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Despite the need for DRS, are F1’s new rules working?

Formula 1’s new era is now two races old, and the early signs coming from the on-track battles and driver feedback has been encouraging.

Charles Leclerc, Ferrari F1-75, Max Verstappen, Red Bull Racing RB18, battle for the lead

The overhaul of the technical regulations for this year was chiefly designed to improve the spectacle and allow for more wheel-to-wheel battles by reducing the amount of dirty air produced, making it easier for cars to follow each other on-track.

Testing brought some positive early feedback, but it was not until the cars could properly race that we would get to see in full effect if the new rules had the desired impact.

Both Bahrain and Saudi Arabia offered side-by-side moments in the fight for victory between Charles Leclerc and Max Verstappen. The scoreboard stands 1-1, and excitement is already brewing for the potential of a new rivalry between two of F1’s brightest young stars.

But both drivers were honest in their assessment after the battles, saying that while the new rules had certainly helped, DRS remained a necessary tool to get close enough.

“As much as following has been better from last year to this year, and it's a very positive step, I still think it's not enough to get rid of the DRS,” Leclerc said after his defeat to Verstappen in Jeddah.

“It's part of it and I actually quite enjoy it. It's part of the strategy for each driver in terms of defending and overtaking, and it's part of racing for now.”

We saw that strategy play out during the late fight for the win in Saudi Arabia when both Leclerc and Verstappen tried not to get DRS out of the final corner, knowing how powerful it would be on the run down to Turn 1.

Red Bull boss Christian Horner said it would be worth looking at DRS placement moving forward to avoid the “cat and mouse” games, but it nevertheless added a good level of gamesmanship to proceedings.

Yet the fact Leclerc and Verstappen could get close enough to fight each other in the past two races is encouraging. “We've seen Charles and Max pass each other about 10 times, which we haven't seen in previous seasons,” Horner said after the Saudi race.

“It's been great racing, another fantastic race between the two teams.”

PLUS: Why Verstappen and Leclerc's Jeddah duel showed DRS still has a place in F1

A general view over the grid preparations

A general view over the grid preparations

Photo by: Red Bull Content Pool

The biggest change for drivers is the confidence with which they can now drive their cars when closely following someone else ahead. There are no longer sudden snaps as the downforce falls away.

Esteban Ocon compared it to being “pretty much like a go-kart race”, having enjoyed a close fight with Alpine team-mate Fernando Alonso in Jeddah before a last-lap drag race with McLaren’s Lando Norris to the line.

The data is also showing a positive upward trend. According to Forix, there were 55 changes of position between laps in Bahrain, up from 40 at the same event last year. The figure for Jeddah rose from 20 to 31 changes of position between 2021 and 2022.

This does not mean the number of overtakes, as drivers can switch back and forth on individual laps, nor does it count first-lap passes. The more competitive nature of the field this year, aided by Haas and Alfa Romeo’s big steps forward, would also have boosted this figure. Still, it’s encouraging.

One of the biggest gripes drivers have with the new cars is their weight, which almost stands at 800kg. The cars are more sluggish through the slower corners, and are proving quite hard on the softer compounds of tyres. “The hard tyre was capable of following closer,” said Verstappen after his Jeddah win.

“The other compounds, and this depends on the track, but they just fall apart. As soon as you follow for a few laps, they just open up. Also the weight of the car pushes you over the tyre edge.”

The overriding feeling is still that F1’s new rules are working well. Next weekend’s Australian Grand Prix is going to be a big test for them and show, combined with the reprofiled Albert Park layout, whether F1’s refreshed approach to both the cars and track design is moving in the right direction.

One challenge that does still lie ahead is what the more traditional tracks will be like for overtaking.

“In Melbourne we have a lot of DRS zones as well, so we could have another interesting race,” said Alonso in Jeddah. “But then we need to wait and go back to normal races, Barcelona or Imola or something, and see really how easy or difficult is to overtake. I think this is a very specific track.”

The jury may still be out, but the early signs from F1’s new rules have been very promising. The wheel-to-wheel battles have been exciting, and even the much-maligned need for DRS has become an increasingly tactical battle.

The field is more competitive this year, even if there are two teams currently a step ahead of the rest, and as the development war kicks in, it could get closer and closer.

“Of a sample of two, you'd have to say it's a big tick in the box for the ability to follow closely and race wheel-to-wheel,” said Horner. “It's been outstanding.”

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