Why teams could build two cars for 2009 to get the maximum out of KERS

Posted on | Author Keith Collantine

Ferrari has tested its stickers but says it hasn\'t run a KERS yet
Ferrari has tested its stickers but says it hasn't run a KERS yet

Robert Kubica has given some insight into how Kinetic Energy Recovery Systems (KERS) are influencing 2009 car design:

Our car for sure will also run without KERS. And it is my opinion that the car built without KERS can go quicker compared to the car that was built with KERS but is not using it. KERS needs space, and if you then don?t use it, it means that you are wasting space. We are analyzing what is better and in which direction the development should go.

With some teams already admitting they will not use KERS at the start of 2009, will some build entirely different KERS and non-KERS chassis?

The Kinetic Energy Recovery System which will be used next year offer a boost of 80bhp for six seconds each lap. In the fast-paced world of F1 technical development that is obviously a gain worth having. But KERS brings disadvantages with it as well.

Why not run KERS?

It increases weight. At present F1 cars are built well below the minimum weight limit and then ballasted up to reach the limit. The advantage of that ballast is that it can be placed wherever the driver needs it to optimise the car’s performance. However, with KERS adding 20-30kg of weight, drivers will have less ballast to move around – particular taller, heavier drivers like Kubica and Mark Webber.

KERS also increases the total volume of the car and may require other components to be re-sited in locations that are less optimal for weight distribution.

There are therefore obvious downsides to building a KERS-capable car but running it without a KERS installed.

Designers also have to consider reliability. Over the last five years the drivers’ world champions have had a total of four mechanical DNFs. Lewis Hamilton had none this year, and if Felipe Massa had as few he’d have the number one on his car next year. Teams cannot risk throwing points away.

Benefits and costs

Given that, on top of KERS, teams also have to get to grips with a radical new set of aerodynamic regulations, building two different cars for 2009 makes a lot of sense.

A team could begin the year with a car designed to run without KERS, and introduced a KERS model later. It will give them time to ensure their systems are reliable. Toyota has already said it will not run KERS in the first race, and Ferrari hasn’t even tested its system yet.

By aiming to produce a second ‘B’ version of their cars later in the season the teams can perfect KERS and use the new chassis to make any aerodynamic improvements that can’t be rectified with the usual wings upgrades seen each race weekend.

It may even be the case that some Grands Prix offer less of an advantage to a KERS-equipped car than others. For example, Grands Prix with low numbers of laps (such as Spa with 44) or circuits with little room to get a benefit from KERS (such as Monte-Carlo, where the longest flat-out section lasts just eight seconds). Could teams run non-KERS cars at races where it doesn’t bring enough of a benefit, and vice-versa?

From a purely technical standpoint developing one KERS and one non-KERS car makes complete sense. But at a time when the governing body is trying to contain costs, it could be controversial. The in-season testing ban introduced last week could also make it difficult to achieve.

Will the benefits of running KERS outweigh the problems it causes? Will some teams develop two different cars? If so, which ones will?

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