Lewis Hamilton isn’t expecting much overtaking in a dry Japanese Grand Prix without the addition of a second DRS zone at the legendary Suzuka Circuit.
Suzuka is a rarity on the 2019 calendar in that it features only one DRS zone — down the main straight, with the detection zone leading into the final chicane — whereas most other F1 venues accommodate at least two.
The drag reduction system is designed to ameliorate the sport’s chronic following problem whereby the aerodynamic wake of a leading car disturbs the performance of a following car when it gets to close. The problem is particularly severe at circuits with high-speed, aero-dependant corners like Suzuka, forcing pursuing drivers to drop back to stay out of the dirty air.
But the classic track has never featured more than one DRS zone. The back straight, which is longer than the pit straight, could theoretically be used, but drivers would then be tempted to keep the DRS open through the fearsome but flat 130R turn before the system deactivates in the braking zone at the chicane, a concept rejected by former race director Charlie Whiting last season.
Silverstone made use of the DRS through the similarly quick Abbey and Farm corners in 2018, but high-speed crashes by both Romain Grosjean and Marcus Ericsson ensured that the zone was dropped for this year’s event.
Hamilton, however, was adamant that a second DRS zone must be found for Suzuka to improve the spectacle of the race.
“I’ve noticed they’ve not got the double DRS this weekend, which I don’t think is a good idea,” he said. “I think they need to have the double DRS because hopefully that should help.
“Each weekend there’s a certain advantage you have to have on the car ahead to have an opportunity to overtake. At some races it’s two seconds, sometimes it’s 0.8 seconds — those are generally the better races, like Baku.
“Here’s I’s over 1.5 seconds you have to have of an advantage over the car ahead. That’s quite a big delta, so that’s why you don’t see a lot of overtaking. But with an extra DRS section, that shortens that a little bit, so they need to add that.
“There are a couple of places, but it’s very, very hard [to overtake].”
But Hamilton, like all drivers, was quick to praise the circuit generally. The demanding Suzuka layout is universally adored by racing drivers, and the five-time champion went on to talk about the thrill of the first sector in particular.
“I wish you guys could feel it,” he said. “All the way down the hill, turn one and turn two are crazy, then up through the esses, particularly if you have a headwind.
“You generally have two different directions here. You have a tailwind into turn one, which is a headwind through that section, which is just unbelievable.
“If it’s headwind into turn one, it’s a tailwind through that section and it’s a little bit less exciting because the car is not so planted.
“The only other place that gets a little bit like that is Silverstone — Maggots and Beckets and Copse.”