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.”

Costs

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

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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