As what was planned—prior to the "Arab Spring"—to be the longest season in Formula One history draws to a close, driver concerns about the unlimited use of the Drag Reduction System (DRS) in free practice and qualifying have been made public.
Not because of the obvious reason—that there's absolutely no point at all in allowing it to be activated during these sessions—but because of the safety issues it causes.
Writing for the BBC, key Grand Prix Drivers' Association (GPDA) member Mark Webber highlighted three instances in which pushing too hard to get the full benefit of DRS activation caused accidents.
Webber pointed to Bruno Senna's accident in Suzuka, his own at the Hungaroring and an unspecified off-track excursion by his teammate Sebastian Vettel. Each occurred during free practice, and were due to the driver activating DRS too early on the exit of a corner.
As DRS cancels out some of the effect of the rear wing, the back of the car loses some stability when the system is active. To get the maximum benefit, the driver needs to press the button as soon as possible after the corner—and not surprisingly, sometimes they're a fraction of a second early.
And the negative implications of a sudden loss of downforce when cornering is taught on the first day at racing driver school.
DRS exists to facilitate overtaking, and so many fans—and probably, many drivers as well—are still mystified as to why unlimited use is allowed outside the race.
Webber says the GPDA are "almost unanimous" in wanting limitations on DRS during free practice and qualifying for 2012. His suggestion is to allow it only in the specified DRS zone and on other key straights.
But is even that necessary?
DRS has no purpose at all beyond assisting in a racing overtaking move. That doesn't happen outside of the race, so it should not be used outside of the race.
Moving to a policy of allowing zero DRS on Friday and Saturday might even shake up the racing. The system allows a team to run a higher downforce setup in qualifying with all the benefits in cornering and few of the risks in terms of straight-line speed.
Fixing the rear-wing, however, would force the teams to make bolder, riskier setup decisions. They'd have to weigh up the ability to corner better versus the ability to go faster on the straights—kind of like they used to.
Perhaps it won't take us back to the days of the tracing-paper rear wings we used to see at Monza and the old Hockenheim, but we could at least see some more slippery cars out there.
DRS does a decent job during the races, but it has no place elsewhere. Restrict use to Sunday only, make the teams think more about setup, and let us have an idea of the true pace of the car during qualifying.