Will Gray

Tech Talk: Why Lotus should take DRS gamble

Will Gray

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A rather ungainly 'prototype' ducting system appeared on the Lotus E20 last weekend — but with pole position crucial in Hungary could rushing it into service be a gamble worth taking?

It has taken four months for the first team to react to the FIA's decision to allow the kind of double DRS systems introduced by Mercedes at the start of the season but finally, in Germany last weekend, Lotus was the first to trial a design based on that concept.

The Mercedes design, which they have been running all season, takes an innovative and highly complex approach to a loophole in the rules, feeding air through ducts that lead all the way to the front wing when the DRS is activated.

This means that in addition to reducing the drag on the rear wing (as with all standard DRS systems) it also reduces drag on the front wing, which gives a more balanced car, a more level pitch, a reduced amount of drag and therefore a significant increase in straight-line speed.

Creating a design similar to Mercedes' would require the creation of a feeder tube through the chassis - a significant amount of work as teams are not allowed to change their chassis design during the year and would have to fit internal ducting in limited space in the chassis.

Instead, the Lotus system appears to focus solely on the rear end of the car.

Their design feeds in air through two intakes beside the airbox above the driver's head and steers it through an internal tube inside the engine cover towards the rear end.

From there, the air is either fed through a large open outlet at the back of the car and over the beam wing or goes through other hidden ducting — steering in one direction when the DRS is closed, and another when it is open.

Exactly how it does this remains as yet unclear, but there are two schools of thought.

The first is that it works as an enhanced DRS, feeding the air into the rear wing and aiming to create a more effective rear wing stall and therefore a greater drag reduction when the DRS is activated.

The other suggestion, however, is that it feeds air down to the rear diffuser to create additional rear-end downforce when the DRS is closed, but is then fed away from that area when it is opened, resulting also in a reduction of downforce and therefore drag.

If it is the latter, that suggests the system will help Lotus create an efficient high downforce set-up (as additional downforce from the floor comes with less drag than additional downforce from a rear wing) — but as diffuser downforce is so efficient it begs the question why they would really need to 'turn it off' at all.

The team had hoped to trial the system in Friday practice in Germany but heavy rain ruined any reliable testing opportunities — so unless they get some consistent running and clear results at the Hungaroring on Friday it would be brave to use it for qualifying and the race.

Lotus have already said they might not run it competitively until after the August break, but there are many reasons why a gamble could be worth it in Hungary.

The system — however it works — would be of significant benefit on a slow speed and high downforce track like the Hungaroring, particularly in qualifying, when DRS can be used throughout a lap. It could provide the vital one or two tenths of a second needed to get on top - and starting from pole in Hungary is a huge advantage.

Kimi Raikkonen has won once and finished second three times in Hungary, Romain Grosjean also enjoyed good results there in GP2, and the team have always said they wanted a hot race to get the best out of their car and tyre combination — and Hungary is often one of the hottest.

The team's technical chiefs said they got "a good feel" of the system's potential in Germany and aim to "take it on a step" this weekend.

So if they can take enough confidence from testing on Friday then it could well be worth the risk...

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