CURSE – Complicated way to Undermine Revenue, Safety and the Environment

Posted on | Author Duncan Stephen

But is KERS safe enough?
But is KERS safe enough?

Doctorvee from Vee8 joins us as a guest writer and begins with a look at the controversial Kinetic Energy Recovery Systems introduced this year.

In a year of big changes to F1, perhaps the biggest is the introduction of KERS, the Kinetic Energy Recovery System. But given the way things have developed over the winter, I wonder if it’s not just a typo and it’s actually called CURSE.

KERS appears to completely fly in the face of all of Max Mosley’s hobby horses – costs, safety and green technologies. Giancarlo Fisichella summed things up when he said earlier this month: “it is still not safe after many tests, it is not reliable and it is very expensive.”


Max Mosley is forever telling the world how Formula 1 teams need to cut costs. Just last week the FIA’s World Motor Sport Council proposed a budget cap of ??30 million. But right in the middle of Max Mosley’s economy drive, he has introduced KERS. He may as well have asked the teams to pour money down a drain. In February, it was reported by James Allen that the Mercedes KERS had already cost ??70 million – more than double the proposed new budget cap for the entire car.

Over the winter, teams voiced their concerns over the costs of developing the new device. Ferrari chief Stefano Domenicali noted in January that KERS had already cost them double what they had expected. Flavio Briatore and Norbert Haug added their voices to the chorus.

Moreover, because the costs of KERS outweigh the benefits on many tracks, teams may resort to building two cars – one with KERS and one without. Alternatively, they could even decide to build two completely different versions of their KERS to suit the different circuits better. Ross Brawn flagged up way back in June last year that KERS might be a complete waste of time and money as it would offer no benefits to F1 cars.

To add insult to injury, it looks as though a standard KERS will be produced for 2010. That means that it will not be a performance differentiator in the long run. So all the money that the teams have already sunk into the project will ultimately come to little. As Flavio Briatore put it, “What we know is that we are spending all that money for nothing ?ǣ this is sure.”


Safety issues have surrounded KERS ever since a BMW mechanic received an electric shock during an early test of a KERS-equipped car. Just days earlier, the Red Bull factory had to be evacuated when their KERS device caught fire during its development.

Over the winter, a number of people have voiced their continued concerns over the safety of KERS. Sebastian Vettel felt that the safety issue was being overlooked. Flavio Briatore described it as “not 100% under control.”

Meanwhile, Adrian Newey revealed that he feared that it would be easy for mechanics to absent-mindedly touch a car forgetting about the potential risk of an electric shock. Renault’s technical director Bob Bell said it’s “inevitable” that there will be accidents related to KERS this year.

It’s not only the mechanics who face the danger. Marshals will also be at risk of getting an electric shock from a KERS-equipped car. F1 Fanatic has received an email from motormedic, who will be one of the medical marshals working in Melbourne this weekend. It outlines the new precautions marshals must now take in a KERS-era F1:

At the present time we’re being supplied with boots and gloves which can apparently withstand 1000 volts of charge. The only downside is that these gloves are far too bulky to work in effectively, and we are expected to extricate someone from a vehicle with only our hands and no other part of our bodies should come into contact with the chassis – again… something extremely difficult to manage!

As part of the extrication team, we are very keen to know more about this system and the risks it poses to us – but unfortunately we’re being told very little…

It seems as though this will in turn put the drivers at greater risk, as the marhsals’ jobs have been made more difficult. Motormedic also left a comment:

I?m very concerned about KERS. FIA is giving no-one any information other than ??wear these boots and gloves – they will protect you!?? Practically – this is not a solution which is tenable!

Undertaking acute and critical medical procedures without any dexterity (compliments of the monstrous gloves) will mean that any lifesaving measure for the driver will be delayed until the car is rendered safe, or the driver is out of the car (which can?t be done until the car is earthed anyway??..)

The environment

Ferrari has confirmed it will use KERS this weekend
Ferrari has confirmed it will use KERS this weekend

Last June, Mike Gascoyne pointed out a fundamental flaw in the idea that KERS is environmentally friendly: “We’ll be throwing batteries away after each race and all that sort of thing – is it particularly green? Well, no.” This has been echoed more recently by Bob Bell who said, “F1 is adding to the stock of waste batteries around the world.”

KERS was also supposed to make F1 more road relevant. But engineer after engineer has lined up to point out that F1 systems have very litle in common with their road car counterparts.

KERS – a good idea, horribly implemented

It is no secret that the introduction of KERS has been a massive technical challenge to F1’s engineers. This is a good thing. Formula 1 should be about pushing the envelope in terms of technology. Let us not forget that KERS is not mandatory. The teams chose to pursue it.

But the way the FIA have gone about introducing KERS to F1 has been a complete botch job. Of course, we have come to expect this from the FIA. But KERS marks a new nadir of Max Mosley mismanagement.

Last month Mosley bemoaned the fact that:

People like (Colin) Chapman, or (John) Cooper or (Keith) Duckworth would be lost in modern F1. So suddenly having had this culture of minimal innovation and endless refinement, we dump on them an absolutely new concept, cutting edge technology and some serious engineering, and they don’t like it ?ǣ except for some. There is the odd person like Patrick Head, who is a proper engineer, who sees it as a fascinating challenge. But the team principals? It interferences with their cosy world where if you make it one thousandth of a millimetre thinner, it will be just that little bit quicker.

Mosley is right to lambast the situation that F1 has found itself in. But, as Mosley himself concedes, “in a way” (no, in every way) it is the FIA’s fault for having spent the past 15 years or sobanning every interesting new technical innovation brought in by the teams.

KERS was not introduced to F1 by Max Mosley in 2008. It was introduced by Mario Illen in 1999, almost ten years earlier. He developed an early form of KERS for McLaren-Mercedes. It was promptly banned by Max Mosley.

Had the original concept not been banned, who knows how advanced today’s KERS systems might be? The teams could have developed the systems in a comfortable, safe manner at their own pace. They could have had bullet-proof reliability and first-class safety standards by now. The technology may have trickled down to road cars within that time, and we may already be in the green revolution that Max Mosley wants to bring about.

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60 comments on “CURSE – Complicated way to Undermine Revenue, Safety and the Environment”

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  1. Max does what it wants when it suits him.

    Max banned it in 1999 because it would give McLaren a huge head-start over Ferrari and the rest, and we all know he doesn’t want THAT.

    Max brought it back in 2008 to give F1 green credentials. So what if it isn’t really all that green? The casual fan won’t see that – all they’ll see is the actual KERS system at work, not its by-products and side effects.

    1. Yeah, it’ll be really good to know when it’s being used as a part of this new data they are going to deliver…

      would be really interesting to see a driver use his when overtaking then to know if the other is using it to defend the position

  2. I have a quick KERS-related question: what are the limitations for its use during a race? Everyone know that’s it’s 80bhp for up to 6.7 seconds per lap (including multiple bursts of less time if desired) but I hear there’s talk of it being available off the start line…?

    For me, this raises a huge safety issue. What happens if someone stalls on the line, and the guy behind has already hit his button to use KERS when the light goes green? Allowing an 80bhp differential on the starting grid seems dangerous to me – cars scything through the pack down to turn 1 with more than 10% extra power.

    Just as bad, will certain drivers be able to adjust their braking point for turn 1 the first time with this extra power / speed? We regularly see guys out-braking themselves and causing crashes…

    I know it sounds boring, but wouldn’t it be safer to disable KERS until after the end of Lap 1?

    1. When the cars had V10s they were putting out 900-plus bhp. Now we’re looking at around 750bhp, even with the KERS boost that’s still less than they had in 2005. So I don’t think we need to worry about this.

      will certain drivers be able to adjust their braking point for turn 1 the first time with this extra power / speed?

      If they can’t then they shouldn’t be in F1.

    2. Aquatic Mammal
      26th March 2009, 9:00

      I’m pretty sure it only kicks in above a specified speed limit, say 100 kmph or so, to avoid that problem.

    3. @aquatic, dont think so.

      they wont use it off the grid, they cant put their engine power down without wheelspin how will they handle 80 more hp, the extra speed and power is nothing they can’t deal with, its only 80hp, few extra kmph (mph), not talking 300hp here or anything.

    4. To answer the “will certain drivers be able to adjust their braking point for turn 1 the first time with this extra power / speed?” question, some of them might not. If they’ve got any sense they’ll find this out in free practise on Friday, when such an error results in a quick excursion and plenty of time to figure out the best braking point, rather than the race where the consequences would be much more serious.

  3. Great article, one of the best I read about Kers (and a nice pun, too).
    Thx Doctorvee.

  4. I think, all teams (FOTA) should have opted not to use KERS for 2009 season at least. That would’ve been a scar on FIA’s faces forever.

  5. Ahhh, is this a Mad Max Move so that later this year (at the time of the ‘election’?) he can point to FOTA and say ‘look at all the money you have wasted this year, I propose drastic budget cut-backs from 2010, and I want to see all your accounts books too’.
    This might be a radical thought, but in the light of the article, it is worth thinking about…

  6. hey guys! i just had a thought. if i’m not wrong, the chassis is made of carbon fibre and it should not conduct electric charge, whatsoever the voltage across it be. then why do people keep getting the shocks?!

    please reply to this one.

    1. carbon fiber is conductive.

    2. Bernification
      27th March 2009, 22:35

      Carbon is conductive. The rein that is placed between layers and encapsulates the whole package, is not.

    3. Bernification
      27th March 2009, 22:36

      Sorry resin- it’s been a long day.

  7. kers good idea & safety

    safety is hardly an issue that they should not use kers over. think about it, the fia banned it years ago because it was not allowed, cant add extra power from an external source, sure great idea, but not allowed.

    back then road cars were not even in the relm of recovering energy from breaking, now days, it’s a hot topic and being used in cars like the Tesla Roadster and many more.

    for that exact reason it’s now a good time to be using kers, there’s more than 1 reason manufacturers pour millions into f1, they do it to develop new parts and technology they can bring to road cars, not the exact part, but a smaller cost effective version. f1 allows them to develop it, push it to its limits, work out its breaking point and make it reliable and safe.

    f1 is not safe, but the safety technology developed in f1 has made it – and road cars safer.

    for that exact reason is why its good to have kers in f1, the teams will develop an efficient, reliable, and safe system out of necessity, and the manufacturers can take that tech and apply the efficiency and safety to road cars.

    safety in road cars is a higher priority than safety in f1.

    also note, its not all about the manufacturer tech, there’s 3rd party companies involved in these parts that then sell / license the tech to other car companies.

    is driving around at 300kmph with 100liters of highly explosive fuel any safer with concrete barriers meters away and 20 other cars wanting to get around you as similar speeds?

    1. Bernification
      27th March 2009, 22:40

      Good point Todd. Do people flee when they see a Prius rolling up at the petrol station.

  8. costs

    costs in f1 is an issue for a few reasons, overall it’s gone out of control, and with the recession inbound it’s not helping, but, f1 is all about the big bucks, big investments and fast racing.

    the cost proportional to the fictional 35m is pointless, that’s a self imposed cap – optional, again, if the tech is used by other companies and car manufactures there’s investment to be gained in the long term, if there is a kers system that’s standard in 2010, they’ll know after this year’s test bed season which version of kers is the most efficient, cost effective and reliable version to run with. without doing that, it’ll be a random bidding war with external manufacturers of systems (which i’ll probably end up being anyway, but at least there’ll be real world data involved).

  9. environment

    not all kers systems store the energy in batteries, others do it in a flywheel (think ferrari do it that way). environmental is hardly something you associate with f1, even though they are trying, the long term knowledge and future of energy systems in f1 is a greater potential win for the environment than throwing away batteries. they’ll be recycled, just like the tonnes of rubber they go through, however all that broken carbon and burnt fuel wont be.

    by introducing one way of storing energy and waste, there’ll be future more efficient versions, who knows where the technology in f1 will take us in 5 years from now, either way energy recovery systems are the future.

    even if they start to use hydrogen – the hydrogen fuel probably wont go direct to the drive train, it’ll be used to charge batteries, so using batteries in f1 is a win situation, could lead to more efficient, reliable and better energy storing batteries.

    1. others do it in a flywheel (think ferrari do it that way)

      Only Williams uses the flywheel KERS.

      environmental is hardly something you associate with f1

      I am sure Max Mosley does not agree with you. He has three pinnacles on which the new FIA regulations are based.

      1. Cost cutting
      2. Safety
      3. Environment

      Introduction of KERS fits number 3. Although throwing away batteries after every race will not help. That’s why I like the Williams KERS so much. It lasts an entire season without batteries and is more energy efficient as the electrical KERS.

      And about the hydrogen. It costs energy to make it. So to become environment friendly the enry used to make hydrogen must also be environment friendly. And then I think using the hydrogen as fuel will be more efficient and envrionment friendly than converting the energy to elektrical and chemical energy, because it will reduce efficiency a lot.

  10. sorry, good article but ultimately i’d argue the opposite to just about everything you wrote :)

  11. My goodness! Aren’t those teams a bunch of crybabies?!
    “it’s too expensive!” -> If it were not for the engine freeze you would be spending the same amount of money thinkering with the traditional parts of the engine, so shut up!
    “It has no future!” -> You chose to develop battery-based systems. Go flywheel and there is much room for the future, so shut up!
    “It is dangerous!” -> Again, nobody told you to use hi-power electric systems, so shut up!
    “It’s not evironmentally friendly!” -> I’m not even going to comment on this, just shut up!

    What the FIA should have done is set the maximum stored energy limit high enough so that batteries would not even have been an option. Everyone would have used flywheels.

    1. hahaha be my friend!

    2. It’s more expensive than getting the same performance out of a similarly-unrestricted engine would have been. Wrong avenues are inevitable with any open technology (that’s part of the reason why technologies should be left open when feasible), flywheels are dangerous if the flywheel gets loose in an accident due to extremely high velocities and there’s practically no benefit to road cars in terms of making anything greener (which use brakes much less than F1 cars – a general energy recovery system would be much more help for environmentalism, but F1 doesn’t allow those).

  12. Very interesting article, and I agree with many of your concerns. However, as Todd points out, not all teams are using batteries.
    Williams are using the flywheel idea to store the kinetic energy. This will obviate the battery-recycling and electric shock problems but it introduces others.
    I think I read that the Williams flywheel weighs about 25 kg and spins at a very high rate in order to store the energy. I don’t know where it’s positioned in the vehicle, but the bearings must be taking an awful strain over the course of a race. I suspect it must be in the same orientation as engine (ie with the disc axis along the car) in order to feed the power back in efficiently.
    But this will set up gryoscopic action; if you spin a disc at very high speed and then try to rotate it against its axis, the disc sets up a force resisting the turning motion. Over the course of the race, going round all the corners, this will produce immense load on the disc bearings. Supposing they fail?
    The only way to mount a spinning disc like this avoiding placing huge loads on its bearings is to mount it with the axis vertically. So how would it feed the power back in – through the gearbox?
    It would have been far more simple for Max to have avoided this whole area and either cut engine size or rpm for that ‘green’ effect.

    1. Well, battery-based KERS is even heavier and one of the biggest concerns while designing it was to make the casing ”bullet-proof” in case of the accident. I think they are situated somewhere betwen the fuel-tank and the cockpit but I’m not sure. Ferrari is storing theirs under the drivers legs, others are putting it under the fuel-tank etc. etc.

  13. A good article but I disagree on some statements. Quoteing Flavio Briatore on any technical matter is futile – he doesn’t understand technical aspect of F1 cars and he is probably hearing a dumbed-down briefing from his engineers about what this and that system does. He was the loudest one protesting and throwing mud at the project and what do we see now – they will be one of the 2 teams (that we know of so far) to use KERS on Melbourne…

    Also, I think Williams is going in the right direction with their flywheel system. They are designing it so they can use the same unit for whole season (not sure that will be the practice but it is nice to hear), it should be lighter then battery-based systems and have equal perfomance throughout the race (the big issue with battery-based KERS is that batteries performance starts to deteriorate after a while). It was a great thing for Max to introduce as it gave the teams something that could be more significant then throwing money at developing allready developed parts for next to none improvement…

  14. Ethnic_Tension
    26th March 2009, 10:57

    One solution to the gyroscopic effect of the Williams KERS is to simply use two fly wheels rotating in opposite directions. This would effectively cancel out any unwanted forces. It is possible and not that hard. There are several helicopter with counter rotating blades (means no need for a tail rotor – e.g. Ka-50) and planes with counter rotating propellers.

    1. I don’t think those are the forces in question but rather the tendency of gyroscopes to oppose changes in their axis orientation.

    2. i think the flywheel they use is more of a circular device.

  15. Ethnic_Tension
    26th March 2009, 11:04

    I believe the FAI should have allowed Hydraulic Launch Assist which uses energy during braking to compresses a liquid or a gas and then when the vehicle accelirates it is released.

    It’s an Aussie invention and is starting to be introduced on trucks. In start stop driving situations it can reduce fuel usage by 25-35%.

    It’s simple, should cost effective and can give F1 a true green image.

  16. Ethnic_Tension
    26th March 2009, 11:21

    Moonlander – Sorry, my mistake. In hindsight you can alleviate some of the force problems associated with using a flywheel by mounting it on a horizontal plain. This would allow the car to rotate around it left and right (i.e. turn) without a problem.

  17. f1 is not safe, but the safety technology developed in f1 has made it – and road cars safer.

    F1 is not safe, but after an accident you’d want to be able to get to the driver without risking the lives of the volunteers and medical personnel.

    Do you want to see a driver die after an accident because a medical crew \ marshal cannot extract him safely from the vehicle?

    This is not an acceptable risk to take.

    1. but isn’t that the whole point of research and development? to work out ways of making it safe.

      crashing and having an electric shock is no different to crashing and having the car on fire.

      that used to be an issue, storing fuel in a tank isn’t safe but they worked it out through development and the same will be true with kers.

  18. Don’t agree with quite a bit of the article. Regenerative braking (The KERS label has only come about recently AFAIK) has been around a while in the Toyota Prius, so the application for road cars is already there.

    KERS for F1 should have been deemed only non-battery solutions from day one. A flywheel KERS renders most of the major points of this article incorrect. Maybe the article should have been titled “Battery CURSE”.

    One of the disappointing things about Honda quitting for me is they were going to use a flywheel system that was different from Williams’. I was looking forward to seeing how it compared.

    Williams’ flywheel spins horizontally judging from a technical video of theirs. I wonder if the spinning resistance to axis change will help reduce body roll (more balance than roll on an F1 car I would imagine), helping to keep better contact with the tarmac for all four tyres while cornering.

    A good video on flywheel KERS

  19. And there is just as much danger from a flywheel based KERS, since if the car does hit the wall and the thing breaks loose, it will be spinning much faster than a road wheel. Its a remote chance, but possible still the same, and rubber gloves won’t save you…..

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