Fallout from Alonso’s DRS failure in Bahrain
Posted By: James Allen  |  01 May 2013   |  4:24 pm GMT  |  122 comments

Fernando Alonso goes into his home Grand Prix at Barcelona next weekend looking to bounce back from the disastrous Bahrain Grand Prix in which he lost a chance of victory due to a failure on the Drag Reduction System rear wing.

It means that after four rounds of 19, he now lies 30 points behind title rival Sebastian Vettel.

The fallout from the DRS failure is interesting. According to a statement from Ferrari, “Analysis revealed that the problem was caused by the breakage of a mechanical component within the system. It’s the first problem of its kind on this system seen in the three years during which it has been used.

“The failure is not something that causes concern for the long term.

“The disappointment at what happened is even greater when one looks at the usual analysis of performance over the race weekend, which shows that Alonso could definitely have been fighting with Sebastian Vettel for the win.”

In terms of its impact on Alonso’s race, he had already lost the initiative to Vettel on the opening lap, so was in chasing mode. But then the DRS jammed open he was forced to pit on lap seven. Experts suggest that with the DRS stuck open the loss of downforce would be around 70 to 80 points of downforce. Alonso lost three seconds on lap 7 and then a further four seconds with it stuck open again on lap 8.

Not only did the wing not close, it went back into an “over centre” position.

There have been isolated incidents where a wing failed to close, such as Mercedes in Montreal last year. But this was different due to its finishing position.

Interestingly, the problem in Bahrain showed that the Ferrari hydraulic system for the wing is apparently relatively simple; a single acting actuator relying on a spring or gas spring to close the flap and probably a solenoid to energise it. This is why the mechanics could close the flap manually and it remained so on track (unlike the Mercedes failure last year which was caused by trapped hydraulic pressure). There are other ways to plumb the system for example by using hydraulics to both open and close the flap via a double acting system.

After it failed the first time, it was obviously a mistake on Alonso’s part to use it a second time on lap 8, as this cost him another 21.5 seconds for a pit stop. It also put him back in traffic. But to try to do the rest of the race without DRS would have meant he would be uncompetitive anyway. Nevertheless, he did managed to come some way through the field to finish eighth.

One thing is for sure; the design of the DRS from now on should be such that in the even of a failure it stays closed, rather than the opposite. To prevent an ‘unsafe’ failure like this should preclude the mechanism being able to go over centre. This is encapsulated in article
3.18.1 of the Technical Regulations.

“The design is such that failure of the system will result in the uppermost
closed section returning to the normal high incidence position.”

The hydraulic system runs up the side of the rear wing endplate and then serves the torpedo shaped actuator on the rear wing. It is very aggressive on DRS wings, it has to be as it’s pushing flap up when loaded with air pressure. There is a stop to ensure that it sets in position quickly and clearly the Ferrari one went past its stop.

Teams design the profiles of the rear wing upper and lower elements to give the maximum possible reduction in drag when the flap is opened to the 50mm slot gap allowed. This affects the shape of the flap, usually forcing a less cambered (flatter) profile and therefore one that is more likely to go over centre.

The failure of the mechanism on Alonso’s wing, presumably caused by just a small amount more wear, free play or deflection in the mechanism than anticipated, could be an example of how much work has gone into the wing and how near to the limit they are pushing it.

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I think something Alonso’s DRS failure highlighted was that the argument that there woudl be no overtaking without DRS is completely wrong.

Alonso managed to overtake a lot of cars without using his DRS & every single one of those overtakes was far more entertaining to watch than any of the boringly easy DRS Highway passes!

Ban it!


Interesting fact about the Ferrari DRS is that it is foot operated, rather than button operated like most teams.



Hi James (or anyone) why was Alonso not penalised for illegal use of the DRS, surly as soon as it became stuck he should have been obliged to return to the pits that lap while staying off the racing line to allow legal cars pass. Even if he didn’t know I don’t think ignorance is an excuse, I doubt very much mark knew his car was underfuled in qualifying recently? It’s been bugging me all week.

Val from montreal

Elie , good to hear from you ! Yesterday I had met a woman who came to my work , she was a customer … Pretty young mid 30’s lovely lady … She had an english accent … So I asked her if she was from England … She answered that she was Australian , from Sidney …then she said the Brits were a bunch of [mod] !! ( Why is that even Australians cant stand the british ? )

Anyway we walked for 10 minutes about Australia …she was so cool !

Then I asked her about F1 …

Me: Have you ever been to the F1 GP in Melbourne ?

Lady : Yes only once … My husband is a huge Webber fan , I personnaly don’t like Webber …

Me : Why ? He’s Australian , no ?

Lady : Yeah but he’s an ozzie ! I like Vettel more …

Me : Well Emily , the driver that made me watch F1 was that german dude at Ferrari …

Lady : Who Raikkkonen ? No wait , he’s finnish … Who then ??

Me : Michael Schumacher !!

Lady starts smiling : Yeah , he was a bit of a dirty driver but are’nt they all are? He was still the best though ! Australians loooove Schumacher , he’s huge down there …


Then why was Alonso not given a drive through penalty for staying out, Ferrari international assistance to the rescue.


All the comments asking why Ferrari were not disqualified or penalised for an illegal DRS, it’s the same as having a suspension failure and a wheel falling off and being penalised for not securing the wheels on properly. A part failed causing the DRS to go overcentre – Ferrari have not designed their DRS to go into an illegal position as it doesn’t go overcentre when normally operated.

I agree Alonso’s DRS failed a few laps before he pitted, it had to have failed while in use meaning it must have happened when he was overtaking Rosberg a few laps before as this was the last time he was within a second to activate DRS. However, as soon as the camera shot was shown looking over the rear wing and the DRS stuck open, Alonso had to pit due to illegally having the DRS open. I presume his lap time dropped off when he was told so that they could claim it was not an advantage – quick thinking on Alonso’s part.


HI Chris, I understand what you are saying but by staying out a few laps longer he 1. held up the cars behind him making them run in dirty air and slowing the pace of the pack keeping them bunched up and 2. got the advantage of a couple of laps less wear on his next set of tyres. These are both (all be it slight) advantages. If the red bull or McLaren fuel rigs fail they are booted to the back of the grid, the failure of these rigs didnt help them in Q1 or Q2 so in theory they could start 11th. I know its about having a fuel sample available for random testing after qualifing however if they always select the cars who stop in Q3 for random testing it dosent seem very random. The DRS is different from other mechanical damage as there are specific rules for when it can be operated and id bet my house he was going alot faster on the straights which helped him keep that mercedes behind.


I agree Alonso could, and perhaps should, have been given a drive-through penalty if he did indeed pass the pits with the DRS illegally in the open position.

My point was the people saying both Ferrari cars should be disqualified for having a DRS capable of going overcentre, which they are not allowed to do as per the regulations. Perhaps a better simile would be saying a car which has a front wing failure should be DQF for having a front wing closer to the ground than the regulations allow. This is obviously a failure that has caused the Ferrari DRS to be illegal and not a design intention, therefore the notion of disqualifying both cars is ridiculous.

To those saying DRS should be designed to be closed if it fails, it depends what physical mechanism breaks – the rear wing flap is an inanimate object that abides by the laws of physics, therefore if a particular part breaks while the flap is open, it may not be possible to have it close automatically.


James, what do you mean by 70 to 80 points of downforce?

Percent of total at rear (unlikely) or kg force or what?

This is a little like when newsreaders start talking about percentage points when they mean percent or 0.xx of a percent.


I’ll have to try and check again but I’m sure I caught a glimpse of something flying up towards alonso’s rear wing – possibly a bit of rubber kicked up by the car in front – just before it failed. I’d assumed that was what broke the wing but nobody else seems to have mentioned it so maybe I imagined it!


This whole thing confuses me.

It sounds like the Ferrari wings were illegal and there should be some kind of action taken. I don’t know what, maybe fine the team or something. It’s not like it gives them an advantage, it just wasn’t safe. Or do I not understand?

As I have said elsewhere I like Ferrari, but the team seams out of sorts. I do not like Alonso one bit. Crash gate, blocking Hamilton, and his everything is not his fault are starting to wear on me. It was bad luck I guess to have a failure (although it sounds like a design flaw) it was just dumb to open the thing again once it failed.



do you believe FA has been instructed from p.wall not to use DRS after 1st issue and he did anyway?

What’s the matter of mistake there was considered?


I think Alonso had DRS Failure in Monza quali last year or year before.


That was anti-roll bar failure, in 2012. Can’t remember anything with DRS in previous years.

Adrian Newey Jnr

James – is there any scope in the regulations for the team to be getting an artifical benefit from their DRS system? ie. perhaps there is more to the story in that Ferrari are using their system to get some sort of additional speed elsewhere in the lap?

Tornillo Amarillo

Alonso and Massa are now under pressure to deliver if Ferrari wants to have Red Bull in sight for the WCC.

tom in adelaide

He shouldn’t have tried to use it again until he was due for another pitstop. That was poor thinking from Ferrari.


[mod]Vettel has been in the best car for years now with Alonso being in a sub par Ferrari yet still he manages to fight for the championship. This year he has a chance with a capable car but only if the Ferrari stays reliable which it did not in China. Vettel will have bad luck hit him as well don’t worry.


I agree bad luck tends to even out between Alonso andVettel over a full season.


Yes the RBR maybe faster but the mechanical/Kers failures take out huge chunks of points. Better to come second all year than first but DNF as few times.


Like in 2010?…

Jorge Gaviria


Please give us facts, you have all the data to give us the difference between having DRS or not, I still believe that there is not major difference in a lap time, look the times at the beggining of the race when everybody are not allowed to use DRS. The reason to Alonso finished 8th is because is not difference, is only when you are so close to another car and you can pass. Why the faster lap was did it whitout DRS?


Could the wing not have been changed completely?


Yes, but changing a rear wing takes about 10 minutes so his race would have been over.


Rear wings aren’t as simple to change as front wings, and it would have put him several laps down in the time required – if they were required by the stewards to change it or retire, they might as well retire.


“One thing is for sure; the design of the DRS from now on should be such that in the even of a failure it stays closed, rather than the opposite. To prevent an ‘unsafe’ failure like this should preclude the mechanism being able to go over centre.”

Presumably it was designed not to ‘go over centre’, but did so anyway.

You can never completely design out any possibility of failure in a system like this. There will always be anomalies.


Indeed. You can design in some kind of fail-safe mechanism that will mean the wing will close when the DRS fails, or so that it won’t go over centre, but what if the fail-safe also fails? What if a fail-safe for the fail-safe also fails? Doesn’t matter how over-engineered something is, strange things can still happen.

I think he should have been black/orange flagged for it before Ferrari finally decided to bring him in, but I don’t think there needs to be any questioning of why both cars were allowed to stay out there with cars that supposedly breached the regulations. It was a freak incident that broke what normally would have worked as per the regulations.


james Allen mentioned how simple the Ferrari DRS design is…. to me it seems that other teams are forced to design a more complex DRS mecanism, which in turn it is an unfair advantage to Ferrari… and again, no punishment for breaking the rules, and now I am thinking what other things are not legal in Fernandos car.

In the last 4 races Fernadno’s car seems to be very fast, just not legal


Hansb, who is talking about Vettel’s car?.. I am talking about Ferrari and the unfair advantage, they break the rules and no panishment, not even a slap in the hand, then if I was a Ferrari designer I will then make the whole car to be ilegally faster, and hope nobody notices, and if the FIA does catch me, then not to worry, no punishment not even a slap…. now you see? I was talking about Ferrari, not RBR


So the fastest car of the field can’t be legal in your opinion.

Well this gives all Vettels/RBR’s championship wins a bitter taste doesnt it?

Val from montreal

Vettel is finally getting some praise in the Italian national press lately …..

Alonso knows damn well its make or break time in 2013 … no more excuses

If he does’nt deliver the title with the car he’s got , expect Vettel to drive for Ferrari in 2015 …

Vettel has been a blessing in disguise since 2009 …

If Vettel would’nt be driving in F1 , Alonso would have maybe won those titles in 2010 and 2012 …

And then , fans like ME , would have had to endure all the BS that Alonso is the “best driver Ferrari ever had” … Thank god for Vettel !!


Amen!! I will LOL when Vettel comes to Ferrari and actually delivers the titles that Alonso couldn’t.


Love, the idea Val but really Mclaren were there or thereabouts in 2010 and 2012. Not all the races would have gone to Fernando had Vettel not been there and in fact like him or loathe him ( as you do) only Lewis had outright pace in those years and lost quite a few races to Vettel when no one else including the Scarlett cars were within sight of the bulls.

So as much as you would love to say thank god for Seb you should also be saying thank god for Lewis- although I know you will never say that Val because he took your dear Michaels spot at Merc… Awwww ! 🙂


[mod]. Alonso has had two absolutely masterful drives/ seasons with Ferrari.
To say anything different is just not dealing with a full deck.


Alonso threw way the 2010 titel by crashing in Spa. Alonso also threw away the 2012 title, this time by colliding with Kimi in Suzuka.


Vettel won’t be anywhere near a Ferrari drive anytime soon. He’s shown he’s not a team player.


Luca said he’s top on his list, though, ahead of Hamilton and all the rest. Would be interesting to watch Alonso and Vettel fight it out for supremacy in a Ferrari, though. Alonso has shown some flaws when paired with a faster teammate.


Your last comment is very valid. Especially true with BBC editor.

Scuderia McLaren



Interesting post as always James, when watching the race live, the UK commentators mentioned a large headwind on the start/finish straight/DRS Zone, I haven’t heard anyone mention this as a contributory factor but with the increased load/stresses I’m sure it had something to do with it.


Spot on!

The headwind was significant which helped Vettel to overtake Rosberg.

Alonso’s DRS thing was already designed at the borderline to be lightweight and small. The engineers most likely did not account for the strong headwind that added extra pressure to the DRS structure when it is opened.

You can see that the failure forced the wing to move upward, which is why it was not able to close on its own.

That failure is clearly caused by the frontal load. I’m sure if they run a FEA simulation, they would be able to repeat the failure.

Interesting that it did not happen to Massa. Did Massa had a different wing?


I’ve heard it mentioned from Vettel. It actually helped him reel in Rosberg and pass him.


But he passed him after Turn 4 … so it would’ve been a tailwind.



Looks like you were right about the DRS being slower overall 🙂

Let’s hope Ferrari and Alonso have met their quota for bad luck / mistakes for the year.


This is Alonso’s season to become a triple WC? He has the best car in the grid so far unlike the previous years when he lost to Vetel. If he doesn’t win it this season it’ll really hurt his ego and confidence.


I’m not sure you can prove Ferrari has got the best car this year. In my opinion Red Bull and Lotus are one step ahead.


Like you said it’s your opinion. You can’t prove it either, though.


Since a DRS that can fail open is itself illegal, why weren’t both Ferraris black-flagged?


A better question would be why did Ferrari go unpenalized for driving past the pit entrance with a car that was clearly in a dangerous state in Malaysia?

I am staggered that Whiting took no action to prevent a recurrence of this.


If a component fails due to damage that doesn’t make the system inherently illegal. It obviously closes when it’s working.


Yes, I would love to know the answer to this too.


He had the choice to risk it and try the drs again as he did, or leave it alone… But with hindsight obviously there was a third choice to wait and try it again just before the next pitstop


Yeah I couldn’t believe he tried it again straight after he stopped. I was thinking leave it till his in lap for his tyre change. Same with the next tyre change he would have saved himself a stop and least and several other seconds in speed.


You are right, in fact there was a fourth choice. Why not test the DRS while he was still in his pit box? There must be some sort of manual override to test the mechanism whilst the car is stationary.

I am often surprised by how ‘flat-footed’ some of the teams appear when making these sort of calls.

I know, it’s easy sitting on my sofa passing judgement on the team decisions of strategy etc.

But for goodness sake, if I can see it and the commentary team can see it, how do the teams miss it?


I think their system relies on the wind pressure pushing the DRS wing back into place. Won’t have that in the pit box.


That may or may not be correct, but it still wouldn’t have prevented them testing the mechanism to see if it opened beyond centre. If it did, they could simply have closed it manually and sent him on his way with instructions to leave the DRS alone.


great point – hadn’t considered that scenario, which obviously makes total sense.

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