The FIA confirmed a data server crash in race control was the reason behind the Drag Reduction System (DRS) being disabled for the first third of the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix.
Introduced in 2011, DRS is normally enabled on Lap 3 of races, but the FIA spotted the issue just prior to the third lap at the Yas Marina Circuit, and alerted teams of the drama.
The issue was resolved on Lap 18 of the 55-lap race, which was dominated by world champion Lewis Hamilton.
His Mercedes teammate Valtteri Bottas started plumb last in 20th, but managed to recover to fourth by the chequered flag.
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After the race, FIA race director Michael Masi told reporters race control needed to be “100%” confident on the system before it could be enabled.
“We ran various checks working between collaboratively the FIA and the F1 Group to make sure that everything was working hunky dory. We were not going to take a chance until we were confident,” explained Masi.
With the Yas Marina Circuit featuring two DRS zones – on the 1.14km straight between Turns 7 and 8, and from the Turn 10 kink to Turn 11 – drivers were forced to overtake on car speed, rather than aided by DRS.
With current generation cars difficult to follow in race trim, even the fastest cars – Bottas’ Mercedes in particular – needed the entire straight to even get close and execute an overtake under brakes.
Renault’s Daniel Ricciardo was stuck in a McLaren sandwich for much of the race and struggling on the hard tyre in the middle stint. In the end, both Renaults missed the points despite enjoying better speed on the soft tyre at the end, with the McLarens using the same engine – and team boss Cyril Abiteboul was frustrated by the situation.
“Having said that, it was an exasperating race and we saw the current rules of starting on the qualifying tyre again penalising teams from P7 to P10,” said Abiteboul.
“This was aggravated by being blocked behind McLaren and DRS not working due to an FIA technicality, meaning we were in dirty air at a critical part of the race, effectively another penalty.”
The absence of DRS, though, enabled Bottas to produce what he hailed as one of his best performances to date.
Bottas passed both Williams into Turn 1, and as Pierre Gasly dropped away following contact with Lance Stroll, was 17th after two corners. He then passed Romain Grosjean and Danill Kvyat on the back straight, before flying past Kimi Raikkonen’s Alfa Romeo. P20 to P14, all on one lap.
He took Lance Stroll’s Racing Point into Turn 5, Antonio Giovinazzi’s Alfa on the back straight, and Kevin Magnussen’s Haas into Turn 11, all without DRS.
Bottas’ first DRS assisted overtake was on the one-stopping Nico Hulkenberg, on the very first lap the system was activated.
“It was a pretty tough race, I was giving everything I could, but I have to say it was pretty good fun, coming from the back,” said Bottas.
“It wasn’t the easiest, without any DRS in the first 20 laps. I tried and I feel like I couldn’t have done anything more, that’s why I feel pretty satisfied about today.
“It would have been nice to be on the podium, but it doesn’t matter. I feel I gave it all and that’s what matters.”