The Spa Francorchamps DRS zones see F1 cars reach incredible speeds, especially on the 1km long Kemmel Straight where they might see upwards of 215mph.
But does the DRS at the Belgian Grand Prix help promote close racing? No it doesn’t. It makes it too easy for the following car to overtake.
This article provides all the details of the current DRS zones at Spa and why they should be changed (or scrapped entirely).
what is DRS?
DRS stands for Drag Reduction System when we’re referring to Formula 1. It’s a system which allows the driver to open a small flap in their rear wing by pushing a button on the steering wheel.
Opening this flap reduces the aerodynamic drag of the rear wing and helps the cars achieve higher top speeds on the straights.
Each circuit on the F1 calendar has a number of DRS ‘zones’ where the system can be used. Drivers can use the DRS in these zones at any point during qualifying, or if they’re less than one second behind the car in front during a race.
Each DRS zone has a detection point and an activation point. DRS can’t be used in the first two laps of a race or for the first lap after a safety car restart.
DRS detection point
The DRS detection point is only used during the race. It’s the point where the time gap between two cars following one another is measured. If that gap is less than one second the car behind will be able to use the DRS when they reach the next activation zone.
The aim of DRS is to improve racing by promoting additional overtaking opportunities. If both the car in front and behind were given DRS at the same time, then all it would achieve would be increasing the speed of both cars. It wouldn’t actually be any easier for the one behind to overtake.
The DRS detection point serves no purpose in practice or qualifying sessions.
DRS activation point
For each DRS detection point there’s an activation point shortly afterwards. During a race if two cars pass a detection point and the following car is less than 1 second behind the lead car, then the following car will be able to deploy DRS when they cross the activation point line.
The driver will press a DRS button on the steering wheel and the flap in their rear wing will open like a letterbox, reducing drag and increasing their speed on the straights.
The DRS activation points are used for practice and qualifying, and once drivers reach these they can use DRS regardless of whether they’re closely following another car or not.
Most circuits have their DRS activation points on straights. Opening the flap reduces both drag and downforce, so if it was used on a corner the cars are at risk of losing rear grip and spinning off.
Spa Francorchamps DRS zones
The Spa Francorchamps Grand Prix circuit layout has two DRS zones for the F1 Belgian Grand Prix. The first zone has a detection point after Turn 2 and an activation point after Turn 4. The second DRS zone has a detection point before Turn 18 and an activation point after Turn 19.
The circuit map below shows the location of both Spa Francorchamps DRS zones.
Spa Francorchamps DRS Zone 1
The detection point for the first DRS zone at Spa is 240 metres before the second corner on the circuit, Eau Rouge. The activation point for the first DRS zone is 230 metres after Turn 4, Raidillon.
The Kemmel Straight has a slight kink in it, but from the exit of Turn 4 Raidillon to Turn 5 Les Combes the distance is just over 1km.
DRS is more effective when the speeds get higher. As the F1 cars are already exiting Raidillon flat-out at over 300kph / 185mph, any reduction in drag at those speeds (and above) is going to have a huge effect.
If the activation point for this DRS zone was sooner after the exit of Raidillon, the drivers would be able to overtake way before they reached the braking zone for Les Combes. The idea of DRS is not to make overtaking easy, but to make it possible.
In 2018 the activation point for this DRS zone was 210 metres after Turn 4, but that was deemed to make overtaking too easy down the Kemmel Straight. In 2019 it was moved back to 230 metres after Raidillon and has remained there ever since. I still think it’s too early, see the end of this article for more info on why.
Spa Francorchamps DRS Zone 2
The detection point for the second DRS zone at Spa Francorchamps is 160m before Turn 18. The activation point is 30 metres after Turn 19.
The detection and activation points for the second DRS zone are either side of the tight final chicane on the Belgian Grand Prix circuit.
By the time the cars reach the detection point they will have been at full throttle for almost 20 seconds. A car following another for that long will gain a slight speed advantage thanks to the natural slipstream from the car ahead, making it possible to be within 1 second when they cross the detection line.
Then, shortly after they exit the chicane, they’ll pass the activation point and be able to use DRS along the start / finish straight. This isn’t a particularly long straight and the DRS is only able to be used for around 500 metres before they have to brake for the tight La Source hairpin.
F1 DRS speeds at Spa
F1 cars reach incredibly high speeds at the end of the long Kemmel Straight, especially when they’ve got DRS activated.
The official speed trap doesn’t actually tell us the maximum speeds of the cars as it’s located at the exit of Raidillon, as can be seen on the circuit map at the top of the page. But it gives us an idea of cornering speeds through Eau Rouge and Raidillon.
The F1 race data includes the speeds over the intermediate split timing lines. The first intermediate timing line is at the end of the Kemmel Straight so we can see the speeds of the cars there, when they’re at their fastest.
The highest speed recorded at the 2022 F1 Belgian Grand Prix was 350.8kph / 217.9mph by Yuki Tsunoda in his Alpine. Yuki was part of a DRS train and with the benefit of DRS and slipstreams he hit an incredible speed before having to brake for Les Combes.
These incredibly high speeds during the race can result in new lap records at Spa.
are the DRS zones in the right place at Spa?
Do I think the FIA and F1 have got the DRS zones in the right place at Spa? No I don’t. Below is an explanation of why.
Spa DRS Zone 1
The first DRS zone activation point is still too early on the Kemmel Straight. If you watch the highlights video of the 2022 race you’ll see countless instances where the following car uses DRS to overtake another car along Kemmel. But they do it too easily; the overtake is done and dusted way before the braking point for Les Combes. The car with DRS can actually pull back in front of the other car before they need to hit the brakes (you can tell that as the rear wing flap’s still open).
DRS should promote close racing. Using it to simply allow one car to drive past another doesn’t give us close racing.
I want to see it used so it puts one car alongside another in the braking zone, giving the slower car a chance to defend. But the first DRS zone at Spa makes it far too easy for the following car.
As an example, on the first lap of the 2022 race DRS wasn’t active but Hamilton used the natural slipstream to draw alongside Alonso. They were beside each other as they braked for Les Combes. Alonso defended the inside, Lewis tried to go around the outside and it resulted in contact.
It was unfortunate they collided, but that was close racing. At those speeds the slipstream is very effective and it barely needs any additional help from DRS to make the racing close.
Get rid of this zone entirely I say.
Spa DRS Zone 2
When the F1 cars reach the DRS zone 2 activation point they’ve been at full throttle for about 20 seconds and will reach over 310kph / 190mph. At those speeds the natural slipstream again has a big effect, making the braking zone for the chicane a great overtaking spot.
The detection point is 160 metres before the chicane. If the following car overtakes the one ahead in the braking zone for the chicane it will be after this point, closer to the corner. That means that they’ll have been behind at the detection point but ahead (if their overtake was successful) when they reach the activation point.
They can then use the DRS to pull away from the car they’ve just passed without the other car having an opportunity to get back passed them.
The solution would be to put the detection point just after the exit of the chicane, right before the activation point.