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. Does F1 need green technology? Yes. Is KERS the solution? No.

    Main problem with KERS is as others already pointed out, it’s artificial. A genuine great overtaking move could potentially be watered down if KERS is seen to do part of the magic. F1 is already too blatantly obvious (rightly or wrongly) to casual fans that it’s “all about the cars and not the drivers”. KERS will only add fuel to fire to this argument.

    Practical “green” solutions would be:
    – No refueling
    – Bio fuel / Hydrogen fuel cell
    – Limited number of personnel each team can bring along (a LOT of carbon footprint wiped out by not flying an army of people around the globe)

  2. Jonesracing82
    18th July 2009, 5:14

    i reckon once we hit the faster tracks, Monza, Spa et al, those cars may well have an advantage!

    1. A fast track with no good braking zone is useless for KERS. Thats the reason Mclaren dropped it when they went to Silverstone. Although a track Like Monza might work for KERS as it has a few braking zones although not all are heavy braking zones.

  3. Drop this kers system YES – do it now! About other systems were the car can benefit more from the gained energy, go for it. Now now, this is a stupid and VERY expensive rule

  4. What I think should be done is make KERS required but provide the teams with a standardized version (if they can’t develop one) and make it much more powerful. The problem with KERS now is only two teams use it and it isn’t being used to its full potential.

    1. If we have a standardized KERS what does it bring to racing apart from more cost. KERS doesn’t bring any significant fuel economy to the cars, so its application in F1 doesn’t make it green technology.

  5. I like KERS. I think it’s sad that it got binned so quickly.

    BTW KERS was meant as a cheaper way for manufacturers to compete on the performance aspect of the car. Since engine was frozen, KERS allowed them to show their skill on a another area.

    I thought that made sense. Instead of spending 200 million to make an engine go a few tenths faster, why not spend 10 to 20 million on a KERS that does the same?

    I also like the strategic element of it. A driver has a little extra power available and in a “dogfight” he hs to manage this cleverly.

    One of the few KERS vs KERS battles that I saw was Hamilton on Alonso. Alonso had already used up his KERS to defend his position while Hamilton had kept his battery up. Hamilton managed a pass and made it stick. I thought it was rather exciting and it adds a new element of skill.

    Even with a standard KERS that would work.

    I also like the idea of a fixed amount of fuel and allowing teams to use KERS to save fuel. See how fast they can run the race on that fixed amount of fuel. That would probably put a bit of damper on the aero nonsense too.

  6. Good article. But I think your missing a vital fact. The 2013 rules allow for 1600kj to be recovered and utilised through BOTH AXLES. Therefore, not only do you get an 300 bhp, you get to put down through all four wheels. By making a (KERS)four wheel drive car KERS would be deployed during corners and not only down the straights. Of course the harvesting of energy would change as you would need electric motors on the front wheels to drive them and these motors would become generators during braking. If the teams had been allowed to develop KERS from the start to 2013 rules, the KERS motors/generator would be outboard on the wheels and become un-sprung weight.
    KERS is being blamed for upsetting the weight balance of the car when in reality the size of the front tyres is responsible for that, they are too big in relation to the rear tyres and that means you need to move weight forward. As KERS is only allowed to work on the rear wheels the 35kg behind the engine is hindering what is already a problem.
    The KERS development road map was stepped to stop some teams throwing money at it and running away with the world championships. Good old Max.

  7. sorry, I I do not get it

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