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”

Jump to comment page: 1 2 3
  1. The problem is that the teams spend too much time and money on the stuff that doesn’t matter (aero etc) and not enough time and money on the stuff that does (practical use of innovative technologies).

    1. Having said that, I am now of the opinion that F1 is moving more towards the entertainment side of things rather than having much to do with technology, mainly because no one wants a spending competition to decide an F1 championship any more.

      It’s patently obvious that companies such as Honda and VW have no need of participating in F1 in order to lead the way with regard to new and relevant automotive innovations.

  2. Isn’t the question whether the money to be spent on KERS is most profitably spent in the F1 arena or somewhere else?

    That would mean determining whether the level of competition and overall expenditures within the F1 environment would meet an R&D cost benefit paradygm.

    Yes you can possibly also mix in a marketing cost benefit marketing paradygm but that has been found wanting in F1 in the past years except in the case of those committed to top end entwined associated merchandise sales with supersports car supremacy that are finding relative value.

    So it comes back to KERS R&D and F1. There can’t be a benefit if they share a common system. And that means more spending for competing developed systems.

    So what then needs to happen is lower overheads/rent from the F1 rights holder, or lower expense on other elements (like aero or other non general auto r&d materials or systems).

    The problem keeps coming back to the dollars Bernie took out with the over the odds buy-in by CVC.

    If KERS doesn’t fit F1 then the questions remain over F1 relevance. Williams efforts likely wouldn’t have occured unless Mosely backed KERS but that is a question well worth exploring because it is central to F1 team futures.

    Can teams benefit in their F1 performance or commercially from developing technology that can only be applied outside F1?

  3. spanky the wonder monkey
    12th April 2010, 10:27


    not sure if this has been mentioned anywhere, however, rather than have a fixed power output, have an adjustable unit whereby the driver can decide on the level of boost, and change it at any time. output is measured in kw/h and once a threshold of energy use has been reached (an equivalent of say 100hp for 10 secs per lap), KERS is ‘depleted’. the upshot being that you can have higher boost for shorter time or lower boost for longer periods. kinda like the old turbo boost settings in the early 80’s

    those teams that want to chase mega high output from KERS can, those teams that don’t want that cost can use less powerful units, yet still get the same energy quota.

    sound viable?

  4. The KERs for Porsche is actually built by Williams. However Williams never ran a KERS in F1. Because it does not work! There are too many rules and resitrictions. KERS is wonderful if you can run all the power that you can gain. Unrestricted.
    Basically I think more could be found in actually making F1 engines more fuel economic than in introducing an electric engine. Unless you make the entire engine electrical powered.

  5. I’m a supporter of kers. These kinds of developments epitomise the very ethos of F1 and what F1 should be like and thus keeps it high in the forefronts of our minds of perceived technological development and advancement.

    Bringing in new comprehensive changes has brought huge debate amongst the fans as well as thrown the cat amongst the pigeons in the tradition teams placings. But as the tech heads get on top of the issues and challenges, we see the usual predictability and thus change should be administered again to spice things up.

    Hopefully lessons are being learnt along the way by the rule changes…

  6. Here’s our chance. If we all come together, pool our resources and work for the common good, we can buy two of the Ford Mustangs used in the filming of the thankfully-deceased Knight Rider remake. Why would we want to lay our hands on the distastefully-modified NBC creations? To kill them with fire. Think of it: a world in which the only bad Knight Rider was the original Knight Rider; a world where children are safe from thinking that KITT was anything other than the world’s most awesome self-aware Trans Am. We can do this.

  7. I think that F1 cars should have hybrid propulsion or KERS in the future. Anyway, KERS and an alternative solution (hybrid propulsion for example) to a more efficient propulsion system! Engine development should be allowed and fuel consumption reduced, a maximum volume of fuel should be specified for each driver. By doing this the engine manufacturers would be forced to make more fuel efficient engines while keeping performances to the same level!

Jump to comment page: 1 2 3

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

All comments are moderated. See the Comment Policy and FAQ for more.