Lotus's James Allison says more DRS zones will be in place next year because of the restrictions in using the system
Technical boss says increase is necessary to maintain purpose of overtaking
By Mike Wise at Interlagos
Last Updated: 23/11/12 12:58am
The governing body's Race Director Charlie Whiting announced last week that, as of next season, there will be no more unlimited use of drag reduction systems on Fridays and Saturdays.
Whiting said the measure was being enforced for safety reasons after some drivers had complained that the loss of grip they experienced when pressing the DRS button was too sudden.
As DRS - which lowers both drag and downforce to give a speed boost - has hitherto been unlimited during practice and qualifying, the temptation has been for drivers to use it as early as they dare in a corner in order to achieve the lowest possible lap time.
According to Allison: "The consequence of it being like that was that all the drivers were having a pretty high workload in qualifying and free practice, because they were having to get on and off the DRS button many, many times a lap and also they were needing to make judgements about when the car was ready to lose that rear downforce.
"I think that, over the course of the last season-and-a-bit, the drivers have all had a moment or two where they were pressing that button when it wasn't quite ready. The combination of both the workload and one or two sticky moments has led more and more of them to lobby Charlie and say, 'Look, do we have to have it this way? Can we not look at doing it the other way?'"
'The other way' being a restriction on the use of drag reduction to DRS zones only. The problem with such a move, however, is that it might in fact limit what the FIA set out to achieve in 2011: to increase the chances of overtaking in the race.
Unlimited DRS in practice and qualifying has hitherto been allowed so teams can optimise its use for the latter session.
However, the method they tend to use - a longer top gear - also helps overtaking in the race as it allows one car to get a run on another when accelerating through corners where DRS can no longer be used.
The concern is that cars might no longer be optimised in this way if they can only use DRS in just one zone during qualifying.
However, Allison feels that increasing the number of zones - several tracks already feature two - will still allow for overtaking whilst also improving safety.
"Rather than it being free in qualifying and practice, you're not only allowed to use it on the DRS straight itself, but in order to make sure there's still a high incentive to optimise the car in qualifying, there'll be more than one DRS straight at each track," he explained.
"So it's more of the lap. If you can imagine a qualifying lap being pretty much the whole lap that the DRS was on, it moves away from that - but it doesn't move to just one DRS straight.
"So there's still a fair chunk of the lap where DRS is still useable. But it's useable on the straights, so it's not stressful for the drivers.
"And there's still sufficient of the DRS being used in qualifying to give a good incentive to gear the car for it, which means there'll still be a reasonable overtaking power when it comes to the race."
Teams use a longer seventh gear at most tracks - a notable exception being Red Bull, whose approach has tended to reflect the general speed and superiority of their car.
The World Champions have instead used a shorter seventh gear, with Sebastian Vettel habitually using it to pull out of DRS range at the start of races. A consequence, though, is that Red Bull have also tended to have a low top speed.
Lotus have, of course, pioneered a DRS-type 'device' that operates independently of the FIA-mandated system, although they have yet to race it.
That's because they have yet to make it 'switch' effectively. Unlike Mercedes' double DRS, though, Lotus's 'device' has not been banned by the FIA next season.
Despite the team's struggles to make it work to date, Allison sees no reason why its safety would be called into question.
"Such a thing as that, you would need to operate it in a manner that it didn't stall in the places where the driver needs grip, otherwise it's going to slow you down around the lap. So there's no incentive to design it in a way that causes a problem in any case," he said.
"It's sort of self-limiting. Whereas with the DRS switch, the drama that most of them have had is that they're not quite sure to press the button or not in some very fast corners; the switch effect is big and they've tried it and scared themselves from time to time."
He went on to confirm that any gain from the Lotus 'device' would be small compared to DRS, which has been giving cars up to a second-and-a-half's worth of performance with unlimited qualifying use.
"We wouldn't be diddling around with it if we didn't think there was potential for developing it. But DRS is a very, very big effect: places like Silverstone it's pushing up to one-and-a-half seconds a lap. DDRS is much, much smaller - even if you get it absolutely right," Allison added.
"But we do all sorts of things for small gains; you fight the war on all fronts and have to go looking for gains where you can. They all add up to something worthwhile when you add them all together."