A waste of money. Pointless greenwash. White elephant. Just a few of the criticisms levelled at the Kinetic Energy Recovery Systems that were introduced into F1 this year amid much fanfare.
Nine races in, no KERS-equipped car has won a race or even set a pole position. Of the four teams that began the year with the technology, only two used it at the last race.
The F1 teams’ association are now eager to drop the technology for 2009. It’s not hard to see the reasons why. But in their eagerness to correct one mistake they might be about to make another one.
An expensive failure?
Over the winter an engine technician from one of the teams using KERS told me the sums being invested in the technology were comparable to those being spent on engines before the development freeze. Again, it’s not difficult to understand the teams’ frustration at the venture at a time when costs are supposed to be cut.
Added to that, the teams which haven’t gone to the expense of putting KERS on their cars have found it by far the quicker way to go racing in 2009.
This has understandably soured people’s attitudes towards energy recovery technology in Formula 1. And it’s manna for those who always thought ‘green’ technologies have no place in motor sport.
But we shouldn’t lose sight of how seriously limited F1′s 2009-specification KERS devices are. The present systems can only produce a maximum of 400kJ per lap (around 80bhp for 6.6s).
That is not a limitation of the technology, it is a limitation imposed by the rules. (Technical Regulations article 5.2.3).
No team has bothered to create a system that produces less charge but weighs less. But there have been a lot of complaints about how ineffective KERS is for its weight. When the proposals were first announced Toyota engine boss Luca Marmorini said:
The adoption of energy recovery leaves me rather perplexed because the system chosen by the FIA is really primitive.
Instead of simply throwing KERS in the bin next year – along with the countless millions spent developing it – why not give some thought to relaxing the rules and making it more powerful?
This was originally part of the plan for KERS – its total power was going to be doubled in 2011 and doubled again in 2013. Offered a KERS four times as powerful as the one we have today, would any team consider not using one?
Let’s not forget that KERS in its current forum has brought an interesting extra dimension to races – particularly at starts and in wheel-to-wheel racing between differently-equipped cars. A more powerful version could enhance that. And the improved form of Ferrari and McLaren in recent races suggests KERS-equipped cars can be competitive.
I think there’s a solid case in principle for keeping KERS and making it more powerful. So what real-world problems might work against it?
Cost is clearly one. But chucking KERS now won’t bring back the millions already spent on it. Still, the teams understandably fear increased development of KERS will cause the costs to mount ever higher.
A second problem could be the other major technical change planned for next year – banning refuelling. This will require teams to carry bigger fuel tanks, increasing the weight of their cars at the start of races.
Faced with that, designers may find the further weight penalty of KERS even less attractive. But again, a more powerful KERS (or a higher minimum weight limit) could alleviate those concerns.
Tainted by association
Although I can see why a lot of people want to get rid of KERS next year, I don’t think it’s a decision to rush into. KERS has allowed for a degree of difference in car performance which has made for some enjoyable racing.
I think it has suffered from being poorly implemented with too tight restrictions on its performance.
And I think many people automatically oppose it just because it was Max Mosley’s pet project.
Let’s consider the technology on its own merits before rashly consigning it to the junk heap.
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