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F1 – no longer a challenge?
F1 –  no longer a challenge?
Posted By:   |  10 Feb 2009   |  5:25 pm GMT  |  13 comments

There were some interesting quotes from Max Mosley in the second media lunch last week (I went to the first one), which took the discussion about KERS and the challenge of designing F1 cars a bit further than the discussion of which I was part. Here’s what he said,

“It is a little bit sad in Formula One and it is, in a way, our fault with the regulations. They have constricted the areas in which the teams can work, to keep the car speeds under control and also to keep costs under control, to the point where you get the best returns by endlessly refining every single component on the car. The top teams look at every single component even though they don’t make the slightest bit of difference, and brave innovatory engineering has completely disappeared from F1. People like (Colin) Chapman, or (John) Cooper or (Keith) Duckworth would be lost in modern F1.

“So suddenly having had this culture of minimal innovation and endless refinement, we dump on them an absolutely new concept (KERS), cutting edge technology and some serious engineering, and they don’t like it – except for some. There is the odd person like Patrick Head, who is a proper engineer, who sees it as a fascinating challenge.”

There has been a lot of whingeing from the teams, since last summer, about KERS. Some of it is because the teams in question are worried that their inability to get the right solution will make them uncompetitive, most of them are upset about the cost, at a time when money is tight. As you know there was a vote within FOTA on whether to stick with KERS in 2009 and everyone except BMW said no. And so, because they were not unanimous, it had to stay.

But what interests me about Mosley’s quotes is that he draws parallels with the great engineers of the past and says they were the great innovators, whereas today’s engineers merely refine endlessly the same components. He accepts that the rules may have something to do with that.

And that’s surely the whole point. In the 1970s and 80s the rules were relaxed but the money and technical resources were very limited so people invented six wheel cars, fan cars, twin chassis cars and so on, but they were quite crude. Then the huge money came into the sport from TV rights and now the opposite is the case; the resources are massive, but the regulations are very restrictive. So what else can the engineers do, but keep polishing the same piece, looking for a thousandth of a second?

This is where F1 is today and it cannot unlearn what it has learned about aerodynamics, electronics, tyre technology and so on. The challenge for the teams and the FIA now is to maintain what is special about F1 cars, what differentiates them from single chassis formulae, but at the same time to redraw the rules to allow innovation in certain areas, without sending costs through the roof.

In Max’s mind KERS is a chance to come up with something magical from a clean sheet of paper. He’s looking for the hybrid equivalent of John Cooper putting the engine behind the driver and Williams with their flywheel, which spins at something crazy like 40,000rpm, have possibly done that. It may not be as obvious as six wheels on a car, but it’s something to talk about in the pub… in Max’s eyes.

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Very interesting comments from both yourself, James, and Max.

I think Patrick Head's stance on KERS is very interesting, and a huge inspiration to anyone, including myself, with an interest in engineering. Yes, KERS is a huge financial burden during this economic downturn, but the chance to create something exciting and potentially critical to your team's chances sounds like something to get the engineers excited. It's sad that they don't approach the task like this.

While I'm sure development of wheel nuts, sidepods and such are very important and require plenty of R&D, I can't help but feel a bit more experimentation and innovation could be eeked out of some of the fantastic brains of those working within F1.

That's why the 09 car launches have been so interesting!


You have to agree with both ends of the argument, in the old days there was massive innovation with all sorts of new ideas, but if they were any good they got banned immediately, lateral thinking was stamped on by Jean Marie Ballestre (if it wasn't from Renault). Active suspension and ground effect come to mind as well as the mega ones James mentioned. The regs were tightened in the name of speed reduction, but every year the speeds creep back up again.

KERS does have huge HUGE potential if the limits on energy storage and release are a lifted. This can translate to road cars too. Moveable aero features could be massively important and could used to assist braking if developed fully. (It works on aircraft)


I like the idea of KERS from an engineering challenge but it's hard to imagine the average punter being excited by it if ultimately they won't be able to see or hear it working.


The idea of KERS is great in principle, as an area of innovation and engineering challenge which may provide some eventual benefit to raod cars, but I can't help but think that those aspects of it are completely lost when all teams are working to a set power limit? So they all spend squillions of dollars/pounds until they all end up with an essentially identical 60kW KERS bolted into their car - big deal.

Wouldn't it be better if they could develop it to whatever maximum power level they could screw out of it and still derive some benefit to their lap times - due to balancing up extra weight, centre of gravity, movable ballast, tyre wear etc against the extra power provided by KERS. At the moment all the talk seems to be along the lines of the physical trade-offs rather than about how efficient the KERS developments actually are.

A question for you James, from speaking with the various team engineers, just how much of a stretch is the 60kW limit they're all working towards? How much of the team's difficulties with KERS is coming from their (in)ability to get them to generate 60kW as opposed to the reliability or physical issues? And if 60kW is easily reached how often and by how much will that limit need to be lifted to ensure there is some continued development?


But what interests me about Mosley’s quotes is that he draws parallels with the great engineers of the past and says they were the great innovators, whereas today’s engineers merely refine endlessly the same components.

And what infuriates me about Max Mosley is he pretends this state of affairs is anyone's fault but his own.

He writes the damn rules and he didn't have to ban KERS in the first place in 1996...


He's got a point. The differences between the cars this year are vast. I'm intrigued by Williams' flywheel KERS - I think they could actually do very well in the first few races if they run it from the start.

The sensbile money would be on Macca and Ferrari, but *any* team could steal a march on the rest - and probably will I reckon.


I like the idea of KERS, of mistakes and differing developments.

For me I would give them a box inside which the car has to fit, a high minimum weight, and then see who won. Never happen but I can dream.


JA writes: I'm no expert on KERS but as it's been described to me by engineers the challenge is getting the system to store and discharge the energy quickly, especially batteries.

They say KERS is only going to make a difference of around 3/10ths of a second per lap.. handy, but it's not a game changer.


i have heard that this year at least KERS will not really give a boost sufficient to overtake, rather that it will be used just for laptime.

also, with regard to the rules being so tight to stifle creativity, nothing has changed despite KERS. why not give the teams 400l (or whatever) of fuel for the race, to use however they want. turbo's, KERS, diesel, solar for boost, whatever. any drivetrain available to other teams at capped prices. this would be relevant to road cars. KERS as it stands, isn't.


I have mentioned the same point as John g in the past, Set a fuel tank limit and some aero limits of agreed downforce kgs and let them get on with it. The bigger teams just wont be able to afford to investigate every avenue of technology leaving some "chapman" room for the small teams. MotoGP have a fuel limit that works so it isn't a great leap of thinking. If you ban the need to refuel you could also have the tortoise and the hare strategies working 6.0L V12stopping every 5 mins or 2L diesel/solar/KERS thing chugging through.


john g: I suspect that you are acting as agent provocateur in your comment about tyres.

You must remember the days when tyres used to last the whole race, but that was in the same era as special super sticky Quali tyres. Those who conserved their tyres early on, often ended up in front of the ones who had rushed into the lead, but in the last five laps were "driving on the canvas" with zero grip.

An interesting subject tyres, I suspect the demands on them are very different now to the days when they lasted the whole race. Anyone in the tyre business care to comment?


We went through a few years with no refuelling allowed, and yes some did run out of fuel on the track. For this to be beneficial to the green people the amount of fuel would need to be decreased by say five litres per year. Ultimately a change to running on liquid methane or hydrogen would bring real advances.

KERS needs to have its very restrictive limits raised considerably or have no limits at all for several years, this will then contribute towards fuel economy, allowing less fuel to be carried. Battery packs would need to have accessible connections and the marshal posts to carry a suitably hefty resistive shunt on a long pole in order to discharge the system. (Like that used on the railways)
In order to make things fair the minimum legal weight could be increased to include weight of the extra capacitors or batteries
(Flywheel systems could easily be halted with a magnetic brake activated on impact or on engine stop)


The mechanical vs. electrical KERS debate is certainly interesting. To be honest, I think the actual design that teams go for depends on who has the most clout on the design team - the mechanical or electrical engineers. So in Williams's case it is obviously Patric Head, the mechanical engineer. Interestingly I talked to a mechanical engineer I know who did his Masters placement at the company who design the quick shift gearboxes for a lot of the F1 teams and he was adamant that the mechanical flywheel design was vastly more efficient and a better design solution than any electrical system. I can believe his logic as to convert from mechanical energy to electrical and back to mechanical energy is inherently going to be more inefficient than a mechanical mechanical system. The interesting question is whether the penalty in weight distribution is why all the other teams have gone for an electrical system, which is a question I cannot evaluate as I am just an electrical engineer.

As with most engineering design projects, you have to be be wary of a team that has gone for a very different design as they are equally likely to be very wrong or very right.

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