Red Bull's Newey Trumps KERS and DRS in the Battle Between Design and Gimmickry

Craig ChristopherAnalyst IApril 10, 2011

Adrian Newey and Sebastian Vettel: An unbeatable combination?
Adrian Newey and Sebastian Vettel: An unbeatable combination?Paul Gilham/Getty Images

Sebastian Vettel’s second comfortable victory in succession is the perfect start for a reigning world champion looking to retain his title in 2011.

The German again dominated the weekend and led the Malaysian Gran Prix from start to finish—except for some juggling during pit stops—and managed his lead to nurse his tyres and car to a three-second victory over McLaren’s Jenson Button and Renault’s fill-in driver, Nick Heidfeld.

In contrast to the Melbourne race, it was interesting and eventful with overtaking and hard-fought battles galore.

Renault’s other driver, Vitaly Petrov, even threw in an impromptu audition for the Russian Air Force. He launched his car over a storm drain in a spectacular, if ill-fated attempt to return to the track after overshooting a corner.

Although he got his car a metre off the ground and got great distance and hang time, the return to earth proved too much for the decidedly aerially ill-prepared car, and Petrov was left with a steering wheel that no longer communicated with the front wheels.

He did, however, guarantee himself a spot in this year’s highlights reels.

The real story of the day was the gulf that exists between gimmickry and pure design genius. The much vaunted drag reduction system (DRS) that reduces the angle of the rear wing—even though it was inexplicably only activated on the main straight in Malaysia—proved to be less of an advantage than anyone would have expected.

The main straight at Malaysia provides the optimum conditions for the DRS. It has a very slow hairpin corner leading onto an inordinately long straight and followed by another very slow corner. But, even in these ideal circumstances, DRS only just allowed the chasing cars to draw level with the car in front leading to an interesting braking duel.

Even with DRS thrown into the mix, the majority of the battling and overtaking seemed to take place elsewhere on track.

The kinetic energy recovery system (KERS)—the system that turns a Formula One car into a Toyota Prius—seems to have more impact. The difference is that it can be used anywhere in the lap (up to a usage limit) and the drivers seem more adept at maximising their advantage with it.

Indeed, the advantage that it delivers is quite stark, as Mark Webber can attest after having his system fail before the start of the race. Being 80 horsepower down on the rest of the field saw the hapless Aussie swamped at the start of the race, falling to as low as 11th before battling home to finish a creditable fourth.

And that is the story of the race. After KERS failed in both Red Bull cars, Vettel still comfortably won the race and Webber scythed through the field to put pressure on Heidfeld for the final podium spot.

The DRS gave little advantage to Vettel—you need to be behind other cars to get be able to use it—and while Webber did use it to get past Felipe Massa—and possibly others—it was elsewhere on the track that the RB7 came into its own and is incomparable.

If the FIA and Bernie Ecclestone are so invested in the value of technology to make the racing more competitive, then someone should suggest that they invest in human cloning. Give every team an Adrian Newey and they’d have a fighting chance.

Everything else just seems to be an interesting distraction.


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