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.


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