A Formula 1 team's main objective is to find loopholes in the regulations that others have not discovered, because it gives them a performance advantage for a least a few races while the opposition tries to catch up.
If the loophole is found early enough for the design concept to be based around it, then other teams will struggle to adapt it to their cars and will never get the best from it.
An example of this was the f-duct rear wing that McLaren introduced. Getting the duct-work through the car to achieve the different pressures needed to make it effective was no mean feat, and if you look at how developments progressed throughout 2010, it took the rest of the grid most of the season to get their version up to speed.
This year the FIA stepped in and banned this style of wing-stall drag reduction, and introduced into the regulations what is now called the DRS system. Although it optimised the wing design to give the maximum benefit, it came at the cost of what a successful F1 one team is all about: digging deep to find that little advantage that no one else has discovered.
I'm not a fan of anything I consider artificial. When you see two drivers at the top of their profession like Mark Webber and Fernando Alonso at Spa going through Eau Rouge side by side, or Sebastian Vettel and Alonso at Monza exiting Curve Grande on the grass challenging one another at speeds that most of us can only dream about, this is exciting.
But watching someone press a button that gives them an extra 15km/h on a straight and using the old 'mirror signal manoeuvre' to overtake the driver in front does not make the hair on the back of my neck stand up.
Introducing this sort of thing just sends the teams off on a spending spree to come up with a whole new family of wings that maximise the drag reduction when the DRS is activated.
In the early races of 2011, quite a few teams struggled to get a wing design that gave consistent airflow reattachment when the DRS was deactivated.
It took a while for all the teams to maximise the effect of the DRS © Sutton-images.com
This meant that they lacked rear-end stability under braking, and as a result they would have to close the wing well before the braking zone, giving up most of the performance advantage.
As the season progressed, everyone found more or less the same solution: a short-cord rear flap and a long-cord main plane. This concept gave the best drag reduction and with the correct profiles the reattachment problems were dramatically reduced.
Red Bull was the only team to not go for the maximum benefit. As with the rest of the RB7, the team's designers focused on overall car performance as opposed to putting all their engineering eggs into one basket.
Indeed, it was the sum of all the parts that gave the team its outstanding performance rather than excellence in just one area.
During qualifying, the DRS allowed the teams to run with a bit more overall downforce, which got the tyres into their working zone earlier. By using the drag reduction of the rear wing at every available opportunity, the required top speeds were also achieved.
To get the best out of all of this, it was important to have the correct gear ratios. If the engine was on the rev limiter for too long, the potential benefit would be diminished. But if the ratios were perfect for qualifying, the race performance would be compromised when the cars had 150kg of fuel added.
As the season progressed, each team honed in on similar gear ratio compromises, and in the end no one really benefited. I believe that if the DRS had been removed for the last half of the season, the grids would have more or less been the same.
In the races, it was a bit different. As we saw with the various solutions to detection and activation zones, some cars had greater speed advantages than others - but no car that was in the top six on top speed actually won a race this year.
This is another reminder that overall car performance is about the sum of the parts, and not any one item.
Vettel's job for Saturday afternoon was to get pole position - a feat which he achieved for 15 out of 19 races - and his biggest challenge on Sunday was to open up more than a one-second gap to the following car by the end of lap two, when the DRS could be enabled. He was pretty successful at this, too.
Red Bull opted against the maximum benefit of DRS and Mark Webber often struggled in traffic © LAT
Implementing the detection and activation zones for a system like DRS is no easy task. If the detection zone is in too slow a corner, then the car ahead always opens up a reasonably big gap very quickly just because it can get on the throttle much earlier, making it very difficult for the following driver to keep in contact.
The activation zone is roughly the distance from one line to another, and as we saw from some tracks, the straight was often too short to allow the following car to close up the one-second gap and get alongside the car ahead and attempt an overtaking manoeuvre.
When single detection zones were used with double activation zones, it meant that if a driver could overtake in the first part, he would still be able to use the DRS in the second area to pull away from the driver that he had just passed, reducing the potential for any retaliation.
In Abu Dhabi, we saw two detection and two activation zones per lap, with the second one coming just after the first. This really just confused things, because the car positions at the end of these two zones was the same as when the drivers entered the initial detection zone.
Sure, it was fun to see the cars passing one another, but it seemed to turn overtaking into something frivolous.
In summary, the DRS is something that was introduced as a bandage until someone comes up with a set of regulations that allows the cars to race closely together, and for the drivers to use their talents to carry out the overtaking moves that they commit to.
If this bandage is kept in place for too long, drivers will actually lose their ability to make decisions on where another driver is weak and where they are strong, and they will only work on the areas that the DRS will give them the potential to pull off an overtaking move - which, because of circuit design, will always be placed at the end of the main straight, which is not always the best area for overtaking.
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