I’m sure most fans will agree that overtaking was “too easy” this weekend at Spa. Spa is an excellent overtaking circuit and Les Combe (corner where Lewis came together with Kobayashi, after Kemmel straight, see the map) is historically a great overtaking area.
The problem with DRS implementation is how do you possibly add a significant overtaking aid to good overtaking zone without making it too powerful?
First let me dive into just why the first sector at Spa is an excellent overtaking zone. The ‘jewel’ of the sector is Eau Rouge and that holds the key to the answer. You will have noticed that cars following into Eau Rouge seemed to get, to quote Lewis, “massively massively” fast closing speeds to the one in front. Alonso in particular used this to make many overtakes in the race. Once you get that high closing speed and momentum, you carry the advantage all the way down Kemmel straight into the braking zone at Les Combe.
Eau Rouge is the steepest corner in F1, so much so that the cars have a vertical lift of greater than 1G when going through it. That’s more than the weight of the car itself so it relies on the downforce it produces to keep it planted to the track. TV really doesn’t do Eau Rouge justice, so have a look at this BBC F1 video.
Most of you will be familiar with the term “slipstreaming” or “drafting”. It’s when the car following has an increase in closing speed if it follows right behind in the “dirty air” of the car in front. This is a highly simplified statement but gives you an idea of what I’m talking about. In the simplest form, this happens because the car loses downforce so increases it’s straightline speed.
Crucially, if the car behind loses downforce thus it loses apparent weight. The car following becomes essentially lighter. That is a big advantage when going up a hill and explains the much faster closing speed of cars into Radillon. Even without DRS, that advantage you carry off Eau Rouge plus the slipstream effect is often enough to make a pass into Les Combe. With DRS, it’s almost unfair on the car in front.
This is not the first time we’ve seen this elevation effect take place. Turkey was certainly a track where overtaking was very easy, passes being made half way down the straight and DRS actually being used to pull away rather than pass.
The DRS zone was even before the Turn 11 kink. The run down to turn 12 (made famous by Vettel and Webber colliding there last year) is uphill, which again, explains the elevation effect as to why overtaking was easy there when combined with DRS.
Elevation is a crucial aspect of a circuit and it’s no surprise that great overtaking circuits like Spa, Suzuka and Nurburgring have significant elevation changes whilst flat circuits like Valencia, Abu Dhabi and Singapore don’t.
Looking forward it’s good to see upcoming F1 tracks like Budd International Circuit (Indian GP, right) and Circuit of the Americas (Austin, left) incorporating significant elevation changes.
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