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

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.


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

  1. Peter said on 9th April 2010, 22:45

    If F1 wants green credentials.

    i) severely limit petroleum fuel. (15 % decrease from year to year)
    ii) unrestrict KERS & engines & allow hydrogen fuel cells.
    iii) Stop dragging wings down the straights.
    either allow electronically movable wings or set bounds on coefficient of drag.

    Let the engineers … engineer

    • Daffid said on 10th April 2010, 12:01

      I mostly agree Peter. I’ve been banging on about limiting power (and limiting testing) via limiting fuel for years. I miss the engineering wars of different engine types against one another, and a power v efficiency puzzle for the engineers would have practical applications in the real world, and be fascinating.

  2. johnno said on 9th April 2010, 23:11

    They will use much less fuel than a highly-strung nat asp engine. If there are engine failures, SO WHAT, it will spice up the championship. Teams should be allowed to spend millions.
    If formula one doesnt get its act together on rules and costs then we are going to see other series like indycar or champ car overtake f1 cars in terms of speed and spectacle.
    Why does F1 have to be ‘green’ aswell. F1 is totally not related to road cars.

  3. Wateva said on 9th April 2010, 23:11

    F1 must be at the cutting edge of technology. F1 must be able to keep costs down. F1 must be more about driver skills. But… i dont see how they can all come together. To be at the cutting edge, you need to spend money in developing them, but if money is allowed to spend then the big teams will always run away leaving the smaller independent teams behind. more cutting edge technologies on the car means less driver input. I mean I know this article jus talks about KERS, but you can say that about every other aspect of an F1 car. Obviously every engineer wants to do innovative things, I as an engineer love F1 for all its technology and everything…. but then F1 wont be the bare bone racing that so many people want to see.

  4. Aha! I’ve been harping onto my friends for a few months now about how F1 can go about being green, increasing overtaking etc. etc.

    Firstly on the aero side. A Force India engineer was on the BBC 5 Live Free Practice session during one the races this year, not sure which one – I think Bahrain, and mentioned that currently the F1 engines are more energy efficient than a hybrid on the road currently. However in order to drive through the amount of down force generated on the straight, they have to guzzle up all that fuel

    My idea is that we firstly increase the track width of the car to be similar to that before grooves came in 1998. I recall it was around 200mm-300wider. Keep the front wing at its current width, which means the issues pointed out by JA: ( http://www.jamesallenonf1.com/2010/04/sepang-special-technical-update/ ) here are removed.

    Then increase the rear wing by roughly the same amount of the track width in order to make it look more natural to the formula 1 cars. However we would then have still excessive rear down force and drag. The trick here is, is to limit the “Maximum angle” to something that we would of seen at the Indianapolis GP’s http://tinyurl.com/FUTURE-F1-WINGS . A nice idea I’ve thought of recently is to create a standard “Hanford Device” style system that would create a huge amount of drag for the front car, but create a huge frictionless suction hole behind it that in a straight will allow cars to be slip streamed from > 10M instead of around 2 car lengths currently. The only issue about this, it would increase the drag, thus increase fuel usage which is going against the whole thing I’m on about. However this would firstly sort out the racing a good amount.

    It would be nice to see a ‘F-Duct’ style system (without shark fins) or rear wings that would stall the rear wing (but not the F1 Hanford device). Given that F1 doesn’t go on ovals, remains full throttle. I don’t think the big “dangers” it caused in CART would be anything like that – but same again it won’t see us having 66 passes a race which was in CART. But it would first allow cars to take advantage of a slip stream further back, like seen in the past.

    Given that the diffuser regulations and floor regulations are changing for the better in 2011. I’d suggest bringing back a bigger front tyre again to be similar to what we had last year – more mechanical grip.

    Now to bring me on to my main point. I think its pretty much certain that we will be switching to 1.6Litre Turbo V6 engines from 2013 onwards. The steps above would decrease the drag and allow speeds to remain the same as currently. But we are talking about KERS, Green Technology etc. My idea is the following:

    A “KERS” Boost system which can be deployed around 10 times a race with a power output of around 180BHP for around 8-10 seconds. This boost system should be a standardised unit – with personal preference from Mclaren Electronic Systems (MES). A1GP had a boost system that worked quite well, as it was limited and meant that you had to be tactical as to whether to use it for defending or overtaking.

    Now to something that Peter just mentioned. That would be where the “spending” is done on green energy. Each year have a standardised fuel cell which is decreased each year.

    This year the fuel cell is around 220-230Litres

    For 2011 maybe they can limit the fuel sell to 200 Litres then 180litres etc..

    This will drive the teams to develop a KERS or any other energy device, seperate from the BOOST system, that will replace the energy lost from the amount of fuel that can be used. This will drive the teams to develop initiative ways of increasing the MPG of the engine, which will allow them to directly plug into the real world applications.

    I’m not fully convinced that man made global warming is true. However I do believe that we should extract the maximum of everything in terms of cutting back on our dependencies on fossil fuels to clean up the air we breathe.

    Just my 2 cents. – I have a fully detailed PDF document that I’m producing for personal use of how we can remain realistic with the future of F1 (cost, green energy) but also improving the “show”.


  5. gpfan said on 9th April 2010, 23:24

    Snap! Never thought I should lose it on this forum, but now is my time! lol

    First, F1 has many ideals. One is to improve the show.

    Another is to keep costs down.

    Thirdly, many involved in F1 wish to appear ‘green’ for marketing purposes.

    So, let’s start with “The Show”. Tyre manufacturers wish to be involved in competition so as to improve their products and train their chemists/ engineers.

    Well, greatly reduce the size of tyres (especially the front) and reduce or stop the ability to change tyres except after an incident (cut tyre, and so on).

    This shall minimize mechanical grip. That equals passing.

    Now, the tyre companies are happy.

    Now, we address aeros. Since when do road cars have double diffusers? Right. So, we go to “Andy-Wings” (tm reg’d) as previously mentioned. Anything outbound of the axle lines is mandated. More passing.

    Finally, the engines. One litre, four-cylinder in-line, turbo-charged engines limited to ten or twelve thousand RPM. No road car shall ever go over ten grand rpm. Now, about the KERS. Open. Period. Unlimited.

    Now, we get the green, the technology and the road car issues covered with the motor.

    Keep costs down? Each manufacturer must agree to supply a minimum of eight cars. Engines must last FOUR races. Done deal. Dawdle at ten Kay.

    Lap and corner speeds are getting higher and dangerous? Right … as in Canada, the so-called “pump” fuel must contain ethanol.

    At first, the fuel could be the regular ‘rocket-fuel’ that Agip, Shell, and the others provide.

    Speeds are getting too high? Introduce ‘green’ fuels that contain 5, 10, 15 per-cent ethanol as we have at the pumps in North America.

    Problem solved. You are welcome, gentlemen.

    Andy rant over. lol

  6. theRoswellite said on 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…)

  7. Prisoner Monkeys said on 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.

    • HG (@hg) said on 11th April 2010, 6:12

      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.

  8. Icthyes said on 10th April 2010, 0:47

    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.

    • theRoswellite said on 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.

      • gpfan said on 10th April 2010, 15:19

        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.


  9. Matt said on 10th April 2010, 0:54

    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.

  10. US_Peter said on 10th April 2010, 0:54

    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.

    • US_Peter said on 10th April 2010, 0:56

      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.

  11. Enrique Miguel said on 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.

  12. the Sri Lankan said on 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

  13. F1NATIC said on 10th April 2010, 1:46

    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.”

  14. his_majesty said on 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.

  15. Gusto said on 10th April 2010, 4:00

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

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