There are two different COTA DRS zones for the F1 race in Austin.
This article provides a map and details of the COTA DRS locations, plus some thoughts on whether they’re in the optimal location to promote close racing and overtaking, or if they actually make it too easy?
What is DRS?
In F1 DRS means Drag Reduction System. It’s a function which allows a driver to open a flap in their rear wing with the push of a button.
This reduces the drag of the wing through the air and results in higher speeds on the straights.
DRS activation zones
At every F1 race circuit there will be a pre-defined number of DRS activation zones. These are straight sections of the track where a driver can activate their DRS system, reduce their aerodynamic drag and increase their speed to help with overtaking.
The activation zones are almost always on straight sections of track as DRS not only reduces drag but it reduces downforce too.
Having it activated whilst the cars are cornering results in a reduction of rear downforce and at high speed this can cause the cars to spin. The DRS activation ends as soon as the driver touches the brakes.
Some circuits have just one DRS zone, such as Monaco and Suzuka, the majority have two zones including COTA, a few have three zones and just one, Australia, has 4 DRS zones.
DRS detection points
DRS has been implemented in Formula 1 to help improve close racing by encouraging overtaking. This works if only a following car is given DRS to allow its speed to increase on the straight relative to the one it’s chasing.
To do this there are a number of DRS activation zones around a track. These are points where the circuit’s electronic timing system will measure the time difference between two cars.
If the distance is equal to or less than 1 second, the following car will be able to use DRS when they reach the next activation zone.
COTA DRS zones
COTA has two DRS zones. The first zone has a detection point 150m after Turn 10 and an activation point 250m after Turn 11, at the start of the long back straight. The second has a detection point 65m after Turn 18 and an activation point 80m after Turn 20, at the start of the home straight.
Below is a COTA DRS zone map showing where each detection and activation point is on the circuit.
It also shows the speed trap at the end of the back straight, where F1 cars can reach massive speeds when using DRS and slipstreaming. See our article on the COTA lap records for some examples.
The aim of DRS is to improve the racing and encourage overtaking. It shouldn’t make passing too easy. With this in mind, the two COTA DRS zones have activation points that start at different distances along each of the main straights.
COTA DRS Zone 1
The detection point for the first COTA DRS zone is 150 metres after Turn 10. If the following car is within a second of the car ahead at this point, then they’ll have access to DRS at the activation point.
The first DRS activation point at COTA is on the back straight 250 metres after the exit of the previous corner, Turn 11.
Do I think they’ve got it in the right place? I think it’s pretty good. In 2022 we saw most overtaking happening as the cars were on the brakes for Turn 12 at the end of the back straight.
Overtaking at this point means that if the slower car doesn’t defend, the car with DRS will have to go to the inside of the corner, off the racing line, and compromise their exit speed from Turn 12.
This gives the car that’s been passed an opportunity to come back at them in to the next corner.
If this DRS zone’s activation point was earlier on the straight then overtaking would be done way before the braking zone and the faster car would be able to retake the racing line before Turn 12.
This wouldn’t be exciting racing to watch as it would just be one car driving past another on a straight.
We also saw moments in the 2022 US GP where the overtake was done and dusted before the braking zone, and a couple where the following car had to lunge the one ahead on the brakes to get past.
So it depended a lot on the two cars, their exits from Turn 11 and how close to each other they were at the start of the straight.
Formula 1 are looking to refine the DRS zones this year to make sure passing isn’t too easy. If I was calling the shots, I’d put the COTA DRS zone 1 activation point a few metres later on the back straight.
COTA DRS Zone 2
The detection point for the second DRS zone at COTA is actually a couple of corners earlier, 65 metres after Turn 18. I think they’ve put it here due to the location of the pit lane entry which is between Turns 19 and 20.
If the DRS detection point was also between those two corners, the one second gap would be skewed by cars slowing for the pits.
The back straight at COTA is longer than the home straight by around 1300ft or 400m. As such the DRS activation zone on the home straight is just 80m after the final corner, Turn 20.
The COTA DRS zone 2 activation point seems to be just right. In 2022 all overtakes in the second DRS zone were all right at the end of the front straight, deep in to the braking zone.
The straight wasn’t long enough for any cars with DRS to pull clear of the one in front before braking for Turn 1, and we saw a lot of close action here.
The overtaking cars were often forced to brake as late as they dared. If they went in too hot and ran slightly wide on the exit then the other car could cut back past them on the way in to Turn 2, just as Charles Leclerc did when Max Verstappen tried to pass him in 2022.
If it's not nailed down...
The United Stated Grand Prix is renowned for its fan track invasion after the race. COTA general admission ticket holders, grandstand seat viewers and hospitality guests are all encouraged to storm on to the track after the race to watch the podium.
Almost as traditional as the track invasions are the fans’ desires to take home a free souvenir from the circuit itself. In 2021 a fan bagged one of the foam DRS signs.
Looks like we can expect one of the COTA DRS activation zones to be in this guy’s garage in 2023.