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. On another note, I don’t know why safety for battery KERS is still an issue. Surely it would be a piece of cake for a simple conducting rod to earth the car automatically should it come to a standstill to discharge the chassis, bodywork and KERS of any unwanted electricity. The conventional engine should be unaffected, should the driver just spin and come to a halt.
    I still remember electrical strips that hung to the ground on normal road cars for discharging static from the bodywork.

    1. F1 cars have an earthing strip too (originally to make sure there was no static on the car in refuelling stops). But it’s not much help unless the car is sitting on a flat surface the right way up. Run-off areas are rarely flat.

  2. DGR-F1, the flywheel housing is built to handle anything like that plus the flywheel exploding internally.

  3. So if Stewards have to wear super thick gloves and shoes and not touch the car with any other part of their body what do the drivers have to protect them?

    1. I think it’s only a problem when they’re touching the car while standing on the floor. The drivers are OK when they’re in the car, but we have seen them jumping out of the car instead of getting out one foot at a time.

  4. Thanbks for the link to the Williams You Tube clip, Todd. it does indeed show the flywheel axis in the vertical plane so that gyroscopic force will be minimised.
    About halfway through the guy doing the commentary says it should be good for 0.2 seconds per lap. Hardly seems worth it.

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

    I don’t think teams think of safety first. Speed comes first and then “Does it meet the FIA regulations”.

    The FIA should have implemented better safety testing and safer regulations, prior to allowing this technology out on the circuit. Handing out thick gloves and boots with little information for the marshals is wrong.

  6. KERS is not going to make F1 greener, and I am sick of FiA superficially touting it as being a step forward towards a ‘greener’F1. If anything, it might make the cars a bit faster. Will they use less fuel? No, and as the author keenly pointed out they’ll be throwing away a few batteries too. So we’re making F1 ‘gray-er’ then? Max needs to stop trying to make himself and the FiA look better with his contradictory initiatives and irrational rule changes (budget cap?!). It reminds me of George W Bush trying to polish-up his infamous legacy before leaving ofice, except that Max probably isnt going anywhere for a while :(

    1. The argument has never been that it will make the sport greener – it has been that it will serve a purpose as a test bed for green technologies. But a lot of people dispute whether it is even doing that.

    2. To be fair, I don’t think the point is that F1 is greener from race to race – rather the technologies that are developed will have much wider application elsewhere in the automotive industry.

      This is indeed happening with the flywheel system developed by Williams, and I guess time will tell whether it was worth it. Personally, I’m still undecided.

  7. agreed. thanks for the article, doctorvee.

    “Mercedes KERS had already cost £70 million – more than double the proposed new budget cap for the entire car.”

    mclaren has also said they have never exceeded their annual budget.

    that 30M pound number has been thrown around for a bit, but the only person of consequence to say it was flavio. paraphasing: we spend 300M on what could be done for 30M.

    in all honesty, 30M is a tremendous low-ball figure. this is supposed to be the best of the best of motor racing. the huge effort it takes to compete at this level demands huge sums. forget all of the technical work being done, the top teams spend 30M on drivers alone. if they were all issued spec cars, the teams would still burn another 30M somewhere, looking for the advantage.

    1. sorry, this was to be a reply to:

      “sorry, good article but ultimately i’d argue the opposite to just about everything you wrote”

    2. From what I’ve heard the amount spent on developing KERS for this season matches, if not exceeds, the amount spent on developing the engines before their specification was frozen.

    3. i’m very curious as to how williams (of all teams) was able to buy into flywheel production so heavily. regardless, they saw the writing on the wall and did not hesitate. fortune favors the bold, after all.

      this is the future of automotive technology (aside from 10 years of priuses? priii?) and should be not only considered de rigueur powertrain equipment, but should also be embraced as a perfomance differentiator.

    4. williams (correct me if i’m wrong) bought a controlling stake in a company that develops the technology already (so they own the company that creates the tech) thus, in the long term profiting from the development they do in f1 – not from f1, buy by selling the tech and tech services through the existing kenetic engineering company.

      just a quick google

    5. sorry, it was a minority share, not controlling share, my point is still the same.

  8. Isn’t one reason for the massive price tag just due to it being the first season of use (Mario Illen aside)?

    I know there’s a chance of standardisation in 2010, but I’m guessing the R&D budget spent now is not just for ’09.

    1. i believe you’re right

    2. how much cash does shell spend to develop custom fuel for ferrari…

    3. i think each team gets custom fuel, designed for both the engine tuning and the expected climatic conditions. these are closely related to pump gasoline. a few years ago, i believe it was shell that pushed too far for the fia’s liking, developing lightweight fuel – definately the wrong direction for the sport to go in.

  9. TBH I can’t understand why the regulations were not written to make KERS an undeniable benefit.

    Currently the benefits delivered is offset by the weight that has to be carried around & not being used.

    Just make a regulation that defines a shape, volume, weight that can either be used for a KERS system or it must be filled with Ballast.

    Even a cheap & simple KERS system would be better than lugging around a dead weight. . .

  10. KERS is rightly characterised as a curse. Not surprisingly it is another ridiculous spin-off of the great Anthropogenic Global Warming Fantasy gratuitously stoked up by Gore and the Green Slime. Like all such it is appallingly costly and totally pointless. KERS as developed for F1 is not even relevant to road vehicles! To lumber teams with this unnecessary and ruinously expensive complication whilst at the same time requiring them (rightly) to cut costs (creating hundreds of redundancies) leaves me at a loss for words, it is so utterly wrongheaded.
    Car racing should be about the simplest possible rules that contain speeds within some kind of sensible upper limit whilst at the same time allowing designers the absolute maximum scope for visible innovation. For example, slick tyres and just a (small) total permitted area for aerodynamic surfaces, and that subject to constant reduction as speeds increase out of hand. Certainly cap costs, if they can be successfully policed.
    Why not standardise power trains, because engine technology has been pushed so far that further gains are exorbitantly expensive. After all the same power outputs can readily be produced by engines costing a fraction of current F1 power plants.
    Why not have a formula that simply limited the total surface area of the car bodywork, as calculated by the CAD? That would give fantastic scope for creative design thinking.
    It should not be forgotten that that the closest and most exciting racing in the history of Grand Prix was produced by cars which all used the same engine, the Cosworth DFV. The situation at the moment is that by far the greatest amount of competition in grand prix racing goes on behind closed doors in technical departments where it is invisible to the spectators, even if they were interested in it, which of course the majority are not. What on earth is the point of that?
    The changes I outline would, on the contrary, maximise visible competition, which surely must be a good way forward, while reducing costs. And, what on earth is the point of the present battle of the budgets?
    Above all, KISS (Keep It Simple Stupid).

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