Problems with KERS and its impact on F1

Posted on | Author Keith Collantine

KERS, 470150

Max Mosley has tried to shrug off growing demands for him to quit in the face of lurid revelations about his personal life and pushed ahead with his plans to introduce environmentally-friendly kinetic energy recovery systems (KERS) in F1 from 2009.

He has written to teams outlining a vision of how a more powerful KERS could be allowed from 2011, and operate on all four wheels from 2013.

But there are problems with the plans as they stand already.

Mechanical or electrical?

Essentially KERS allows team to take energy generated under braking, store it, and use it again for a concentrated burst of no more than 60kW of energy (80.5bhp) for a total of 400kJ per lap (i.e. six and two-thirds of a second of 80.5bhp per lap).

There are two technical solutions to this – mechanical and electrical. A mechanical KERS uses a flywheel to retain power under braking; an electrical system, as the name suggests, uses an electric motor twinned with either a battery, capacitor or flywheel.

Although an electrical system may be less efficient, as the energy has to be transferred into electric and then kinetic energy, the lack of any gearing gives it an efficiency saving over a mechanical system. Plus, unlike a mechanical system, the flywheel need not be installed next to the transmission, which could be very useful in a tightly-packaged F1 car.

Revolutionary or primitive?

Toyota hybrid wins 24 hour race

Formula 1 could have had KERS a decade earlier as Mario Illien created a system for Mercedes in 1999 that used hydraulic fluid pressure to recover energy lost in braking. It would have provided a 45bhp power boost for four seconds but could have been used many times per lap. But the FIA outlawed the system before it could be raced, not wanting to allow cars to get any faster.

Illien’s system nine years ago, then, was not too far off what FIA have now declared legal for 2009. Unsurprisingly some of the manufacturer teams have expressed dissatisfaction with how basic the 2009 system is. Even Toyota, who seldom offer criticism of the FIA, claimed KERS was ‘primitive’, engine boss Luca Marmorini saying in Febraury:

The adoption of energy recovery leaves me rather perplexed because the system chosen by the FIA is really primitive.

The potential of hybrid engines is immense, but the solution chosen by the FIA restricts itself to recover energy from the rear wheels. The parameters involved should be more.

Toyota, of course, markets the Prius hybrid car (which it says has a more advanced KERS system than F1 will have next year) and won a 24-hour race in Japan last year with a Toyota Supra hybrid (pictured).

Max Mosley hit back saying:

[KERS] is set to revolutionise F1. It will make the sport at once more environmentally friendly, road relevant, and at the cutting edge of future automotive technology.

Cutting edge? Perhaps in 1999, when Illien designed it. How advanced might KERS technology been now if the FIA hadn’t banned it nine years ago?

Impact on races

How will drivers use KERS in the races?

Perhaps not just as a simple ‘push-to-pass’ system as I first thought. In other categories that have ‘push-to-pass’ systems such as A1 Grand Prix they only have a limited number of times they can use them. When I did a poll on this two months ago only about a third of people thought this was something F1 should have.

As F1 drivers can expect to be able to use it once per lap they may well incorporate it into their setups and, for example, always use it on the start of the longest straight.

It may not have much effect on overtaking then, although drivers will always be able to deploy it at will, say, to capitalise on a mistake by a rival.

Beyond 2009

The FIA plans to double the power limit to 800kJ in 2011, and double it again to 1,600kJ (1.6mJ) from 2013 while also allowing it to work on both front and rear axles.

Perhaps acknowledging the criticism of how restrictive and comparatively basic the initial system is, Mosley has also suggested opening up the technology to thermal energy recovery. He has proposed allowing energy recovered from this process to be used continuously, rather than at the push of a button.

This proposal could be the ‘revolutionary’ angle he is looking for, as teams would be developing the new technology and reaping the reward for it on the race track, something that Mosley has cut back on with ever more stringent restrictions on the development of engines.

Of course in doing that he runs the risk of allowing costs to escalate. But it’s not easy to fix one problem in F1 without aggravating another.

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