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Should KERS come back to F1 next year?
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Should KERS come back to F1 next year?
Posted By: James Allen  |  10 Apr 2010   |  9:23 am GMT  |  246 comments

I’ve been interested by the discussions about bringing back KERS this past week, following the FOTA meeting in Malaysia at which it was on the agenda.

KERS, for anyone not familiar with the term, is Kinetic Energy Recovery System, which harvests energy from braking, stores it as electrical energy and then reintroduces it to the system as a power boost. Under last year’s rules it was worth about 80hp for around 7 seconds per lap.

Can KERS be made to work on the current F1 engines for everyone?


I always thought it was a good idea for F1 to have something like this to keep it in step with the road car industry’s advances on hybrid technology. And the ‘push to pass’ aspect of it offers a key weapon for overtaking.

Last season it was used by only McLaren and Ferrari and then abandoned after one year in a vote by the FOTA teams. The idea has been to develop the new engine formula for 2013 around a hybrid system and that process is ongoing between FOTA and the FIA.

But now the teams are talking about bringing KERS back in 2011, because Ferrari and Renault are both pushing hard on hybrid on the road car side and because it has the potential to provide a quick fix for F1’s perennial overtaking problem. If it is to return it has to be on the basis that every car has it.

Perhaps if the power is increased then it could lead to more overtaking as drivers could use it intelligently to give them a competitive advantage. The problem now is that one car only has enough of a competitive advantage over another to pass, if its tyres are in significantly better condition, as with Massa on Button in Malaysia.

KERS became a bit of a political football last season; the idea of former FIA president Max Mosley, it was just another issue on which things became polarised in a tense power struggle. The problem was that Mosley’s vision for KERS was that teams should compete with each other to get the best system. It is a very expensive technology to get right on an F1 car, where every kilo counts and many teams didn’t bother to play the arms race. The top two teams last in last season’s championship, Brawn and Red Bull, didn’t use it.

Ferrari complained that it was an expensive flop. I remember team boss Stefano Domenicali saying at Silverstone,

“The reality is that the facts show that KERS in the way that it is now is not ready to be performing in this set of regulations. That is a fact. And, this is something that we need to learn from in the future.”

It added a lot of weight to the car, increased reliability concerns and was a big distraction for the engineers – in other words getting it to work effectively so that it would make a difference, the way it was introduced before, was very hard. McLaren and Mercedes spent €70 million and managed to get more gain than pain, but team boss Martin Whitmarsh admitted that in doing so, perhaps they failed to spot the key aerodynamic breakthoughs of 2009, like the double diffuser and outwash front wing.

Another problem with the way it was introduced last year was that it didn’t offer enough of a boost to make it attractive. It was useful at the starts and for passing cars which didn’t have it.

So the logical and simple answer is to bring it back with more power but in a standardised system, to keep the costs under control and so it’s the same for everyone. It gives F1 some much needed green credentials and gives the drivers a chance to use their system more cleverly than an opponent and make more overtaking moves.

The problem then comes that various teams will want to do their own system. Williams has a unique flywheel system, which it is also developing for commercial use on buses and trains, while Renault, Ferrari and Mercedes (who had the best system last year) will see it as an important laboratory for the ‘road to track’ story.

This reminds me of a similar debate a few years ago over introducing a standardised Electronic Control Unit, which was resisted by manufacturers like BMW, who felt this was a sacrosanct area of proprietary technology. But the sport desperately needed it to get rid of all suspicions about teams cheating on traction control. In the end a standard ECU was introduced and it and it works fine for everyone and you never hear any more about it.

As a short term solution, introducing a standard KERS system for 2011 now, so teams can design their 2011 cars around it, makes sense. And in parallel the teams and the FIA should work to base the 2013 engine rules around hybrid, and research the viability of allowing manufacturers to develop technology within a cost restriction framework, so it offers existing and new manufacturers something to get their teeth into, but doesn’t just end up being another arms race.

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1

I think KERS should definitely come back. Hamilton showed what it can do, and a limit on the amount of time the driver can use it through a race seems the right way to go.

2

I’m not a fan of artificial limits – I’d rather that they had a standard KERS system, but then the details of the implementation and how to optimise it is left to the teams – as with the standardised ECU where the teams can do a lot with it. I’d guess Mercedes would be the supplier, they packaged the system well, and now no longer in bed with McLaren it will be easier for the FIA to grant the licence to them, separate from the ECU.

I think KERS should now wait for the next generation engine, which I hope will be a super-small, supercharged engine, perhaps as small as 1 litre but in combination with KERS and the charging, still producing similar power levels. KERS should be unlimited – the only limitations being that it is standard. It is then up to the teams to push KERS to its limits – including using it in ways that the supplier did not envisage as long as it is a stock part. The clever bits come in brake integration (only McLaren really worked that one out and there was a rule change introduced to solve it for the other teams) and efficient charging and discharging – not overheating it for example, so cooling could impact how effective one team might be over another.

In other words, like a standard engine formula, standard KERS need not mean equal performance from an equal system.

3

KERS is a waste of time… it’s a boring concept that tries to compensate for the real problem of too much aero and too little mechanical grip…

Fix the obvious problem first… Charlie Whiting should be replaced with a real engineer, that understands the root of a problem, and not one that simply applies one band-aid on top of another…

Charlie Whiting has failed in his post, on numerous occassions and should be chucked out of F1 in the same fashion as Mosely…

4

I think KERS should be an option opened to the teams, but shouldn’t be mandatory. The regulations for KERS should be opened up as well. Let drivers use it whenever they want, as much as they want, as long as there is charge in the batteries.

5

i think that KERS would give the sport that something that it does not have at the moment, the action. this also means that the championship will not be boring but we do have to wait another YEAR to get the exitment back.

6

KERS will be great for F1, but only if it is permitted to be used only every 2nd lap, not every single lap.

7

I don’t like KERS because it is too much like a video game and doesn’t have much relevance to every day in ansy case. The only aspects of F1 technology that make it to road cars have all been banned… ABS, traction control, active suspension, CVTs the list goes on and on. Aero has little relevance to road cars as in most places it is either not possible or illegal to travel at speeds where aero induced downforce is possible or of benefit to a road car. So reduce the number of aero devices allowed to front and rear wings only and then standardise them. Remove bargeboards, diffusers and ground effect devices (ie enaything that isn’t a front or rear wing, anything which has an ‘incidental’ aero benefit should also be deemed illegal). Open up the areas of technology where there will be some relevance to future road car design.

8

Here’s a novel idea for the 2013 engine regs: unlimited economy use of KERS (so that total power output reaches the same output of the engine without KERS), and limited performance use of KERS in the form of the push-to-pass we saw in 2009. Both KERS features could be easily regulated by the standardized ECU unit.

Such a concept would allow for the actual ‘green’ component of KERS to come through while also adding the sporting element that KERS can provide.

9

If all cars have it, it becomes “push to defend” not “push to pass” unless you can convincingly bluff the lead car. Given already limited passing areas on most circuits, I doubt this would improve passing.

10

Best way to have overtaking back is to allow modifications on some parts of the engine (controled by the FIA), this will bring back real differences between the cars on mecanical side and not only on aero side.

11

I haven’t read all the comments in this discussion, but in my opinion people are looking in the wrong direction for the overtaking solutions:

KERS is not a solution for overtaking (most drivers will use the KERS button at the same places on each track), but it is good technology and should be used anyway.

Wet weather demonstrates that mechanical grip is the deciding factor, and F1 cars have too much mechanical grip. There is a mental hurdle to overcome here, and different sections of the F1 community have slightly different hurdles to overcome. The drivers and engineers need to understand that they have to let go the idea that the cars need to go around corners as fast as possible. The tire suppliers need to understand that supplying tires that have less traction will not reflect badly on them. This will also allow the tire suppliers to supply tires that have a broader temperature range, and are therefore more usable.

The FIA (and other administrators of the sport) need to overcome the ‘safety is everything’ hurdle. They need to remove some rules that have been implemented over the years. For example: midfield and back end drivers spend two thirds of the race ducking out of the way of the the leading cars – sometimes almost having to stop on the track. Remove the rule that says that slower drivers have to move out of the way when they see a blue flag. The leading drivers have the idea that they have a divine right to be allowed to pass slower drivers. They have a faster car, let them overtake like everyone else and stop ruining midfield and tail end competition amongst slower drivers.

People don’t like change, but in order to get real change they have to let go of their cherished comfort zones.

Drivers need to be given cars and a racing environment that makes them have to work HARD to stay ahead of the driver behind them, and not rely on technology and rules to allow them to be competitive.

12

Regarding computer games having a boost. How about KERS being used like the catch up systems some racing games employ?

Everybody has a KERS system. The race leader can not use it at all. 2nd place gets it for (for example, i’m picking numbers out of the air here) 5 seconds a lap, 3rd gets 7 seconds, 4th 9 seconds etc etc all the way back through the field.

13

Not having read all the replies, I don’t know whether this has been mentioned before, so apologies if it has.

1) All KERS manufacturers should have there systems available for purchase by anyother team (much in the same way as engines). This means that the teams have a choice to either have there own KERS or buy one in.

2) KERS to have a minimum of a 150bhp for 2 secs per lap only. No more hitting the KERS button everytime the driver enters a straight.

14

I’d like KERS to come back, but I think it should be optional. If everyone had it, and used their buttons at the same time, then this wouldn’t solve the overtaking problem most F1 cars have.

I thought it worked quite well last year and it was a shame more teams didn’t go for it. If the teams knew they could use it, then perhaps they would have more time to develop the appropriate chassis etc.

Heavy cars with KERS vs lighter cars without is a nice balance I think…

15

One thing that made me grumpy last year was KERS is supposed to be an energy recovery system.

So I would argue since no racing has being done before the lights go out, how do they get to use it off the start line?

16

They are allowed to charge up the KERS under park ferme before the race.

17

Hi James,

To me, the following paragraph highlights the complexity of the issue:

“This reminds me of a similar debate a few years ago over introducing a standardised Electronic Control Unit … and you never hear any more about it.”

Most standardised F1 components become anonymous (ergo the two-compound tyre rule), which is the exact opposite effect the Formula 1 wants from KERS. Max, I’m sure, wanted to tap into the positive perceptions that a ‘green’ technology would bring to the sport. In this respect, a ‘KERS-war’ between teams would be brilliant … unless you’re a team with no budget to develop it.

18

A big no thanks to KERS for me.

I hate that the team have to wear big rubber gloves to handle the car. That’s actually my main reason.

I also believe it won’t improve racing if everyone has it, and will cost a fortune.

I still worry about marshalls after a big shunt too. It’s just not Formula 1 as far as I’m concerned.

19

Great to see so many good ideas generated in this forum.

James,
have you heard any more about ride height systems in shanghai? Martin whitmarsh expected mclaren to have it soon, but I guess not now it’s illegal 🙂

20

James,

On a tangent, what specific impacts will changing wheel rim sizes from 13in to 18in have on car performance? I can imagine from an aerodynamic point of view substantial, but will handling, speed, acceleration, etc be effected? Maybe you could an article on this James.

Great blog btw

21

James, great blog and good comments. Not sure if bringing KERS back as it was last year will make any real difference, as if every car has is then the potential gains will be negated. I don’t buy the argument that the F1 KERS will have a technological trickle down into high volume road cars. I think the main aim advantage of KERS last year was a PR one, in that F1 could claim it was going green.

That said we should remember that this sport will only prosper if it is entertaining to watch, therefore the driving aim in a return to KERS should be to make overtaking easier. To that end perhaps the KERS boost or “Push to pass” should be limited to following car within a preset distance, perhaps enabled by a GPS system, i.e. if you get within 20 to 10 meters of the car in front you get an 20% increase in available power. The power would not be available within 10 m to stop the car in front from using it defensively when both cars are side by side. This is appealing as it is up to the driver to press the button within the optimum window to gain a sling-shot past the car in-front without going off the track.

However, I think the main problem is the over-dependence on aerodynamic down-force, which prevents the cars from following each other closely. If anything, I think the problem has been worsened by reducing the width of the front tires, and increasing the size of the front wing relative to the back wing.

James what do you think it would be like if they banned front wings, but brought back aerodynamic ground effect instead?

22

James and Readers

Who owns the right to Mercedes/McLaren KERS?

Could Mercedes (old Brawn) use it or is this something that Mclaren own? I guess this is a bit dirty. I don’t see a standard KERS working as it will negate the effect and we need (un)reliability.

But the teams will go mad if left to themselves and others will be disadvantaged. Then some teams will simply buy, eg. Force India from Mercedes/McLaren, then Frank will be upset he spent money developing it….

23
Robert Higginbotham

As far as I am aware it is an M-B system. The unit was displayed at last year’s Frankfurt motor show, and was described as the ‘Mercedes-Benz Formel 1 Hybrid’.

Brawn had the option to use it last year, but chose not to. (Presumably Force India also had the choice, but off the top of my head I can not say that for sure).

24

A suggestion for Kers and overtaking, how abouts the amounts of kers time allowed to be dependent on track position in the race, i.e. 1st place not allowed to deploy kers, 2nd only gets 2 sec of kers per lap, 3rd gets 3sec and so on with the tail enders getting more kers time, dare i say 26th place getting 26 seconds! lol, the races would be crazy, too much overtaking maybe

Vic

25
Robert Higginbotham

The best thing to do would be to increase the rate at which energy could be released (i.e. the power output of the system), increase the energy capacity restriction, and allow the drivers to tap into the stored energy as frequently as they wish. This would result in creative application of the system.

26

If F1 really wants to go green, then why can’t the next regulations just make a fuel of the future such as hydrogen fuel compulsory, and then let the engine suppliers have free reign and go mad on development. I think the manufacturers will be happy to spend loads of money on that area and it can be directly used in road cars. I know the power produced will be low to start with, but with the worlds best brains working non stop on it, it won’t be long before we will probably see astounding results. Remeber Oil will run out

Vic

27

Hi James,

“while Renault, Ferrari and Mercedes (who had the best system last year”

I’ve heard a lot of people telling that Mercedes had the best KERS system last year, while I think it was Ferrari who had it (despite all their grumblings) and Kimi Raikkonen used it to devastating effect…Can you explain why you think Mercedes had the better system?

28
Robert Higginbotham

The M-B system was smaller and lighter than the Ferrari system. It weighed around 25kg, in comparison with the (approx.) 30kg of the Ferrari system.

29

Everytime someone says “green” here I puke.

If you want “green”, simply stop.

Stop flying hordes of crew and equipment back and forth across the world.

Stop letting ppl come to races and burn all those nasty hydrocarbons in their cars to get there.

Stop burning whatever all those giant wind tunnels and super computers require.

Stop making all that carbon fiber stuff.

Stop all the driving around by all the millions of staff that design and build these things. Use go-karts instead.

In fact, just stop racing altogether.

30
Robert Higginbotham

Or use racing as a test-bed for new technologies which will reduce the energy consumption and emissions of production vehicles…that way F1, unlike most other forms of entertainment, would have constructive impact. Unlike the Hollywood poseurs who (up until recently) boasted about their Priuses, F1 drivers would be part of a process of developing technologies that would reduce the environmental impact of automobiles.

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