Does #GP2 need DRS?

Brought to you by Adam Macdonald (@adamac39)

GP2 started in 2005 following the discontinuation of Formula 3000.  In an era of large profit and unrivalled corporate spending the series seemed destined for success.  The lower sponsorship demands, around £2 million, were far less than the step above it meaning it was ideal as a progressive step.

In order to maintain its position as the most relevant series to feed Formula One there are many who would argue that there is a requirement for parity between the two. The argument would be based upon those who stand in the corner that the gap between GP2 and F1, on-track, is too much.  Of course, in this respect the difference between the two will always be there.  As the second tier is still very much in its infancy, the inaugural season in 2005, the lack of complexity is something that is pivotal to the series’ success.

Using tried and tested technology, a 4.0 litre normally-aspirated V8 engine, the cars require little mechanical input and expertise to function.  This, combined with the specification chassis provided by Dallara Automobili, is of paramount importance to keeping the finances of the racing within reach of aspiring racers.  For those that feel there is problem with pay drivers in Formula One already, the problem in GP2 would be ten-fold if development were permitted within the regulations.

If it’s not broken, don’t fix it

After watching a procession in Russia as Hamilton cruised home to victory, the need for overtaking aids is apparent and undeniable.  With such complicated aerodynamic devices circulating around a track with low degradation (due to the freshly laid asphalt), the DRS (Drag Reduction System) was clearly necessary.  However, those who watched the feature race will know to what I extent I mean when I say GP2 and F1 were chalk and cheese here.

We saw overtakes in areas not thought possible, cars going 3 a breast into a corner and, the part which interested me the most, teamwork to defend a position.  Stéphane Richelmi, teammate to newly crowned Champion Jolyon Palmer, defended for just over half a lap on much older rubber, against the chasing Mitch Evans in the Russian Time car.

This kind of defence would not have been possible if DRS had been in operation – a move which for all intents and purposes secured the race for Palmer as it allowed him to pull a small gap on Evans.  Hard, but fair racing was shown there which enthralled the onlookers. This is what will draw in audiences, not artificial aids which increase overtaking to ridiculous quantities.

Jolyon Palmer in the much less complex DAMS GP2 car - Notice the basic front wing

Jolyon Palmer in the much less complex DAMS GP2 car – Notice the basic front wing

Quality over quantity

I do not have the wool pulled so far over my eyes to not realise that all what I mentioned above was helped by the timing of the safety car.   Of course, arranging a safety car is hardly something anyone would be able to facilitate legally or indeed any fan want to see.  However, is there not a better way to increase overtaking chances?

GP2 CEO Bruno Michel had this to say when the introduction of DRS was announced, “We’ve always said that GP2 was able to produce some amazing races without the addition of DRS or any other devices, and once again the 2014 season has proved that with some close racing and exciting on-track battles.”

The GP2 boss would seem to agree with the notion set out, however, he continued, “we also have to make sure that we keep in line with our mission statement: preparing the drivers for the next step, Formula 1.” Reaffirming the importance of making the series relevant to driver progression makes sense – even more so when we consider that World Series by Renault, a direct competitor to GP2, has already incorporated the overtaking aid.

“It is important to keep adding modifications – at a reasonable cost – that will slightly tweak the technical features of our car. Formula 1 is constantly evolving. It is impossible for GP2 to remain with the same car over a long period of time when its philosophy is to prepare the drivers for F1.”

The measure being taken is clearly one which takes cost as the most important factor, as it rightfully should.  In an ideal world, energy recovery would feature on the cars as they are prepared for stepping up to the ‘big time’, however, DRS is the most cost-efficient change that can be made.

The real debate is how much GP2 stands alone as a spectacle for racing and how much it is a support series for Formula One?

Preparation is essential, but if changes cause people to switch off, the sponsors will up and leave – eventually there would be no series left.

Economies of scale

The news that the GP2 cars will feature the same DRS systems as their older siblings do saddens me.  The less aero-dependent cars will not need as bigger rear flaps, as bigger DRS zones and certainly not 2 of said zones at all tracks.

DRS systems are due to be tested in Europe later this month, where, I hope, some form of measure will be brought to proceedings.  The subsequent test in Bahrain in December will merely be perfecting the now tried and tested technology.  The fact that Michel says, “When we discussed this with the teams over a year ago, they told us that the drivers who they are in contact with were eager to see DRS on the GP2 cars,” shows that drivers are happy to have the devices on the cars.

The situation that the support Formula must avoid is one that we saw in 2011, where the new phenomenon took time to be perfected.  Formula One was able to absorb this adjustment time given the exciting finish to the previous year and the wholesale change with Pirelli tyres that year masking the DRS fine tuning.  GP2 will not be afforded the same privilege of bouncing back, so must get it right first time.

Furthermore, at what level does this wholesale change to racing stop?  GP2 will adopt the overtaking aid for 2015, which only opens the route for GP3 to eventually go down the same path.

2015 will be an experimental year for the sport as it builds on a successful year in 2014.  As noble as it is, that Michel sees following the principles that the sport set out as the most important, protecting the integrity of the racing must also be a focal point.

My suggestion would be to start smaller and increase DRS use as more is learnt about how it affects the cars – and how the fans react. Perhaps, at some races it would not be necessary at all.  Most fans would rather see races with fewer overtakes, but with more close battles than easy passes.  A lot stands to be gained, but equally as much could be lost if those in charge get it wrong…

19 responses to “Does #GP2 need DRS?

  1. Short answer is no.
    Neither is it needed in F1.

    I’ve always thought DRS really sprang from the thinking behind the outlawed F-Duct, a brilliantly simple innovation introduced by McLaren.
    In the inevitable catch up race that followed by other teams some very dodgy and poorly engineered attempts showed up as the other teams were not able to engineer their solutions into their chassis the same way as McLaren had.
    Now, if one paused to consider next the next season’s cars, sensible engineering would have it covered, surely.
    Instead we had to get good old FIA sticking their fingers in and taking control. Part of that may have been a problem with clueless drivers trying to use their F-Duct in situations that highlighted their cluelessness, but hey, give them time let them find out the hard way. Radio coaching was still allowed then 🙂

    • Surely restricted use in F1 would be ok though no? Given how complex the aero is and how difficult it is to follow others, it makes sense to help those driving in turbulent air.

    • It is also a lot cheaper to implement than an F-Duct is to integrate with a car. It’s only complex systems, like the double DRS on the Lotus which starts becoming difficult.

      • Can’t dispute your point other then if the duct is designed in at the outset I can’t see why it should be a major. It was the retros, that caused the problems.

    • Not to mention that it looks like a revamp of the original ‘wing car’ – the Chaparral 2E pioneered by Jim Hall in 1966: – Phil Hill won with it at Laguna Seca. The wing was adjusted with a pedal, like the Ferrari DRS.

      Hall also pioneered ground effects – with a 2J fan car in 1970. McLaren got it banned on the grounds it would kill the series via domination – which McLaren had done until then, before the Porsche 917/10K brought in turbo-charging, and the 917/30KL brought 1580hp, 250mph+, and the death of the series once the oil crisis hit.

  2. Adam, I hope you don’t mind.

    But just as a small aside, and in the spirit of discussing juniors and junior series, congrats to Estaban Ocon for winning the FIA European F3 Championship and of course the Rookie Championship too, by virtue of it being his first season in F3.

    I know he won the pre-eminent F3 title a full round early at Imola, but I haven’t read anything here and the season just wrapped up at Hockenheim over the weekend.

    From 33 races, he won 9 times, secured 15 poles and set 7 fastest laps. He is clearly devastatingly fast, but crucially he was consistently at the sharp end in the races with a huge haul of 21 podiums.

    The newly turned 18yr old is testing a 2012 Lotus F1 soon. As far as I can tell, the Frenchman will most likely be in FR3.5 in 2015, up against guys like McLaren’s young gun Nyck De Vries. Good luck to him.

    Being on the F3 Macau slugfest…

    • Thanks SIS for this. I had heard on Twitter of his success, but it’s something we have not covered in the news.
      Also, it’s some of the only good news Lotus have had of late – that and Merc engines next year.

      • I actually fear for him being involved with the Lotus / Enstone group…

        They don’t have a great history in delivering opportunity for young, up coming talent without tons of cash…

        Sauber, for example, used to have great form in this. And like them or hate them, Red Bull have delivered young talents to F1 without the requirement of money. They may be stern, but these drivers often wouldn’t get an opportunity elsewhere anyway. Not to mention all the junior category tuition that they take to other series if F1 doesn’t work out. That has to be noted.

        Frijns really should have accepted an RBR junior role. He’d have been a top RBR driver with Ricciardo today I think. Maybe even before Ricciardo.

        Perhaps his principal’s cost him potentially 3 GP wins? Who knows… Either way, it’d be a bitter pill to swallow now seeing the progression of generation he was a part of in seats he would have had.

        • Hulkenberg and Frijns in the 2013 Sauber (or better yet, with the pace of the 2012 car) really could have been an emerging super-team combination…. even Red Bull were copying that 2012 Sauber!

          • Ah, thanks! I forgot the link, now I know it again!

            Sirotkin at 4 opened my eyes or at least stimulated me to just watch how he would do, instead of jumping on the bashing wagon – although I’m in fact not such a basher.

          • I think Verstappen would be ‘future champion’ material like Button, while Ocon wouldn’t be far behind.

            Sirotkin indeed does have talent – this year 5th in FR3.5, behind Sainz, Merhi, Gasly, Rowland, all respective champions in the junior ladder and ahead of Will Stevens, now Marussia reserve. Sauber reserve is a good spot for him, with a title shot next year.

            He’s skipped up levels to FR3.5 quite quickly, which usually counts against youngsters unless they are straight on the pace, and he’s not too far away given his inexperience to be honest.

    • Will also be great to see him up against the RB academy drivers there…time for Helmut to start sniffing around.

        • He’ll be coming through at the same time as Da Costa, Lynn and Sainz Jr. – not exactly a clear path into the sport

          • True, he’d have to aim for the next ‘cycle’ after Verstappen/Sainz, which could be 3 years.. time for F3, FR3.5, GP3 or GP2 in various combinations.. by which time he’d be 21.

            Gasly/Lynn both have at least one more year if needed, for FR3.5 title shot or GP2, but I guess that would only be needed if Sainz is picked and someone moves on from the 4 Red Bull seats.

            Gasly would also be 21 in 3 years, but is already so close to the top of the junior ladder.. I wouldn’t be surprised if Marko stuck him in or had a plan.

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