DRS, Mercedes and Sebastian Vettel have one thing in common: In the past few days, they’ve all been criticised by Jacques Villeneuve. The 1997 World Champion clearly has no problem with speaking his mind and is, in that respect, a breath of fresh air in the PR-centric world of Formula One.
DRS, the system that allows a chasing driver to reduce drag and therefore increase straight-line performance, was introduced in 2010 to make overtaking easier. But critics of the system believe that DRS makes overtaking too easy and, in Villeneuve’s words, “It destroys every good battle.” Villeneuve’s comment is fair enough, as DRS makes defending practically impossible on most circuits. It cannot however be denied that DRS has dramatically increased on-track action, and it is therefore not likely to disappear any time soon.
Perhaps unexpectedly, Villeneuve has taken aim at Mercedes for not retaining Michael Schumacher. Villeneuve beat Schumacher to the 1997 World Championship after an incident in the final race of the season where Schumacher deliberately drove into Villeneuve’s Williams. Villeneuve suggested that Schumacher should have stayed with the Silver Arrows to partner Lewis Hamilton and was quoted by yallaf1.com as saying, “I don’t understand. Hamilton-Schumacher would be much better than what they do have for next year.” There were rumours of a possible Hamilton-Schumacher pairing for 2013, but that was before Schumacher announced his retirement from the sport.
Most recently, Villeneuve has criticised Sebastian Vettel, saying the current World Champion “reacts like a child” when under pressure and is only able to win from the front of the grid. While the accusation of winning only from the front has followed Vettel for a while, he has produced a a few superb drives through the field, including at the last race in Abu Dhabi where he finished third after starting from the pitlane. Villeneuve, however, cited incidents in the Abu Dhabi race where Vettel showed a lack of maturity, including contact with Bruno Senna early in the race and a crash into a trackside sign-board during the first safety car period.
While Villeneuve’s opinions can be debated, that does not diminish their value. Formula One needs prominent figures to be outspoken in order to push the sport forward. Villeneuve, as a former World Champion, knows what he is talking about when it comes to Formula One, and is thankfully prepared to speak his mind.
Since the first race of the season in Australia, Lotus have looked like challenging for victory. The car is quick in all conditions, and drivers Raikkonen and Grosjean have shown their skill by delivering 8 podiums between them. But victory has eluded the team from Enstone.
Qualifying has been holding the Lotus team back. The car has typically been very quick in the races, but the drivers have often had to fight through the top end of the field. It seems clear that the secret to winning for Raikkonen and Grosjean is to put the car on pole, something they have not yet achieved this season. But they may now have the answer to that problem – in the form of a more efficient DRS system.
Lotus have been trialling their upgraded DRS during practice at the previous few races, and technical director James Allison has been quoted as saying that the team is aiming to run the device at the next race in Belgium. The device will no doubt be tested further during Friday practice at Spa, and if the team is satisfied that it is working as desired, it should feature in qualifying and the race.
Spa is a power and top-speed track. In particular, the first and last sectors are very quick. The middle sector, however, requires a reasonable amount of downforce to deal with a long series of medium- and high-speed corners. A more efficient DRS system will allow the team to run slightly more downforce to assist with the middle sector, but still be quick in the first and last sectors during qualifying. A Lotus pole at Spa is now reasonably likely.
The race presents a different challenge, as DRS may only be used in the demarcated DRS zone on the Kemmel straight for overtaking, provided the chasing car is within a second of the car in front at the detection point, which is just before Eau Rouge. There will therefore be a compromise between qualifying pace and race pace, as the top-speed of the car in race trim will necessarily be lower when not using DRS.
If Lotus can get their DRS working well, and set the cars up to be quick in both qualifying and the race, there is a real possibility of a Lotus victory this weekend.
In 2011, the FIA experimented with a double DRS zone in Canada. The result was a great deal of overtaking, so much so that it was thought to be too easy. This weekend’s Canadian Grand Prix will therefore feature only one DRS zone.
Last years’ first DRS zone was from on the back straight before the final chicane. The second zone was on the start-finish straight. There was only one detection point, before the first zone, which meant a driver who made a pass in the first zone would still be able to use DRS in the sescond zone, even though the move had already been completed.
This year, the second zone has been scrapped entirely. The first zone has been shortened by 50 metres, which should assist in making overtaking a little more challenging. As usual, DRS may be used anywhere on the circuit during the practice and qualifying sessions.