F1 should not be too hasty to drop KERS

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.

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

  1. Brawn said on 17th July 2009, 13:28

    can we not just have a nitro tank on the car? I know it would be dangerous but how awesome would it be!? much better than KERS!

  2. vet4snak said on 17th July 2009, 13:30

    Hello Keith and all,

    In general, I do understand the point where you came from. But for the sake of cost cutting (or a budget cap), further development of the KERS system might not be of a economic choice.

    The 2009 KERS development spending, which started from late 2008 to early 2009, should be considered as sunk cost. Since that past spending cannot be reversed if the KERS teams decided to continue with it or just ditch the KERS project all aside.

    So I view the KERS spending issue with a different view than what the articles suggests. I do believe if FIA, FOTA and other parties want to stay parallel to the aim of cost reduction, I think KERS should be dropped.

    From a racing standpoint, with no doubt, it gives more thrilling races (especially at starts). But if we give KERS too much power, then the emphasis on the harmony between driver, chassis, engine and the team might be overshadowed by the ‘boost button’. And that harmony, is what make the likes of Ayrton Senna, Keke Rosberg, Alain Prost such great masters of the sport.

    From 1998-2004, we have seen quite a bit of overtaking with cars not using KERS, and those new 2009 aero parts. Interestingly, I think Formula 1 should consider what is different between the cars of 1998-2004 to the new 2009 ones in terms of overtaking, because apparently, there were more overtaking during those years, in my opinion- of course.

    And thanks for all the articles on f1fanatic.co.uk, I am a big fan of this website. Keep up the great work!!

  3. Adrian said on 17th July 2009, 13:33

    To me the best way to develop KERS whilst maintaining costs would be to say that the teams aren’t allowed to build it themselves, rather they have to buy it from a third party supplier and impose a limit on the price.

    Then it would be down to the suppliers to ensure that they kept costs down whilst also developing the best system…

  4. adz2193 said on 17th July 2009, 13:49

    I don’t see why the teams should give up on KERS now, if more powerful devices are on the way. Teams like Mclaren and Ferrari should then have a huge advantage as their cars have already been developed around KERS and the non-KERS teams will have to make drastic changes to their weight distribution etc. if using KERS is the competitive option.

  5. Alistair said on 17th July 2009, 13:50

    KERS only works when not everybody has it: preferably only when the generally slower cars have it. If everybody had it, everybody would use it in pretty much the same way; ergo, it would be pointless. One guy would use it to attack the guy in front, who would then use it to defend: pointless (and artificial). The onlt ‘interest’ would then be who saved up more of his charge…

    The best thing to do is to properly analyse the aero and make it easier to overtake in F1. I want to see real racing. Admiring a KERS-enabled pass is just like admiring a great start – that came from launch control. Let the drivers themselves do the work and show their skill. Lewis Hamilton showed that it was possible to overtake in 2008. He didn’t need KERS. Nor do we.

  6. W-K said on 17th July 2009, 13:54

    For me I think that kers is possibly a good idea, but not the present system. Most of the braking effort is done on the front brakes, and this system uses energy recovered from the engine at the rear of the car.
    There was an interview by autosport with Toyota team principal Tadashi Yamashina, who said:

    Q. Toyota are the pioneers of hybrid technology. How sensitive a subject is it for you, and can you afford not to run it?

    TY: Honestly speaking KERS in F1 is very different from current production cars. From the beginning, I was against this idea for KERS, just on cost grounds. There are development costs, and learning costs, so even if Toyota are not the first team to utilise KERS in F1, I am sure we will not be blamed. We are confident that KERS and the hybrid system are very different, and I am proud of the production car first

    Some people have mentioned that through the development of F1 KERS, in the future production cars will have the same type of KERS. But I don’t believe that.

    Most of the F1 cars need weight added at the front of the car, not at the back where the kers system has to be fitted. Have you noticed it takes two people to lift and fit most front wings, that are made from composites. Where do you think the ballast is fitted?

    • Tiomkin said on 17th July 2009, 15:49

      The front wheels are at the front of the car and i’m sure they weigh something. Maybe that’s why it takes two men?

      • just me said on 17th July 2009, 18:03

        The front wheels are at the front of the car and i’m sure they weigh something.

        By far the most memorable statement in this discussion thread ;-)

  7. Fer no.65 said on 17th July 2009, 14:16

    Again, I agree with you, Keith.

    But don’t you think we’ve seen good racing just becausefew teams use the system? What would happen if all of them use it?.

    Maybe the system will have less effect then. We’ve seen faster cars stuck behind KERS-powered cars. Again, what would happen if both had KERS?

    First of all, those incredible starts by Lewis, Alonso, Kimi, Massa when they push the KERS button would not have place again, as all the others would also push the button.

    So… in my opinion, KERS should not be there next season.

  8. sato113 said on 17th July 2009, 14:17

    great article keith but i do not think KERS is good in a sporting sense. as Martin Brundle said on BBC commentary (think it was turkish gp?) he thought KERS produced fake racing, with drivers only having to push a button to get past someone else.
    of course if everyone had it then I guess it’d be better… maybe.

  9. DMW said on 17th July 2009, 14:59

    Lower the weight minimum for a KERS car. A major inherent trade off of a new powertrain spec under an existing design formula is non-ideal weight distribution. Lowering the weight minimum could allow a KERS car to have the same distribution or flexbility in distribution as the others.

    Some will say its not fair, that if KERs were really a technical benefit in its own terms, it should compete with IC-only cars on a level field. But if the point of KERS is to initiate a technological movement toward hybrid powertrains over 3-5 years, its no good to snuff it out in the beginning by forcing teams to use it under a design specification that potentially (and certainly on certain tracks) completely negates its advantage. And remember that the KER System effect has been capped, in part, to allow gradual, economical development of the concept, toward a state where all teams are able to access and use an extremely powerful system.

    Keith, a small point:we shouldn’t say KERS has a “weight penalty.” This confuses a lot of readers who are led to believe KERS cars have more mass than others, who conclude that the penalty is there to counteract the benefit of the system, or that it is extraordinarily heavy.

  10. DMW said on 17th July 2009, 15:14

    Sorry to double dip, I have to add that from a competitiveness point of view, the fact that everyone will have a “button” in the future is irrelevant.

    If KERS were fully developed without restriction, there would be no button—the software, set and adjusted by team or driver—would deploy the power in an optimal manner. The competition would be to refine the system, just as teams have competed to refine engines and aerodynamics for generations.

    As far as the nullifcation of the “boost”, a “boost” can come from extra revs, a turbo, fuel mixture changes, etc., and has nothing to do with whether KERS is a benefit to Good Racing.

    A state-of-the-art road-going performance hybrid has no “button” you must mash to get the benefit of the system. Battery power is deployed by software to maximize the benefits of performance and efficiency, depending on driver demands and conditions. This is what the Toyota engineer meant when he said the existing KERs system is “primitive,” rather than a complaint about the overall power limit.

  11. Max should resign now!!! said on 17th July 2009, 15:14

    KERS makes F1 look like Mario Kart 64…you know when you get the little mushroom…

  12. Casino Square said on 17th July 2009, 15:48

    Keith you say Ferrari are the only KERS team to have finished on the podium this season. But what about Nick Heidfeld’s 2nd place at Malaysia? I think BMW were still using KERS back then.

  13. F1Outsider said on 17th July 2009, 15:57

    No refuelling. Raise the weight limit from 620 to 650kg, limit the amount of gas each car can use to an amount just enough to finish the race and let the teams develop kers freely.

  14. DMW said on 17th July 2009, 16:15

    F1Outsider,

    Your system sounds similar to FIA Group C, pre 92 or so. Except the teams developed turbo technology to manage the performance vs. efficiency curve. And its important to recall the comparison because, though Group C produced pretty good racing with some of the most advanced cars ever to race in compeittion, this freedom bore the seeds of its demise.

    Four-digit horesepower, efficiency gains, and obscene downforce figures eventually required draconian ad hoc constraints on the cars, and the shocking expense of development meant the 91-92 global recession fatally wounded the series. (The late, hasty switch to 3.5L semi-spec engines still costed too much and thus failed.) It was not until 2000s that we saw again deep fields of advanced cars at Le Mans.

  15. 1994fanatic said on 17th July 2009, 16:26

    Leave kers in, it slows the cars down what everybody cries about and will make future roadcars greener than what they are now even though we could be totally green already with no emissions did you ever hear of tesla? He created an electric car that ran in the early 1900s with no plugs and didn’t need recharged but oddly enough the us government has this technology in hiding, you could also have a dvd player that doesn’t need plugged into the wall as well as nitrating the farmland w/out using fertilizer and not pollute the earth. I guess making that electricity also abuses the earth… we’re doooommmeed lets face it.

    • Robert McKay said on 17th July 2009, 16:48

      The US Government, almost entirely dependent on oil from less-than-stable and less-than-friendly middle East states, is sitting on an electric car that doesn’t need recharging…interesting.

    • Hallard said on 17th July 2009, 17:12

      Are you certain about that? From what I know of Nikolai Tesla’s work, as well as physiscs and chemistry, you cant just pull electrical current out of empty space. Do you have any more info about this, or can you elaborate further?

      • 1994fanatic said on 18th July 2009, 16:20

        Yep, tesla could use the earth to transmit power thru his “tesla coil” the original was in colorado or new york he had a bunch of great ideas but a sad story of others taking advantage and the us government saying no because who elects oil billionairs as presidents? ie the bush toolbags and a vpres that can’t hunt without shooting others what, a fun country

    • Tiomkin said on 17th July 2009, 17:45

      I heard of this car, It has a hamsterwheel under the bonnet. The waste produced is used to fertilize fields. The government won’t allow it ’cause it’s cruel to (furry) animals.

  16. Ahh Keith, provoking thought all over the planet again (well done).
    A few thoughts of my own.
    1.Yes, KERS has been a crazy debacle
    2.A debacle based on it’s limitations (energy capacity/innovation) so that it comes down to who can make the lightest electric motor/battery combo for the measly power amount allowable.
    3.Yes, developing KERS is expensive, and the returns on that money are minuscule (unless you’re rolling in a great car with a double diffusor,,,, )
    4.The way to promote KERS and “hybridizing” race cars (is there a better word?) is to eliminate the “power limitations” (the yearly stepping concept is ludicrous) and to gradually reduce displacement and increase engine longevity requirements. Even more interesting if cylinder numbers could vary (not require 8) to see if stroke/cylinder count would change, or even simply have a horsepower output limitation, (main electric motor without gears and small turbine anyone?) Vehicle innovation could come back to playing a part (though, yes, development costs would go up if this was the case)

    5.Since the current design is a weight battle why hasn’t anyone gone the pneumatic route (compressed air cylinder) it would be lightweight (the key issue all year), reasonably efficient (for the power ratio mandated), and simple.

    Keep up the thought provoking stuff Keith!

  17. Ahh, finally, people are beginning to see that KERS is a flop. I am tempted to say “I told you so” ;)

    By no means is KERS road relevant. Although, looking into the details, one can summarise the following managerial decisions that are causing the demise of a technology.
    1. Restrictions of 400kJ per lap, most KERS systems I believe can save more than this amount.
    2. Co-introduction with slicks. Slicks have made this year’s cars massively quick, had KERS been introduced with grooved tyres, surely, KERS cars wouldn’t have suffered so much.
    3. Limitation of extraction of energy from rear wheels only. There is definitely half the braking energy of the front wheels going waste there.

    I know that most fans wouldn’t want the re-introduction of grooves (neither do I). But if the 1st and 3rd rules are overturned, KERS might survive in F1.

  18. gabal said on 17th July 2009, 20:29

    I think KERS was put as a rule to focus teams spending at one point which can be pin-pointed and showcased as Formula 1’s great new improvement to everyday life. If they didn’t have KERS available they would develop lightweight driver pedals or something that would bring 0,01s in race…

  19. manatcna said on 17th July 2009, 23:21

    What with no traction control, no launch control, drivers actually driving, it was getting better.

    Now we have another artificial aid – we’re going backwards again.

    Take the electronics off the car and just let the drivers drive.

  20. wasiF1 said on 18th July 2009, 2:31

    Whether they have no KERS in the future or they have no restriction of the power it can produce.

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