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What is the future for Kers?

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Andrew Benson | 10:43 UK time, Sunday, 26 April 2009

The new Kers power-boost and energy recovery systems have already spiced Formula 1 up this year, but their future is very much up in the air.

The systems, which store energy that would have been wasted during braking and re-apply it while the car accelerates, have been championed by Max Mosley, president of F1's governing body, the FIA.

Mosley sees in them a way F1 can be relevant to the future direction of road-car technology as well as protecting itself against accusations of profligacy in a world in which fossil fuels are running out and CO2 emissions urgently need to be reined in.

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The systems, similar to those that are becoming increasingly prevalent in road cars, give a power boost of about 80bhp for nearly seven seconds a lap - and the fact that some teams are using them and some are not has led to some great racing between Kers and non-Kers cars this year.

At the moment, teams are free to develop their own Kers systems - with the main restriction being the amount of energy that can be released in one lap.

The problem is that developing them is very expensive - some teams are said to have spent as much as £45m on Kers - at a time when the world is in the middle of the biggest global financial crisis for decades.

Even before this season started, there was a move to delay their introduction by a year. And now there are calls for them to be banned - with Renault team boss Flavio Briatore apparently leading the way

That looks unlikely to happen - partly because, as McLaren team boss Martin Whitmarsh puts it, after starting work on a technology that is "relevant and interesting", it would be a shame to abandon it. But also because of Mosley's powerful backing.

But there is certainly a lot of discussion about what should happen.

At the moment, F1 appears to be heading towards a standard Kers system for next year - where all the teams pay money into a pot and one company builds the device.

That will cut costs dramatically. The problem is that it removes one of the justifications for F1 doing it in the first place.

That was that the white-heat of the F1 development race would ensure the systems were developed and perfected far quicker than would be the case if they were only being manufactured to fit into road cars.

But if only one system is being developed, the chances of that happening are greatly reduced.

It seems, though, that with the financial crisis being what it is, F1 feels it has no choice.

"At the moment," Whitmarsh says, "we are in an arms race. The technologies being used in F1 are quite similar, but the rules allow for a great diversity of technologies.

"It's a question of timing. In this climate, can we continue to have an arms race? It's an interesting area to have an arms race. But it's got to be commercially viable as well as technically interesting. We have to be pragmatic."

Comments

  • Comment number 1.

    F1 (and its predecessors) have a history of introducing technologies that we find in our own cars today. Examples include the rear view mirror, the seatbelt and power assisted steering. The hybrid technology found in such cars as the Prius, the Lexus and which will soon be in the VW Golf can always be improved and this is something that F1 shouldn't shy away from.

  • Comment number 2.

    So far this season, not a single Kers car has actually got onto the podium, which begs the question, What was that £30-40 million that was spent actually for?

  • Comment number 3.

    A simple fix would be to increase the benefit of KERS, either increase to 10s power boost, allow teams to manage how much BHP they can gain from it or allow 2 laps worth of storage to be saved, at the moment the benefit of KERS is purely tactical (which is it VERY good at) but over an average lap time doesn't provide the required benefit over weight and balance.

  • Comment number 4.

    Surely the whole point of F1 developing KERS is to hghlight its relevance to the 'real world'. The point of developing KERS in F1 is that as it is perfected, it will trickle down into road cars - Hence it will offset its carbon footprint (for want of a better word) by the massive benefit of millions of road cars being more efficent because of its use. We all know there is nothing that F1 is better at than developing a technology that has a clear racing benefit, by introducing one system this will be lost. Surely the best solution is as DominicLisi says to increase the use of KERS - how about having no limit at all. KERS systes could be supplied to smaller teams who cant afford to develop them in the same way that Engines are.

  • Comment number 5.

    So, if KERS finds its way into road cars people won't use it in the same way as in F1? You see, I live in Italy where many drivers try to emulate F1 driving style on the road. Imagine on the motorway when thee or two lanes are merging into one - KERS would be a disaster in the hands of many drivers.

  • Comment number 6.

    I agree with DominicLisi.

    The kers system doesn't give enough benefit to the teams who have bothered to make it work.

    The power and storage capabilities should be increased to make it worthwhile, or nobody will ever think about developing it.

  • Comment number 7.

    Using KERS gives an advantage at the start of the race. Every time we can see how cars with KERS can make several positions. But it's a very expensive technology that still needs developments. Practically each team with KERS has problems with the device more or less. I agree with Flav it is a “money-sucking genius”, but its ban can have even worse consequences. Teams have already spent millions of euro on it and abandonment means that all this money will be lost. This technology is not bad, helps some teams (which cars are not quick enough) to reduce the gap to the front-runners. If KERS development has been already accepted there is no need to ban it and start something new (that can be even more creasy device). But I can hardly imagine that KERS will be popular in the road-cars production)))

  • Comment number 8.

    pvandck - when used in road cars, the aim of the technology would not be to allow cars to simply boost power like in F1, but to supplement the engine power, allowing the engine to draw less fuel and therefore be more efficient.

  • Comment number 9.

    The FIA needs to address the cost benefit issue. The cost in performance with the additional weight is greater than the benefit in performance gained in the "release phase". Only when there is an actual performance benefit will teams drive significant technological improvement to the device. Its not enough that its a sop to enviromentalists.
    pvandck, I understand that once its attached to road cars for , it will have Weight Acceleration Neutral function added to KERS. That should be perfect for Italian drivers.

  • Comment number 10.

    Can some one please confirm that the electric KERS really are a Kinetic Energy recovery system and that the batteries are completely discharged when they leave the pit garage.

  • Comment number 11.

    Other than using local storage for energy, rather than distributing the energy over a grid, can anyone explain to me how KERS differs from the regenerative braking systems used by British Rail for 15-20 years now? And if it doesn't differ significantly, why are the F1 versions so unreliable?

  • Comment number 12.

    Agreed, F1 teams spend a fortune developing their cars, be it on the buildings they use to develop them, the computers they use to design them, the electronics companies involved with them. All of these things require employing people, from a tea boy to top designers. If they aren't allowed to develop their cars then all these people will be without a job and will be a big draw on government handouts.

    Companies/sponsors will only be prepared to spend their money if they feel that they get "value for money" from the spectacle that is F1.

  • Comment number 13.

    I am of the belief that KERS is a long and expensive journey down the wrong alleyway. The point made above about its applicability to road cars and the resultant decrease in fuel consumption is perfectly valid - and I agree there.

    I still think that the 40 million investment should be spent on reducing fuel consumption. I race refuelling is being stopped from next year; so why not issue an FIA sized fuel tank for the race that is then decreased in size each season to force engine development down the road of increasing fuel efficiency.

    This seems much more relevent to road cars as the technology developed can be transferred to high performance road vehicles which should, in turn, trickle down to your average family car.

  • Comment number 14.

    imipak: I would guess that packaging and weight are the biggest concerns in its application in F1, whereas they are of relatively low importance in locomotives.

    These restrictions probably make it considerably more challenging to engineer.

  • Comment number 15.

    Use of KERS (storing and discharging energy during a race) seems fair enough for those teams who have invested in it.

    What does NOT seem fair is that cars are able to START a race with a FULL complement of KERS.

    KERS should NOT be available away from the start line, and only with the start of the race should the system become 'active' - that said, energy stored braking at Turn 1 should be available later in the first lap.

  • Comment number 16.

    Does anyone remember back in the seventies when Ferrari's and the Renaults had more power than they could handle, 170mph ddown the straights and minus two round the corners. You can have the best donky in the world if you don't have the chassis or aerodynamics to harness it you won't win races.
    Formula one should be the pinicle of motorsport and sucessful teams will continue to attract major sponsers even in todays finacal climate. Kers should and will continue because of the needs to save fuel and to pass on the system to road cars. I do agree with the others in this post that the kers system should be drained before the start of the race.
    So far its led to some great races and it will not be long before Ferrari and Mclaren get the acts together by developing a duel diffuser.

  • Comment number 17.

    The KERS systems on the cars currently will never filter to road cars and nor should they. The KERS in use now all contain batteries with very rare or hard to obtain metals. The energy required to find, mine, process etc far exceeds what ever may be saved in Kinetic Energy Recovery. They also are far more polluting than burning fossil fuels.
    The one system that hasn't been seen yet & has been ignored in the blog is Williams fly wheel technology. Clean & battery free. Still not sure I would want a fly wheel behind my head doing 100,000 rpm though.

    unclearengineer - refuelling will be banned soon (next year?) so the drive to find more fuel efficient engines will begin then.

  • Comment number 18.

    The suggestion from unclearengineer is an excellent idea - simple, easy and cheap to implement, fair for all teams and allows complete freedom for teams to try new and inovative ways to get more power out of the same amount of fuel.

    That can only be interesting to the sport - and the motor industry.

    As always the simple ideas are the best!

  • Comment number 19.

    I hope that F1 does NOT adopt a single provider for KERS! Especially a battery based system that currently uses very expensive batteries that are replaced for each race! Just like multiple teams with different engines and chassis we need different technologies of KERS. Mechanical Only (Flybrid/Torotrak http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4PcIt0FPvWQ&NR=1), electro-mechanical (WilliamsF1 http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=04CarbWxX4o), Battery storage (McLaren and Ferarri and, I think, BMW. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=R-A6ZcenX7s&NR=1), etc...

    Also F1 has (had?) plans to double the energy per lap for next year and to maybe make it compulsory.

  • Comment number 20.

    Isn't there a weight penalty with the KERS system? Equal to the amount of fuel you can or can't carry?
    Directly affecting pit stop strategy!

  • Comment number 21.

    How can KERS makes it esier to overtake. If you push your button I'll push mine. Status quo'

  • Comment number 22.

    I totally agree with unclearengineer - If F1 wants a project to work on with an environmental benefit - reduce fuel tank size and try to develop high-performance, highly fuel efficient engines... I have to say, I don't buy the argument that by being in F1, KERS technology will have much benefit to your average road user. Toyota, Honda and BMW already have very advanced hybrid technology in some of their road cars. Historically, there's actually been very little technology that's been developed in F1 that's had much benefit to the AVERAGE road user. ABS, Turbos, Power Steering, 4WD were all developed outside the sport and have been adopted in the past by the sport when needed/allowed. The only recent bit of kit that F1 has developed that has made it into everyday cars is Traction Control - but I'm pretty sure even that started out in 1980s Sports Car racing. The most obvious road car benefits have been on the aerodynamic side, but even then they've tended to appear on high performance cars rather than the average punter's Golf...

  • Comment number 23.

    Budget cap for next year then a standardised KERS system which other teams have funded the development on - Mosley wants to have small bit part players win the championship rather than the big teams.

    What I say is no to KERS (after all it has been around on road vehicles since the 70's) and a new raft of rule changes that are more rigid in their parameters - but this would require more intelligence to write than what is at the disposal of the FIA

  • Comment number 24.

    KERS is the biggest waste of money I have ever seen in sport. It adds nothing to the racing and needs to be banned.

 

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