SportF1Alonso's cunning DRS campaign that gave Alpine speed

Alonso's cunning DRS campaign that gave Alpine speed

For some teams, the removal of the fourth DRS zone that had been introduced at the 2022 Australian GP did not make an immediate difference. However, for others, notably Aston Martin , it was a last-minute effort to change the car’s setup, setting off a chain of events that led to a disastrous qualifying session for the Silverstone team.

The manner in which the loss of the DRS zone came about was unusual, with some rivals suspecting that a clever play by veteran Fernando Alonso had benefited his team.

The DRS zone in question was the one located in one of the modified sections of the track for this year, from turn 8 to turn 9.

At the drivers’ briefing on Saturday, Alonso suggested that, with the DRS open, this section of the track was too dangerous to race safely, and that perhaps the possibility of opening the rear wing in that area should be eliminated, for safety reasons.

His voice was the main one in the meeting with race director Niels Wittich , and by all accounts there was little input from other drivers.

Wittich took Alonso’s point of view into account, and on Saturday morning, around 10am, he sent a note to the teams asking if they agreed that there were potential safety issues with the DRS zone. The teams had one hour to respond with their opinions.

Engineers from all over the pitlane had to debate the issue and, this being Formula 1, it was inevitable that the performance implications of their cars would be as much a part of the equation as the safety features.

It wasn’t a vote as such, but in the end five teams expressed support for the idea that there was a security problem, and the other five said there wasn’t.

After considering the responses, Wittich sent a note to the teams at 12.40, just 20 minutes before the start of FP3, confirming that the DRS zone for Turns 8 and 9 had been removed.

His message read: “For safety reasons the DRS zones will be reduced to 3 for the rest of the event. The first DRS detection zone will be moved to before Turn 9, the first DRS zone activation will be after Turn 9.” curve 10, the second DRS detection zone will remain unchanged, and subsequent activation zones will be renumbered accordingly.”

The loss of the zone had two potential points of impact on the teams and their relative performance.

First of all, some cars have more efficient and effective DRS than others, so they gain more when the DRS is open on a fast lap in qualifying. Therefore, removing one of the zones would potentially cost them a lap time advantage that they had enjoyed on Friday.

Second, an open DRS counteracts porpoising, and given the curvy nature of that section of track, not having that issue on a fast lap on low fuel was clearly beneficial to the teams that suffer from it the most.

By removing the “cure” for porpoising that DRS gave them, teams had to put up with it or find another solution. And that’s what Aston Martin felt compelled to do, raising the height of the rear suspension, the standard way to get rid of this pesky bounce.

That last-minute change meant that both Aston Martins were unable to start FP3 on time, and when they took to the track both Sebastian Vettel and Lance Stroll crashed, starting the downward spiral of the team’s fortunes.

By contrast, Alpine found some performance in FP3, with Alonso taking fourth place. It didn’t go unnoticed that porposing hasn’t been much of an issue for the Enstone team lately. Was it a coincidence that the man calling for the DRS zone to be removed now had a more competitive one-lap package?

Some rivals did believe that there had been a bit of play with the rules by the Spaniard, and that he had indeed used them to gain an advantage, although curiously his team-mate Esteban Ocon did not seem to gain the same benefit.

During the break between sessions, was able to speak to Alonso and joked with him that he had done a good job in the DRS area, and he replied with a smile “Who, me?”.

In qualifying he found even more speed, and even looked set to challenge for pole before a hydraulic problem eliminated him from Q3, having set the second fastest sector.

After the session, the Spaniard lamented his bad luck and missed opportunity, and when asked about the talk at the drivers’ briefing, he insisted on his innocence.

“It was a general opinion that the entrance of 9 was too curved to be fighting wheel to wheel with the others tomorrow with the DRS open,” he said. “So I think the FIA, for safety reasons, decided to stop it.”

“I know you guys said I was helping Alpine, but Esteban [Ocon] was struggling in Q1, Q2, and if not, we’d be first and second, so I don’t think there was a big impact on the team…” .

Others took a more cynical view. Several drivers also lamented the fact that the removal of the zone will also have an impact on overtaking in Sunday’s race.

Red Bull have particularly efficient DRS and therefore losing the zone could cost their drivers some lap time relative to their rivals.

“There was only one team that complained about it and they removed it this morning,” said Max Verstappen, referring only to Alonso ‘s performance at the briefing, and not to subsequent responses from the teams.

“So I don’t really get it because for me it was much easier than doing it, for example, in Jeddah, because there were so many more corners.

“For me there was never any problem driving in that area with the DRS open. So yes, you have to ask the FIA why they have removed it. It’s a shame because it would have helped the competition.

McLaren, like Alpine, a team that seems to be in control of porpoising, seemed to come out ahead of its rivals, with Lando Norris taking fourth place on the grid. However, when asked about Alonso’s safety campaign, the British driver commented that he would have liked the DRS zone to be maintained.

“Honestly, I don’t think it was necessary to remove it at all,” he said. “If you compare it to Arabia, for example, you have the same G [forces] there in terms of cornering, and that’s just as fast as it is here. I think just, if there was a chance to do it, they would do it because they’re so fast in the straights and this benefits the Alpines a lot”.

Norris agreed that the loss of the DRS zone won’t help overtaking, although he still hopes to see some action: “I think it’s going to make the race a bit worse. It’s a given. You might not see the trains as much [of cars] and things like that, but I don’t see any reason why the racing is going to be bad all of a sudden.”

“I think there will still be enough opportunities, it’s still a long straight, it just doesn’t have DRS anymore.”

FIA Race Director Niels Wittich has taken a pro-active stance on a variety of topics in 2022

The DRS saga also highlighted the broader nature of the way one of the new race directors, Niels Wittich , is doing things. His style has already come to light, reminding drivers of the rules on jewelery inside the cockpit, as well as the imposition of penalties when one driver impedes another in free practice.

While dialogue between race control and the teams on safety issues is normal, the process of the teams “voting” on DRS safety was seen by some observers as a bit more unusual.

It is true that the notice just 20 minutes before the start of FP3 of the removal of the DRS zone is not ideal, but not only for the teams. Formula 1 itself believed it would take around 40 minutes to remove the zone from its timing and information system before the session and, in the end, only had half that time to get the job done.

However, while admitting that late notice was not for the best, McLaren boss Andreas Seidl had no problem with the process Wittich used.

“At the end you have the drivers’ meeting and the crew chiefs’ meeting, plus direct dialogue with the race director about any issues you see during a race weekend,” said the German.

“So any team can propose an issue at any time. And then depending on the issue, from my point of view, it’s up to the race director to see how he wants to deal with it, if he wants to consult with all the teams like he has done today.

“But in the end he will make the decision for security reasons, which he can do at any time. From this point of view, I really don’t see any problem.”

Sunday will tell us what the race will be like compared to previous years, even with the absence of a DRS zone.

After his accident in Q3, Alonso will have to be watched as he will try to progress from 10th on the grid. The irony is that an extra DRS zone could have helped him overtake more easily…

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