While F1 dithers over KERS, road car hybrid technology leaves it behind

Posted on Author Keith Collantine

The Porsche 918's hybrid engine is more than twice as powerful as an F1 KERS
The Porsche 918's hybrid engine is more than twice as powerful as an F1 KERS

Right now, F1 should be enjoying a new turbo era.

We had a taste of it last year as some teams deployed Kinetic Energy Recovery Systems to gain a power boost on the straights. Those without it tended to be quicker in the corners – and that crucial difference gave us some great racing.

The teams agreed between themselves not to use KERS in 2010 to spare themselves the eight-figure development costs. But as road car hybrid technology becomes ever more sophisticated, can F1 afford not to be part of the revolution?

At the Geneva Motor Show last month Porsche unveiled a new concept supercar which they claim is close to production. The Porsche 918 runs a 500bhp V8 petrol engine combined with a 218bhp electric motor.

Even if the teams took advantage of the F1 rules allowing KERS they would only be allowed to develop 80bhp and use it for 6.7 seconds per lap. It’s a graphic illustration of how F1 now lags behind the sort of technological development it used to lead.

I had dinner with a friend of mine who’s an F1 engine technician a few weeks ago. He complained about how restrictive the F1 engine rules are. The development freeze has stifled innovation in engine technology in F1 – as it was intended to.

He voiced thoughts of leaving his job and going to work for one of several companies which have sprung up in recent years developing hybrid engines for racing as well as road applications. I suspect many F1 engineers who’ve found their job involves less research and development are thinking similar thoughts.

Bringing back KERS

The teams are divided over whether to bring KERS back and how it could be done. There’s a real concern over the costs involved and, with several new teams finding their feet and others clearly short on sponsorship, that’s a reasonable point.

That has led some to suggest that a standard-specification KERS should be introduced for 2011. But, as my friend the engineer pointed out, what’s the point in F1 embracing a cutting-edge technology but not play a role in developing it? Isn’t that the very point of Formula 1?

Still I suspect the appetite for F1 to bring back a technology that improves its environmental credentials as well as the quality of racing will ease the teams’ concerns over the costs. Perhaps a compromise can be struck.

The FIA are planning a new engine formula for 2013, likely to be based around lower-capacity turbocharged engines, which could provide an opportunity to allow teams to introduce and develop their own KERS.

In the meantime, why not let them use identical, off-the-shelf units, perhaps similar to those developed by Williams Hybrid Power which are already being used by Porsche?

Whichever solution they go for, F1 needs to find a way of saying yes to KERS.


111 comments on “While F1 dithers over KERS, road car hybrid technology leaves it behind”

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  1. theRoswellite
    9th April 2010, 23:56

    @ Andy….

    You have the mechanical grip and tire size (width not height) going in the wrong direction…(that’s OK, we’ll argue that one out on another day).

    Well, as you say, “Since when do road cars have…”, well they don’t basically have aero period, or perhaps just for looks. Get rid of it, or reduce it to just “balancing devices”.

    KERS…..we are in perfect agreement, build them, use them, and don’t restrict them, then say hello to the future, before you’re not part of the future.

    ENGINES…. I like your ideas, but I’d like to see F1 still look to the future even more strongly. Have a limited size fuel engine and the possibility of a very large electric powered capacity…batteries….pit stop recharging…whatever, let F1 engineers lead the industry not follow meekly along in the shadows of real green development.

    FUEL…we disagree, don’t legislate poor performance, find a way to improve performance. (develop more mileage per liter…cut the possible weight of the cars drastically…in other words go in the direction the car industry must go)

    Problems solved, You are welcome.

    (Hey, Andy, why don’t they just listen to us (more declarative than interrogative really…)

    1. A-hahahaha! I like the cut of your jib, Sir!

  2. Prisoner Monkeys
    10th April 2010, 0:18

    If KERS is to be re-introduced, it needs to be mandatory (and possibly a spec part). The single biggest problem with it last year was that no-one bothered with it and so Ferrari and McLaren – when they got to a front-runing position – really destroyed the spectacle because no-one could pass them. Like Vettel trying to squeeze by Massa in Barcelona; a good battle was ruined because of Massa’s KERS button.

    If KERS isn’t re-introduced as a mandatory part, it shouldn’t be re-introduced at all. Otherwise, it’s just going to be a waste of time, effort and money.

    1. possibly a spec part??? This is one area where F1 can still develop technology allowing it to be both the ‘pinical of motorsport’, and ‘more relevant to road cars and casual viwers’. Why you would want to make it spec is beyond me.

  3. A lot of good ideas going around here, too many to clutter by individual replies so I’ll do another post here.

    Cost of KERS – if we have a budget cap, make “green” technology exempt. Teams can spend as much as they want on KERS, improving it to ever greater levels that will trickle into the world of road cars

    Costs in F1 being necessarily high – I agree that if we want the best racing series in the world, forcing every team to do it on £40million a year is plain ridiculous. But we still need small teams, for extra innovation partly but also as stepping-stones into F1 for up-and-coming talent (staff, mechanics, and engineers as well as drivers). My solution would be to bring back customer elements in F1. Chassis, engines, drivetrains, KERS, whatever constitutes a relatively major part of the car. The only restrictions would be that you can’t buy more than one component from the same team, and they have to be an “older” version (unless that area happens to be frozen, but I don’t agree with freezing anything). This would apply for the first year of the team’s existence, and from every year on you have to start making one or two (depending on how big the list of customer parts is) of the things you’ve been buying by yourself, until all you can have as a customer is the engine, at which point you can have the newest version every time it comes out. That way new teams can ease into the world of F1 with less chance of the USF1 and HRT dramas being repeated.

    The effect of downforce on fuel consumption – I hadn’t thought about this, but it makes sense. Downforce is good in corners, bad in straights. An idea I’ve entertained for a while is to have the wings act as air brakes. It won’t do anything to braking distances if you impose a maximum angle, but that’s arbitrary and it cuts out the strategy of using more or less wing to get speed from the corners or the straights, and make efficiency in aero (which I’m all for) less rewarded. Of course, if we reduce the overall level of aero downforce, which will improve racing, then we mitigate the effect of aero on fuel, so I’m falling back on that as a solution.

    1. theRoswellite
      10th April 2010, 6:05

      @ Icthyes..

      Very interesting ideas concerning new teams acquiring elements of the established teams. There would need to be some requirements forcing the established teams to “comply” with this system.
      Very original idea.

      “Of course, if we reduce the overall level of aero downforce, which will improve racing, then we mitigate the effect of aero on fuel, so I’m falling back on that as a solution.”

      Another excellent choice. I say, “Off with the wings (billboards)”, give us back a…car.

      Imagine if you will…

      A car of maximum lightness, with maximum mechanical grip, courtesy of wider tires (increased contact patch) and a driver modulated variable configuration suspension.

      A car with more than enough power from its hybrid, turbo charged, low consumption engine with a KERS unit interacting with a powerful electrical motor system.

      The overall shape of the car can also be changed by the driver (not the pits, not a computer) to enable the lowest drag when desired (straights) and the highest drag when desired (air braking).

      F1 at leading edge of numerous technologies. The place we should be.

      1. Ahhh …. wider tyres means more grip. When the grip exceeds the ability of the motor, we lessen wheel-spin. Wheel-spin at the start, or on corner exits then does not need control. No control, means no driver talent required. Less mistakes means less passing.

        Less wide tyres during cornering ensures that the pilot must be on constant vigil, else he oversteps that line and ends up in the drink! Mistakes make for over-taking. Mind I (and hopefully you ;) ) am discussing life in a non-aero world.


  4. Surley the cost of a few teams setting up the system and then only using it for one year is far more wasteful then long term investement into a technology that had the potential to add a new and arguably needed dimension to F1 racing.

  5. First of all last year was a bad example of KERS as only a handful of teams were running it. They were much faster on the straights and the other teams were faster in the corners. If all teams were required to run it the playing field would be a lot more even. I think there should be fewer regulations that stifle innovation, and put more emphasis on capping budgets. That would allow for smaller independent teams and new teams to be competitive, and reward those who are able to figure out how to innovate on a budget. Hopefully five years from now we’ll see much smaller turbo engines. The weight saved from the smaller engine would allow for KERS to be run without sacrifice.

    1. Oh, and that Porsche 918 looks awesome. I also love the fact that its hybrid technology operates in a number of different modes, everything from standard fuel saving mode like current hybrid cars on the road, to a push button power boost similar to KERS.

  6. Enrique Miguel
    10th April 2010, 1:03

    The solution is quite easy:

    If the teams are not willing to pay the price for the development of the system, then the FIA should appoint two or three companies willing to develop the systems (Say Bosch, Magnetti Marelli etc.)that eventually will find their way to commercial use and therefore recover the investment and make a large profit in the short term.

  7. the Sri Lankan
    10th April 2010, 1:10

    i wish the Lexus Lf-A had Kers in it. not that i can afford it or anything but after 8 years in F1, you would think Toyota would at least use something they learnt in their road cars

  8. I believe that suppling kers units like engine units should help a bit at least. instead of each team going with their own unit, teams could sell smaller teams kers as well. maybe we could see interesting pair ups, like mercedes engines with a ferrari kers or vice versa. maybe they should put less restrictions on kers and allow turbos as well. doing a sort of kers or turbo option. maybe some teams might prefer the smaller engine turbo options. others might prefer the kers units which could save fuel or provide more power. Defenitely although the pinnacle of motorsports F1 has been lacking in technological development (specially hard to proof for manufacturers who dont produce cars that have prices with 6 or 7 figures). at times i wish they simply did not put restricions and let the engineers develop the fastest most efficient machine possible. I do agree wit what the owner of the Aussie GP said that drivers are at times “prima donnas.”

  9. his_majesty
    10th April 2010, 2:30

    The racing last year was good with kers I thought. I don’t see why everybody cries about it. Lets move forward and embrace the future. It sounds like hippie talk, but its the truth.

  10. Must off been asleep when the green brigade admitted defeat to the global warming incorrect data correlation collation coefficent…..Theres One born every minute…

  11. KERS should be free
    We have limited engine so why not live KErs without this?
    I’m mean no limit for kW, power and how long it could be used in one lap.

  12. K. Chandra Shekhar
    10th April 2010, 6:23

    What about electric formula1 cars? Advantages : No burning of fossil fuels. No more Ride Height Systems as the weight will be similar in Qualifying & Race trim. Can stop Terrorism(don’t argue how, u very well know how?). Disadvantage : Charging times?

    1. disadvantage #2: a procesinoal race with all the fan fare of an electric egg beater.

  13. I think F1 should lift engine freeze, totally agree with your friend Keith if I can’t develop something whats the point in spending my time behind it?.I also voice that KERS should also not be restricted but the teams needs to make sure that they don’t use too much money behind it.

    1. And there’s the rub! Lots of technical freedom, but don’t allow the teams to spend too much. How can that be achieved I wonder?

      It was interesting that under the ‘budget cap’ rules that those teams accepting the cap would be able to run constantly adjustable wings, engines with no rev limit, more powerful KERS systems, and – in theory – four-wheel drive. They would also be allowed unlimited out-of-season track testing with no restrictions on the scale and speed of wind tunnel testing.

      An opportunity missed?

  14. I would love to see KERS, but the problem is the refueling ban. So the tanks have to be larger which means that their will be less space to put the KERS. So the choice is KERS or refueling ban.

  15. I think Formula 1 should encourage the development of eco-friendly technologies. The best way is to have a fuel-flow limit.

  16. NO to KERS.
    If you want parades of 6 meter long cars in Tlkedomes out in far away places with empty grandstands, then Kers is what you want.
    I want real racing in beautiful historic tracks.

    NO to the Krazy Economy Ruining System

    1. 6 meter long cars

      What on earth are you talking about?

      1. The cars are already made longer this year because of the bigger fuel tanks, and then will have to be made even longer to fit a Kers unit – if cars keep getting longer, it is more and more difficult to pass !

  17. In my view its wrong to think that F1 has to be at the absolute cutting edge of every technology in detriment of its core reason to exist – Racing -. Most of the younger fans grew up accustomed to associate F1 with high technology first and racing second. The technological development in F1 only occurs with a view to beat your competition. Its racing competition that drives technology and not the other way around. At the moment someone has to look at the long term viability of the sport, and with new teams on board I don’t think any more money should be spent developing KERS. I think a viable solution would be to provide a standard system to all teams, the same way the Engine management system is at the moment.

    1. anthony davidson was saying if you want a cheaper form of kers simple, allow movable wings thats can be ‘stalled’ like macca’s instead of kers.

      1. The cheapest form of KERS is to limit revs to 17,000 rpm and allow the driver to boost that to 18,000 rpm at certain points during qualifying and the race.

        I would like to see a system where the ‘boost’ that you use in qualifying also counts towards the race. So if you use too much in qualifying, then you will have less for the race.

        1. yes, it is the simplest all right. Even A1Gp managed it, as well as indy

  18. I really can’t understand where this whining about costs comes from.

    Engine manufactures where spending up to 200 million a year on squeezing a couple dozen more horsepower out of their engines.

    Mosley then said that they should stop wasting money on those insignificant changes and froze the engine designs.

    Then the manufactures insisted that they needed to be allowed to show their technical prowess and to that end KERS was suggested.

    The costs of KERS are at worst 10% of amounts that they were previously wasting on engine development.

  19. It is important f1 cars have KERS, as it makes them go faster.

    1. We must go faster! We must go faster! ;)

  20. No bailey Bass it only makes them go faster out of corners

    1. You could use it on the straights to increase acceleration, but it did not allow top speeds to be increased simply because of the 18,000 rpm rev limit. So KERS did not make the cars ‘faster’ from a top speed point of view.

      1. They use a higher gear ratio to get more speed from the same RPM.

        1. Cars with KERS didn’t have the highest top speeds. The Force India car had a consistently higher top speed than any other car over the 2009 season due to its slippery shape and lack of downforce. KERS was generally used to aid acceleration.

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