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. IDR said on 17th July 2009, 11:51

    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.

  2. USA Fan said on 17th July 2009, 12:04

    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.

  3. PJA said on 17th July 2009, 12:38

    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.

    http://www.autosport.com/news/report.php/id/77012

  4. mad said on 17th July 2009, 12:39

    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…???

  5. Robert McKay said on 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.

  6. 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!

  7. 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!!

  8. 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…

  9. 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.

  10. 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.

  11. 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 ;-)

  12. 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.

  13. 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.

  14. 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.

  15. 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.

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