Air used to be dirty in Formula 1. Nowadays it’s expectant. There’s a whiff of madness in it too.
Ten years ago the sport was in the Doldrums, glum and ho-hum: Schumacher’s Ferrari would win and there would be little or no overtaking. These were taken as givens.
Yes, Red Bull’s Vettel and Newey have indelibly stamped their authority on this season, but theirs was a march to the world titles not a procession. For overtaking is the new black.
DRS is only partly responsible for this latest F1 fashion.
Think back to Spa in August. Its DRS-enabled section along the Kemmel Straight was overly generous and thus many of the open-slot-car overtakes were too breezily easy.
But tellingly, while the sport’s administrators were still defining the boundaries of this new parameter, the drivers were doing some adapting of their own. The sensational Spa manoeuvres listed below were achieved without the assistance of DRS:
Rosberg, round the outside at Les Combes to take the lead on lap one.
Alonso and Schumacher, down the inside at Rivage.
Hamilton, round the outside at Pouhon. Or was it Button? It was that kind of race.
Massa, down the inside at Blanchimont.
Vettel, round the outside at Blanchimont.
Button, deep, deep, deep, inside and out, at the new Bus Stop chicane.
And then there was Webber on Alonso at Eau Rouge. Wow!
The buzz of KERS, a blistering rate of tyre wear and the contrasting set-ups allowed by Spa’s strange brew of high-speed top and tail and gutsy high-downforce middle sector played their parts in this pass mastery.
The jist is that DRS has perhaps become a button, a factor, too far. It won’t be, but it could be locked off in 2012 and not be missed – as long as Pirelli didn’t compound the situation by making its rubber too robust.
For me, its work here is done: more than 1000 on-track overtakes in a season is perhaps 500 too many. But even the purest purist must admit that this artificial mo-whiz gizmo has helped to engender a can-do attitude among the most talented gridful since the mid-1960s.
Vitally, its influence, confrontational in the main, also possesses subtle shading. Not only did Alonso ease off to let Webber by because he did not want to be involved in a crash of passenger-jet proportions, but also because he (correctly) believed that DRS would present him with an opportunity to repass.
Here, however, is the rub (of wheels almost). Webber knew this too, yet that didn’t prevent him from keeping his foot in and elbows out. He was ultimately rewarded for his skill and bravery with second place. Alonso finished fourth.
See, DRS mixed things up without mucking them up. The right guy usually finished in the right place. Impressive.
Still not convinced?
Monza, two weeks later: Vettel, two wheels on the grass at 200mph, overtook Alonso round the outside at Curva Grande. DRS firmly shut, eyes and mind wide open. The Spaniard later admitted that he had been too robust in defence.
And, bringing it right up to date, there was Alonso’s outside pass of Button at Ferradura at Interlagos. Jenson later explained that his potential rebuttal was compromised by debris on the track. Fair enough. But still.
Button later repassed Alonso for third place after several laps of enthralling KERS/DRS chess. The McLaren man eventually got by using DRS, but said after the race that he had wanted to do so without it – because it’s more fun that way.
Fun? There is definitely something in the air in F1 at the moment.
These powerful give-and-take eddies would still be felt in 2012, DRS or not. That’s because it’s the thought that counts.