driver will be given DRS in the upcoming activation zone.

If a driver is not within one second of the car in front of them, they will not be able to open their DRS. During qualifying, drivers can use DRS within the zones at all times regardless of whether they are within a second behind the car in front of them or not. However, they must still be within the activation zones.

What Is A DRS Activation Zone?

A DRS activation zone is the area of an F1 track where the driver can activate their DRS. If the driver was within 1 second of the car ahead at the detection point, DRS will be available for them to use at the push of a button on their steering wheel, and they’ll be told by a sound in their ear.

The DRS activation zone is designated by two lines on the race track, and it’s usually a little way into a straight as opposed to right at the exit of a corner. The total length of a DRS zone is carefully calculated to ensure that the attacking cars don’t gain too much of an advantage, and the defending drivers still have a chance to hold their position.

Attack & Defense

If the driver is not within one second of the car ahead of them they will not be allowed to use their DRS. Drivers can also use DRS if they are within one second of a lapped car ahead of them, which means that the lead car could gain an advantage over a trailing car if they time it right. This can be crucial when it comes to fighting for the lead of the race.

Even if a driver drops further behind after passing the DRS detection point they will still be able to use DRS. As long as the cars are separated by one second or less when they hit the DRS detection line, the car behind will be able to use their DRS when they reach the DRS activation zone, even if they’re already passed the car that was originally in front.

KEY POINTS

• DRS detection zones determine whether or not a trailing driver can use DRS

• The trailing driver must be within 1 second of the car in front at the detection point to get DRS

• The driver can only use DRS within an activation zone

• DRS activation zones are normally on the straights

Does The Driver Activate DRS?

The driver does activate DRS when they are in the activation zone. The car will automatically allow DRS if they were within 1 second of the car ahead of them at the detection point, but the driver still needs to press their DRS button in order to open the flap in their rear wing. 

Drivers will be given an audio and visual cue that informs them that DRS is available, so it’s unlikely that a driver will miss the opportunity to use DRS. Drivers simply need to press the button once as soon as they reach the DRS activation line. This opens the flap in the rear wing giving the driver a significant top speed boost.

It Closes Automatically

At the end of the straight, the DRS will automatically close as soon as the driver hits the brakes. The flap closes when the driver starts to brake or lifts off the throttle as it maximizes the stopping power and ensures that the driver can slow the car down enough to get around the corner. With the flap closed, the rear wing produces more downforce, slowing the car down faster.

During qualifying, drivers still need to press their DRS button in order to open the flap in the rear wing. The concept for closing the DRS wing remains the same as it ensures that the DRS is used to its maximum potential and efficiency on the straight. Drivers still receive audio and visual cues for DRS during practice and qualifying.

How DRS Zones Have Changed

Over the years DRS zones have changed significantly. While the concept has remained largely the same over the years, Formula 1 started off with just one DRS zone at every track. The system was still relatively new and untested, which meant that the sport implemented it slowly into circuits.

Over the years, more DRS zones were added to some circuits, creating more overtaking opportunities for drivers. The DRS detection point and activation zone systems have worked as they were designed to over the years and have remained unchanged ever since they were first introduced in 2011.

However, major changes have taken place in Free Practice and Qualifying. For the first two seasons of DRS being implemented into the sport (up to 2013), drivers could use the system anywhere on the track, not just in the designated DRS zones. This helped the cars to achieve greater top speeds during qualifying laps – maximizing their lap times.

In some instances, the DRS zones have become shorter than they were before. The FIA have shortened some DRS zones because they have become too powerful. Longer DRS zones give the attacking car too much of an advantage, which means that the defending driver has no chance of keeping their position.

Why Are More DRS Zones Added?

More DRS zones are added to Formula 1 tracks in an attempt to give the drivers more overtaking opportunities. As the sport continues its pursuit of better racing and more overtaking, extra DRS zones can seem to be the answer. With more DRS zones, the drivers are able to gain an advantage over their opponents who don’t have DRS.

Some circuits can feature as many as three DRS zones, with some being separated by just one corner. These DRS zones sometimes use just one detection zone which means that a driver can still use their DRS in the second activation zone even if they have already overtaken the car ahead of them, taking them further ahead of their opponent.

Artificial Overtaking?

The system has been criticized over the years for making the sport too artificial as drivers rely on overtaking aid to help them get past other cars. In the past, overtaking was more about the driver’s skills and bravery going into corners, but many overtakes in modern Formula 1 are done with the driver having a massive top speed advantage over the other cars by using DRS.

There have been races where DRS was not used for a substantial amount of time, due to damp or wet track conditions, that featured very few overtakes, which to many signifies that DRS is still a crucial part of the sport when it comes to overtaking.

KEY POINTS

• There used to only be 1 DRS zone per track, but now there can be as many as 3

• DRS zones are usually only on the straights

• The more DRS zones a track has, the more overtaking opportunities there are for the drivers

How Many DRS Zones Are There? 

There are usually 1-3 DRS zones on an F1 track, but it varies depending on the circuit. A track like Monaco has just 1 DRS zone, while the Circuit Gilles Villeneuve in Canada has 3 DRS zones. It depends on the track length and the number and length of the straights.

Each race track is unique and will therefore feature a different number of DRS zones of different lengths. Some circuits have three DRS zones if their track layout allows for it, and some others have just one DRS zone if they are smaller circuits with shorter straights.

Careful Planning Required 

DRS zones need to be carefully placed, and it’s not just about making the DRS more or less powerful. When a Formula 1 car has its DRS wing open they become much more unstable. The rear wing is imperative to the rear stability of the car, and if there’s a massive gap in the rear wing the car will have less stability.

The tradeoff of having the DRS wing open is that the car will lack rear grip, but its top speed will increase significantly. Therefore, DRS zones are usually only placed on straights, or sections of the track with only mild kinks that the drivers can easily take at full speed. 

If DRS was used on even a slight corner, the driver would have less downforce, less grip, and therefore be at more risk of losing control. This is why, if a driver has an issue with their DRS being stuck open in some way, they often need to retire the car, as it simply becomes dangerous to drive. 

DRS Zones On F1 Tracks

TrackCountryNumber of DRS Zones
Bahrain International CircuitBahrain3
Jeddah Corniche CircuitSaudi Arabia3
Albert Park Circuit Australia2
Autodromo Enzo e Dino FerrariItaly1
Miami International Autodrome USA3
Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya Spain2
Circuit de Monaco Monaco1
Baku City CircuitAzerbaijan2
Circuit Gilles VilleneuveCanada2
Silverstone Circuit UK2
Red Bull Ring Austria3
Circuit Paul Ricard France2
Hungaroring Hungary1
Circuit de Spa-Francorchamps Belgium2
Circuit Zandvoort Netherlands2
Autodromo Nazionale MonzaItaly2
Marina Bay Street Circuit Singapore3
Suzuka International Racing Course Japan1
Circuit of the Americas USA2
Autodromo Hermanos Rodriguez Mexico2
Autodromo Jose Carlos Pace Brazil2
Yas Marina CircuitAbu Dhabi (UAE)2

Longest DRS Zone In F1

The longest DRS zone in F1 is on the main straight of the Autódromo Hermanos Rodríguez circuit in Mexico, at just under 1 km long. Drivers may reach speeds of up to 215-220 mph (347-358 kph) on this straight with their DRS open and when running a low downforce setup, as is common here.

The 5 Longest DRS Zones In F1

TrackLength
Autódromo Hermanos Rodríguez, Mexico (T17-T1)997 m
Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya, Spain (T16-T1)928 m
Circuit of the Americas, USA (T11-T12)888 m
Bahrain International Circuit, Bahrain (T15-T1)887 m
Baku City Circuit, Azerbaijan (T20-T1)866 m

Note that the lengths in the table above are estimates

While Baku is widely regarded as being home to the longest DRS zone on the calendar, it’s actually the Mexico circuit that has the longest one. While Baku has the longest straight (along with a few flat out kinks), the DRS zone only makes up about 870 meters of the 2.2 km (1.4 mile) flat out section.

Three other tracks have longer DRS zones than Baku, although the length of the street circuit’s straight section means it does usually see much higher top speeds than the others on our list (excluding Mexico). The main straight in Barcelona is the second longest, with the first DRS zone at COTA and the main straight in Bahrain being of very similar lengths.

Note: Many other sources will tell you that Baku is home to the longest DRS zone in F1. This is not true, and as you can see from the table above, 4 other tracks have longer DRS zones!

Shortest DRS Zone In F1

The shortest DRS zone in F1 is at the Hungaroring in Hungary, with the DRS zone just after Turn 1 being only 360 meters long. While many assume the shortest DRS zone is in Monaco, the Montecarlo circuit is actually only home to the fifth shortest DRS zone at 450 meters.

The 5 Shortest DRS Zones In F1

TrackLength
Hungaroring, Hungary (T1-T2)360 m
Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya, Spain (T9-T10)408 m
Marina Bay Street Circuit, Singapore (T13-T14)426 m
Marina Bay Street Circuit, Singapore (T23-T1)440 m
Circuit de Monaco, Monaco (T19-T1)450 m

Note that the lengths in the table above are estimates

Much like the misconceptions about Baku having the longest DRS zone, Monaco is often touted as having the shortest one on the F1 calendar. However, much like the Baku circuit, there are 4 other DRS zones ahead of it on our list.

The first DRS zone in Hungary just after Turn 1 is the shortest on the F1 calendar by far, and it’s the only one under the 400-meter mark. The Barcelona circuit is home to both the second longest and the second shortest DRS zones on the calendar, while the Marina Bay Street Circuit in Singapore has two very short DRS zones, along with a fairly long one in between them.

Note: Many other sources will tell you that Monaco has the shortest DRS zone in F1. This is not true, and as you can see from our table, there are 4 shorter DRS zones on the F1 calendar. 

Final Thoughts

DRS zones in F1 come in the form of detection zones and activation zones. There are usually 1-3 DRS zones per track, and these are the areas where drivers can gain a roughly 6-8 mph (10-12 kph) top speed advantage over the cars in front, depending on the track, to assist with overtaking.