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. 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…

  2. 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.

  3. 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.

  4. 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.

  5. 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.

  6. 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!

  7. 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.

  8. 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…

  9. 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.

  10. 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.

  11. Freeman said on 18th July 2009, 3:33

    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)

  12. Jonesracing82 said on 18th July 2009, 5:14

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

    • Oliver said on 18th July 2009, 19:36

      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.

  13. KersNotMe said on 18th July 2009, 16:52

    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

  14. Andrew said on 18th July 2009, 18:32

    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.

    • Oliver said on 18th July 2009, 19:52

      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.

  15. Patrickl said on 18th July 2009, 22:51

    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.

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