F1 should not be too hasty to drop KERS

Posted on | Author Keith Collantine

Ferrari is the only team to score a podium with KERS so far
Ferrari is the only team to score a podium with KERS so far

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.

Regulation limitations

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?

Practical problems

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.

More on KERS

72 comments on “F1 should not be too hasty to drop KERS”

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  1. I agree entirely with this line outside the budget issue. So can it be absorbed within the cost limits of economic viability for the sport? The development path for manufacturers is also in question so the question is whether the F1 technology will be the spearhead of KERS development. For that to occur you can’t go half pregnant and have a standard KERS system because it is the competition that creates the innovation, and then like the Toyota guy says you can’t restrict the output or technology too readily.
    The Williams guys really had the bit between the teeth going after the flywheel version chasing the the ability to prove it and then on sell the technology. Funny isn’t it that it was the manufacturers that started running the other way?

    1. This is purely my opinion. Kers in the first place is “NOT” green technology as its been suggested & in no way is it relevant to road cars. Kers as the name suggests is kinetic energy recovery system i.e. energy recovered from a physical body in motion. we all know this famous equation, E =(1/2) mv² where E is the kinetic energy, so if meaningful quantity of energy is to be reclaimed from the physical body i.e. the car in this case the velocity(v) has to be substantially high. now that we know the basic idea behind kers & the equation governing the system, i pose this simple question. tell me whats the top speed a car reaches on the roads of say london or rome :) ? 40kmph? or max 50kmph. is this speed enough to generate enough K.E for later use? again we are assuming we get 100% output yield which is not the case, there are so many losses eg frictional,bearing,losses associated with torque,thermodynamic losses etc. so in order to get a decent output yield the only parameter that can be varied is the velocity , since we cannot do anything about the mass(M).the only way to increase the output is by overspeeding. since i’m not european, tell me whether its possible to overspeed the european roads & getaway with it ? i think its pretty difficult since the euro cops have electronic sensors wired all over europe, by doing so u’ll only be attracting a very heavy fine & possibly even cancellation of your driving licence :) .even if ur reclaiming some energy,whats the use of it? unless you want to use it exactly as the f1 cars do, to boost your car past traffic or something? endangering fellow drivers in the process? the FIA is indirectly encouraging road rage by falsely propagandizing the fact that kers is road car relevant. infact the reason why they allow kers to be fully charged at the start of the race is because the speeds reached by f1 cars during the warmup lap is insufficient to fully charge it! although i must admit kers is good for racing, it is however not road car relevant.

      1. Well, there is no speed limit on german autobahns for example…

      2. mp4-19b: You seem to be forgetting the simple fact that energy recovered and its usefulness is proportional to the energy requirement. Of course there is less kinetic energy at 70mph than at 150mph. But a regular road car doesn’t need to get up to 150mph, so the energy requirement is the inverse square less.

        There is nothing fundamentally wrong with a KERS. It’s as good as common sense to conserve energy normally thrown away as waste heat.

        KERS’s are about as purist a green technology you can get. It’s pure recycling on the fly.

        Is it the right thing for F1? I think yes but only if it is required by all with a similar set of rules and limits applied as those that are applied to engines. And it should be a permanent system – not a silly ‘turbo boost’ function as it is now.

  2. i agree with keith here. kers has been made to look dumb cuz the cars currently employing the system are not competitive. just imagine a kers equipped brawn. it’ll be unbeatable if they get their weight distribution right, same goes for red bull. the true potential of kers will be seen at belgium & monza imo. mclaren seem to have made a step forward in their aero-package. if they manage to get atleast 75% downforce as red bull or brawn along with their kers they’ll be a force to reckon, the same goes for ferrari. the idea behind kers is good , but the way it was incorporated into to sport was not correct. that rule of using it for only 6sec & the boost limiter is absolute nonsense.kers is still in its infancy & every possible attempt must be made to develop it further. doing away with it will serve no purpose. i dunno why people like mario, who at the outset so vocally supported this idea have just dumped kers. have they accepted defeat? if they had just produced a decent aerodynamically friendly car, with about say 85% the downforce of brawn or red bull , along with their kers would have been a lethal combination, same goes for renault. kers technology is good for F1 & it must stay.

  3. It should either by thrown out and forgotten, or the teams should be allowed to develop it freely as they see fit. Only then will it improve and improve future systems for road cars.

  4. The adoption of energy recovery leaves me rather perplexed because the system chosen by the FIA is really primitive.

    There you have it!

    I think Luca is absolutely right.

    The problem with KERS (the same for other issues) is that technology cannot be agreed by all teams.

    You have to give the teams FREEDOM to use what they think can give them an advantage in front of the other competitors.

    I’m pretty sure Honda wouldn’t have left F1 if there where a remote possibility of building hybrid engines for their cars.

  5. PrisonerMonkeys
    17th July 2009, 8:31

    My problem with KERS is that only a handful of drivers actually have it fitted at all. All Hamilton, Kovalainen, Massa and Raikkonen have to do is push the button and they’re nigh on untouchable. It’s counter-productive to passing; either all the teams should have it, or none of them.

    1. @ PrisonerMonkeys

      That is EXACTLY what I was going to say in my post….now I don’t have to.

  6. It’s too late to keep it around for next year, but I could see it coming back in 2011. KERS will need a high-profile backer inside the FIA though–Mosley filled that role over the last few years, but he won’t be around to ram it through in the future.

    If KERS comes back though, it will need to be more powerful, so much so that all the teams will have to run it or be at a serious disadvantage. In 2011 or 2012, this could be the decisive factor separating the field (since the cars will have gone through 2-3 years of aero development with stable rules, making aero gains harder to come by).

    The downside is that while 4 engine makers have KERS systems, Toyota and Cosworth don’t, and Renault and BMW might not want to spend the costs to bring their systems up to the level of Mercedes and Ferrari.

  7. Personally, I’ve always been against a ‘push to pass’ system, just because it’s a phony way to create overtaking IMHO. (i.e. if Massa gets a good start, it is ALWAYS going to be down to KERS and not his skill).

    For that reason, I’m actually happy to see KERS dropped. If it was a standardised system for all teams, I would be more happy… the technology does not need developing in F1 as the car manufacturers are already well ahead for general car use.

  8. I never liked the principle of kers as I could never get my head around how its weight and the energy used to move the car with the increased weight penalty could improve energy efficiency? – there have been some great explanations/justifications within these columns but as Spock would say – it is not logical!! – colin chapman a great engineer who did take things at times close to the limits beleived in one major principle – lightness + power = speed and wins races – and it did.
    Every rule since has increased weight so more power has had to be applied to keep speeds up – using more fuel more pressure on brakes etc – ditch kers and trim some weight – obviously not losing the safety factor and maybe save some money as well?

  9. I see KERS as being an opportunity to research and develop the technologies (the plural is important). Battery / Supercapacitor technology needs improvment – reduction in weight and increase in stored power.

    In a road car harvesting the energy normally lost to braking to the accelerate the car currently faces some issues. A current generation hybrid doesn’t achive a better consumption than a comparable diesel, as it has all this extra weight to carry, and inefficiencies. Develop better technology and these road cars can then benefit from it.

    Allowing F1 teams freedom to innovate in reducing fuel usage, while increasing power to me seems logical. With no refuelling, having to carry less fuel with the same power/aero would mean an advantage. Having more power with the same weight/aero also means an advantage.

  10. KERS is only useful for starts and more often straight line speed. But on the other hand the cars with KERS create a train procession as witnessed in many races. Non-KERS cars are performing much better for the overall pace. Until prime development has been achieved and used by all F1 cars, it should be held back.

  11. KERs is one of the most fustrating things about the racing this year. All the times quick cars have been stuck behind KERs cars. Its soo annoying to watch and even worse for the drivers. Very good on starts though.

  12. I agree with the article. For me one of the main reason KERS has been deemed to be a failure is the limits placed on it from the start. There is no point claiming the pace of F1 development will advance the technology for the benefit of road cars and then place such restrictions on the system.

    I wouldn’t be surprised if Ferrari or McLaren manage to achieve a win this year with a KERS equipped car, although I think there will have to be mitigating circumstances such as problems for Brawn and Red Bull or rain. Given stability of rules and raising the performance limits on KERS it could be seen as necessary for any F1 team to have it.

  13. Patrick Head said in one interview that weight issues of KERS would be less prominent if rear wheels indeed get wider as was planed for next year. IMHO, it is a good idea that needs to be developed further – it is just that FIA has restriced it so much that its usefullness was severley limited. Williams had to limit its flywheel system from the start as they allready had maximum power output well over the imposed limit for example…

    1. i’ve seen a video of that williams flywheel based kers. the flywheel is located just behind the drivers head! isn’t that dangerous. just imagine what would happen if the flywheel were to break loose from the connecting shaft? it would almost certainly severe the drivers head!!Wont a Mechanical Flywheel KERS create some gyroscopic effects on the F1 cars, since they’re so sensitive to any little adjustment.Although two flywheels could cancel out the total inertia when turning, the stresses between the gyroscopes would be tremendous when turning. I think we will still need a gimbal system. what about using two discs spinning in opposite directions?? as the engine itself creates gyroscopic effect,KERS can be used to reduce it. correct me if i’m wrong.


      1. As far as I know, safety issues are one of the reasons why they have delayed the system for so long – they are developed a reinforced casing and redesigned flywheel discs to turn into carbon dust in case of accident and puncture in casing.
        However, what I found most astonishing is that they are designing the unit to last whole season, not just one race… That really isn’t something you see often in Formula 1…

        1. *are developling

  14. William Wilgus
    17th July 2009, 11:00

    KERS only makes sense in hybrid or all-electric cars, and here’s why: no electric, mechanical, or electro-mechanical device is 100 percent efficient. Therefore, there are input and output energy losses, meaning that KERS represents a net energy loss, regardless of how large a `burst’ of energy it provides.

    Hybrid / electric vehicles are propelled by electric motors; using motor-generators instead of electric motors is a simple, effective way to provide energy recovery: the motor becomes a generator under braking.

    But in a combustion-powered vehicle, the energy recovery / delivery system must be added as an `extra’—meaning more weight. In Formula 1, this means that less ballast is available to fine-tune the cars’ handling. So what you gain in acceleration, you lose in handling—which is why no KERS equipped cars are winning races this year.

    All of the above remains true regardless of how sophisticated or primitive the KERS system is. Q.E.D.

    1. Q.E.D = Quantum Electro-Dynamics?? plz explain in detail please. very interesting. never knew quantum mechanics has anything to do with kers.

      1. Quod Erat Demonstrandum (Latin)means that which was to be demonstrated. Used in mathematical proofs to show that what was to be proven has been proven.

  15. F**k the global economic recession! It is because of this virus that innovation has taken a back step. We mustn’t allow this recession to deter us in the quest for the perfect electro-mechanical energy recovery system. mark my words, F1 cars 75 years down the lane will be powered by electricity, not petrol. oil fields of iraq,arab & latin america is drying up. Long live michael faraday,nikola tesla & the electric motor. hybrid is the only way forward.

    1. Mark mine: In 200 years F1 cars will fly.
      If not, I’ll pay you a quid.

      1. shut up aa!

    2. Cars, and most powered things will be nuclear.
      But I probably won’t be alive to see it.

      1. But I probably won’t be alive to see it

        Probably !?!?

        1. I’m working on pocketable Nuclear Fusion and the Fountain of Youth. You never know, I’m on the brink of a break through…

          1. I think you’ve answered your own ‘probably’ here :)

  16. KERS represents a net energy loss, regardless of how large a `burst’ of energy it provides.

    Well, engines represents a net energy loss also (dissipated in form of heat)… I don’t see where you want to go with this.

    KERS is not a bad solution by itself; What is bad is the KERS solution established by the FIA. From the moment it has not been adopted by all teams, KERS is having the opposite effect, allowing Ferrari or McLaren to become the new “trulli train” during GPs.

  17. Totally agree. KERS should be de-neutered: way more power, and more available time per lap. Optimally, the limit would be set in terms of horsepower-seconds, so drivers could choose to have a big short boost, or a smaller longer boost. Only then could it have an actual effect on fuel loads, which would add some much-needed variability to team strategies. It would be really interesting to see how teams choose to balance the permanent weight of a KERS system with a variable fuel load weight.

    However, I don’t think it’s going to solve all the overtaking problems. That’s much more a factor of aero than power. Since the problem with overtaking is dirty air behind the cars, then the Overtaking Working Group needs to figure out sensible ways to measure (and then limit) the dirty air behind cars.

  18. On a related note McLaren have confirmed they will be using KERS for the rest of the season but are dropping it next year as agreed by FOTA even though the regulations will still allow it.


  19. Wat I think is KERS was only a failure because it was not made madatory for all the teams.If it was , then we would would have seen a different championship for sure.

    Keith also “The F1 teams’ association are now eager to drop the technology for 2009” shud it be 2010…???

  20. Robert McKay
    17th July 2009, 12:43

    If they’d actually just said “build KERS” and not restricted the maximum power output or length of burst then that would have been interesting. Especially under a budget cap formula, which we won’t be seeing anyway, but the tradeoffs of developing a “basic”, “standard” or “excellent” system versus spending money on aero or whatever would have been interesting.

    But clearly the FIA took it’s “neither here not there” approach to modern Formula 1. They wanted the teams to develop it but were afraid one or two would do a much better job than the others and so limited its use functionally to make certain the system would not be a defining factor in the pecking order. A bit like everyone spending their own money to build their own engines which they then had to homologate to be close to everyone elses.

    As it is its clear that although the systems are promising and potentially extremely useful, the benefits under the current rules are fairly marginal – and that is made irrelevant by the fact we are in a new aerodynamics cycle (given the 2009 rules), which means potentially larger gains are much easier to find there.

    Even if they did incrementally increase the limits of the system the problem is still fundamentally the same, for me: if there’s going to be this semi-homologation then either have a standard system, so that noone’s wasting massive amounts of money on it, or don’t have it at all.

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