The return of KERS

The Formula 1 teams met in Canada and decided that the kinetic energy recovery systems seen in F1 in 2009, will return in 2011. While everyone agrees that it is desirable for the sport to make more efforts to be environmentally-friendly, some of the smaller teams simply wanted to avoid the need for expensive systems that are not absolutely necessary. The plan is for teams to be able to buy a KERS system from a rival team for the set price of €1 million, on condition that the amount of money spent developing such a system is not more than €5 million. Teams are not, however, obliged to supply their systems to another team if they choose not to do so. The idea of a standardized KERS system has been quietly forgotten.

37 thoughts on “The return of KERS

  1. I just don’t understand how Kers is “Green”. Sure it’s using surplus energy that would otherwise be wasted, but it’s not saving any fuel or resources. It also costs money. So it’s not saving anything at all really. It’s also an artificial way to overtake.

    I’m all for F1 to be wingless and skinny wheeled like a grown up Formula Ford ! If there wasn’t so many different, conflicting and confusing single seater series, I’d create my own. Oh, if I had the cash too !

  2. It seems that once again F1 is trying to be all things to all people and that is never a good strategy in any industry. F1 has the reputation for technological innovation and KERS might just manage to fall within that bucket.

    Car manufacturers will no doubt benefit by selling “greener” cars and by advertising this as F1-derived technology. An alternative would be Audi’s strategy of developing fuel-efficient diesel engines that repeatedly win Le Mans. I am more partial to this, personally.

    I am having trouble understanding how this will be combined with stallable rear wings controlled from the cockpit by drivers (only allowed for overtaking, but not defending). Are they to be used in conjunction with KERS? How? One button, or two? Could some KERS systems offset the rear wing stall effect from a following car? Are these ingenious solutions there to solve a problem that should not have existed in the first place? I think Christian Horner raised this issue and perhaps you have some more insight, Joe.

  3. Hi Joe,

    Do you think that the Cosworth powered teams are likely to want to buy the Williams flywheel system?

  4. They could use the KERS button to boost power AND stall/flatten the rear wing at the same time.

    I actually started writing this as a joke ridiculous idea, but I’m starting to think it might actually work considering when KERS is likely to be used.

    I think an external, visual indication that KERS is active would also improve the show.

  5. Joe,

    What’s your view on the adjustable rear wing + KERS ‘overtake button’ that appears to be coming in next season. I’ve read elsewhere it could lead to a speed increase of up to 20km/h in the races, but not be available to the leading driver.

    James

  6. Do we know if the Williams flywheel will even be available? I thought somebody at Williams said that it wasn’t practical to fit it to F1 cars, although they are continuing to develop if for road cars and sportscar racing.

    I hope there’s a flywheel option — otherwise we will have a the ever-so-green and ever-so-economical spectacle of a million pounds worth of highly toxic batteries being discarded after every race. If it is going to be all electric systems they should introduce a rule that batteries have to last for eight races or something. Otherwise we’re back to the electrical equivalent of the “Nazi rocket fuel” petrol — highly powerful and extremely poisonous.

  7. I’m not in favor of KERS – I don’t think it added anything to the racing, and just made it harder to pass in general, I think.

    That said, cars are heavy enough with fuel as it is. Add KERS, and they become behemoths…

    That said, I do want to reply to Alia, and I think the F1 teams genuinely think it will help the racing. Whether or not they’re correct is another matter…

  8. Listening to the excellent MotorSport Magazine podcast with Patrick Head, it appears that the flywheel system is unlikely to be viable due to the lack of space for it with this year’s larger full-distance fuel tanks.
    I’m ambivalent about the KERS thing, as it ruined as many races for me as it spiced up (Sutil being robbed at Spa, for instance).
    What I will say, however, is that the day they bring diesel into Formula 1 is the day that I walk away forever from the sport that I love.

  9. I”m a fan of the KERS systems, simply because it’s bring something new to the table technically. I’m also a fan of non-standardized KERS systems as I feel teams/suppliers should come up with their own solutions. Plus KERS isn’t all that expensive since teams spent the bulk of their money on it (as far as I know) developing it for 2009 season.

    Anyway who said “green” or environmentally conscious initiatives are supposed to be cheap?

  10. Williams have ruled out their flywheel system due to packaging problems (London bus argument) as long as we have the refueling ban.

    The teams have increased the minimum weight of the car to accommodate a system that will make the life of a driver much harder. Now we have a push to pass KERS system and a push to pass proximity wing system. That makes no sense in my view.

    KERS needs to be a proper dual torque system from the ground up without energy or power limitation and with a common ECU controlled way to feed/extract the electric power in a way that ABS, ESP and launch control are avoided.

    It is clear that this will be needed as soon as the new power train formula arrives supposedly in 2013. Getting to that point with a reasonable cost burden and with as low vehicle weight as possible is the challenge. I’m not sure the teams have taken a good approach here. Just about the only positive point is the cost cap agreement. I hope they will not make a mess of it.

  11. Mark (above) asked the same question I was going to ask.

    One other question: Does the manufacture and subsequent disposal of the batteries in a standard KERS system negate the beneficial effect to the environment (a la Toyota Prius)?

  12. Not everyone thinks F1 should try to be more green. According to the LG survey, most of the fans really don’t care.

    If F1 wanted to be green, all it needs to do is eliminate one fly-away race and that will save enough carbon to account for running the whole field for the entire season.

    If they really want to be useful to road technology, they should free up the engine regulations and lift the engines-per-season rule. At the peak of F1 innovation, the ideas that are implemented in F1 engines can trickle down into road cars — the whole reason Honda was in F1 engines in the 80’s and early 90’s was to train their road car engineers. Shut down engine development in F1 (like the rules do now) and you shut down the innovative technology that can lead to greener road cars.

    F1 is about technical development — again borne out by the LG survey — and that is in itself environmentally invaluable. It’s the Apollo program for the road.

  13. I had hoped KERS would be a footnote in F1 history but apparently because no-one inside the sport has any better ideas it is back. Batteries are amongst the very least green items on the planet so environmentally KERS makes no more sense environmentally than painting a green stripe on a tyre that lasts 20 miles.

    I can’t believe push to pass is coming back to F1. I absolutely hate the idea that a driver can gain a position or defend a position by pushing a button. Anything that gives the worst driver on the grid the same opportunity as the best is not a good thing.

    I’m all for F1 to be wingless and skinny wheeled like a grown up Formula Ford ! If there wasn’t so many different, conflicting and confusing single seater series,

    To me the easiest way to find out how to get more close racing and overtaking in F1 is to look back to when it existed and find out why it stopped. If you do that the answer is quite clear – aerodynamics. I agree with what Gilles Villeneuve said – rip the wings off and throw them away. However I also agree with Gilles that we should have wide slicks on the cars.

    The drivers barely have their hands on the steering wheel this season as it is so adding KERS and adjustable rear wings as suggested in Canada should mean that soon whe will need the cars to have auto steering as the drivers need their hands to be doing things other than pointing the car in the right direction. What is the point is making cars and circuits safer then giving the drivers a hundred things to divert their attention from safely conducting their car round the track?

    F1’s default answer to any situation seems to be to add more technology and more complexity to the mix. This has never worked so far and never will. The FIA need to take control and simplify things. They also need to decide the function and direction of the sport rather than allowing it to just mutate into something no-one wanted in the first place.

  14. I wouldn’t mind seeing KERS return, with one caveat. Remove the restrictions on its use. Let the teams use it as often as they are capable. The limited use option from 2009 simply made its use predictable and didn’t help racing. Let the teams develop technology and use it.

    Soapbox – KERS in F1 is decidedly not green, despite F1 marketing it as such. First, expensive, toxic batteries are constantly replaced. Second, KERS is used as a power boost, not a power replacement. It’s not making the cars more efficient, it’s simply providing additional power on top of the baseline use of gas power. Contrast that to my clothes washer and dryer, where KERS enables the machines to use less electricity. Not at all how the F1 cars employ KERS.

  15. Groundhog day.
    The only way forward for KERS is a standardised unit. If everybody has the same system, level playing field.
    So, the button is hit at the same time lap after lap. See, its now useless and very costly.

    BAD IDEA LAST YEAR,
    BAD IDEA ANY YEAR,
    DROP IT.

  16. This is all about “keeping up apperances” as regards “green”. On the track I like it ‘cuz it adds one more element into the mix. Yes, Kimi used it defensively but that doesn’t mean that everyone/always will use it at the right moment to it’s optimum. We could see some screw-ups on the track!

  17. Stefanos,
    Pretty sure no stalling wing F ducts next year when KERS will return, teams agreed to drop it the other week for 2011. Real shame because drag reduction like that has real application to road cars for fuel savings! IE a duct that stalls the hole you leave in your wake as your car goes down the road at higher speeds.

    Adam

  18. I think thats a little stupid… standardized KERS? i means its formula 1 racing, ure not supposed to fit in some technology similar to others on a racing car and then put a cap of 5 million of the development of which not all of the racing teams will be doing…

  19. Actually, I think KERS is a great idea.
    It makes overtaking a strategy game. You push the driver in front of you, they have to decide if it’s a real overtaking move, or just you trying to get them to waste their KERS boost. If they make the wrong call, they’ve wasted their KERS, (Meaning you have the rest of the lap to use yours and attempt an overtake) or allowed you to boost on past them.

    I’d probably make KERS starts illegal though. Too much crashing into turn one.

    I’m not so big on the movable rear wing for overtakers though. It then becomes a bit like cycling, with no one wanting to be the first to lead, giving the others a draft.

    That is pretty boring too. Imagine watching a strategy racing where all the lead cars slow down to near a stop trying to get one of them to flinch and take the lead, so that they can overtake them later.

  20. I don’t care either way on Kers but if it does come back it cannot be standardized. What is grand prix but a tech excercise with (hopefully) the best drivers.
    What is the point of a standardized system?

  21. Perhaps the complete details of this plan haven’t been released yet, but what we’ve seen thus far seems to have some VERY significant issues.

    The primary issue I see is the real possibility that there won’t be enough KERS units to go around. The teams have clearly recognized that KERS will be too expensive for most of the minnow teams to develop on their own. The proposed solution is to allow the larger teams to sell KERS to the smaller ones at a maximum cost of 1 million euros.

    The problem is that while teams are permitted sell their KERS solution to other teams, there seems to be no requirement that they do so. Without such a requirement, there can be no guarantee that the smaller teams will be able to buy any KERS units for their cars.

    The price limit of 1 million dollars will very likely make this situation even worse. 1 million is an almost inconsequential sum for the larger teams. Are McLaren, Mercedes and Red Bull really going to expend significant time and energy to supply KERS to customer teams for a measly 1 million per year?

    For the larger squads, I suspect the revenue is not even close to enough reward for the effort that would be required.

    I suppose revenue hungry Williams are best placed to benefit from this situation as they have their own KERS division. That said, 1 million may not even be enough to make it worth their while.

    I don’t know what it costs Williams to build a full season’s worth of F1 spec kinetic KERS units, but I wouldn’t be surprised if construction costs ate up most of a million euros. Add in customer support costs and even Williams may not find any significant revenue potential in servicing the customer market.

  22. It’s green because it allows teams to use it to save fuel. Have a look at Rubbergoat’s fuel usage comparison, in particular the graph for the teams. It shows McLaren with KERS used significantly less fuel than the similarly engined Brawn and Force India’s. Link here: http://f1numbers.wordpress.com/2009/12/23/2009-in-review-fuel-use/

    My preference would be for KERS to be treated like engines. Teams *must* be prepared to supply a couple of comptetitors. This would stop one team getting an exclusive advantage.

    I’d also like to see the release of energy deregulated (e.g. not a set allowance per lap). This would allow drivers to “bank” energy from several laps following another car and spend it all in the same lap. This would stop KERS being used to defend as much because the car in front wouldn’t know how much the guy behind has banked.

    Also limiting the energy stored means the teams aren’t going to be actively developing better storage technologies (the main thing holding back any energy recovery system in road cars). It should be in the teams’ interests to develop the best system possible, but the suggested format just means once they hit the ceiling, they stop developing.

    Great for their bottom line, not so great for the environment.

  23. It seems to me that KERS will be in 2011 what the double diffuser was last year and what the F-duct is this year, and that is, a part or piece of questionable technology that will change the car in a way that makes one team pioneers and the rest of the field playing catch-up. And next year, that team will be Williams.

    If Williams do indeed have a superior system, which looks likely, they’ll obviously keep it for themselves and not sell it to the smaller teams in risk of catching up with them like Lotus, Virgin or HRT. If teams don’t HAVE to sell their units to other teams, it could happen that everyone runs a McLaren KERS system or a Ferrari one as we know Renault aren’t keen on their own system and BMW pretty much scrapped theirs mid-development when they were ending their F1 venture. I for one am pretty tired of all the midfield teams running bits of McLaren or Ferrari cars and was hoping that more engine suppliers were on the cars soon. Now we hear that yet more McLaren or Ferrari techonology will find its way into other teams’ cars. Why not change Force India’s name to Forcedes?

    KERS was shown to be a purely defensive tool that negated overtaking opportunities and fundamentally nullifies the expertise of exiting a corner with a higher top speed in a battle, because all you need to do is press a button to get back on the power. It has no place in the sport. We want action. We want excitement. What fan tunes in to Grand Prix racing for its environmental qualities or green message?

  24. @ Steven Roy:

    The problem with the FIA taking control of things and simplifying them are

    1) They have a history of introducing technical rules so restrictive there’s no space for innovation and F1 turns into a spec formula. Take last year’s KERS – it was so restrictive the teams found no tangible benefit and KERS cars only won a single race.
    2) They have a history of introducing arbitrary sporting rules which force all the teams to do the same thing at a race weekend (same tactics). Take the one tyre stop regulation. It’ artificial and pointless

    I’d like to see KERS opened up and no restrictions. Just let the teams do what they want with it, perhaps with a battery driving a supercharger rather than the engine?

    In the bigger scheme of things F1 doesn’t affect the environment much. Consider that one oil well in Nigeria that flares off unwanted natural gas produces as much CO2 as the entire UK vehicle population does in a year. F1 doing a few thousand miles of racing a year doesn’t add up to much.

    However these days everything is all about public image (as BP will testify).

  25. Joe,
    A re-introduction of KERS with the associated restrictions on output and use can only yield the same results and increase costs for what purpose. The rules that restrict engine/KERS output to equalize the field have and will continue to be a detrimental to F1.

    It would make F1 more “green” to force everyone to use the original “Virgin Racing CFD Special” fuel tank and restrict nothing else in the drive train. Then reduce fuel capacity by one or two kilos per year.

    As we have seen, each attempt to reduce downforce, which isn’t the real problem anyway, has been offset in short order by the efforts of the aerodynamicists. If the teams were permitted to actually use their other engineering talents to finish the race on a fixed amount of fuel, without trying to equalize the result, the final product could not help but apply to the real world. If you really want F1 to be relevant than you have to let technological freedom, not restrict it as is being done today.

    Limiting fuel consumption and moving away from the good tyre/bad tyre proposal Bridgestone is toying with isn’t going to advance anything. Actually, on that topic no one has addressed the consistency and accuracy with which Brdigestone tyres comform to the specifications. Another good topic.

    These “changes” to make the F1 circus more entertaining cost money – KERS, no KERS, If Audi and Peugeot can build diesels that are so superior at LeMans that they have to be penalized with rule changes, you get a clue as to what F1 loses by trying to rein in the innovators.

    Very sad. A move to a fuel standard and mileage limits would provide the diverse grid and perfomance differences that would make it a race instead of a procession or orchestrated chaos such as Bridgestone is going to try. Diversity of engine and chassis design is the way to making F1 relevant and entertaining. The fewer limitations the better.

  26. Joe,
    A quick correction to my comment – Limiting fuel consumption and moving away from the good tyre/bad tyre” proposal by Bridgestone would advance F1.

    Why not just make each team run a set of 225/R17 purchased from their local store for one stint? That certainly would make for entertaining racing for a half lap or so.

  27. When I go shopping I often have to remind myself that just because something is “neat” doesn’t mean I have to actually buy it and take it home.

    I think F1 needs to consider this too. This is a “neat” technology but does F1 really need it?

    I say no!

  28. @Pionir

    I don’t want the FIA to simplify KERS I want them to ban it. I also want them to write a set of technical regs that lets the driver use his hands and eyes to drive the car not to be constantly tweaking engine maps, diff settings, wing settings, KERS buttons etc etc etc.

    I am well aware of the failings of the FIA but what they need to do is write a set of simple tech regs that get us back to racing on track. They made a good step this season by banning fuel stops. It is beyond me how we have reached a stage where the deciding factor in who won a race was a team of strategists and statisticians who often are not on the same continent as the race. That is insane. Have you seen McLaren’s mission control?

    To me it makes no sense whatever to mandate cars that are so expensive to run that the best way to cut costs is to ban people from running them. Surely it makes a lot more sense to mandate simpler cars and let teams test them as much as they like. That is better for fans and better for the teams. It also lets circuits find a source of income from F1.

    It is perfectly possible to build a high performance F1 car at a fraction of the current cost. It is perfectly possible to mandate cars that can race wheel to wheel on track and it is perfectly possible to write sporting rules that remove teams of statisticians and strategists from the equation.

  29. @Pionir

    Interesting link. But, a correlation between KERS and fuel efficiency is difficult to prove. There are some good comments on the article that talk about it.

    Also, fuel efficiency is a multivariate problem. There are other factors affecting fuel efficiency, so it would be very difficult to conclusively demonstrate KERS is the explanation. When comparing different teams with and without KERS, it’s not a straight comparison. There are too many other variables between teams to isolate KERS as the causal factor. For example, a major consideration is downforce. More downforce = more drag = more fuel used. This may explain the difference between McLaren and Brawn, for example.

    KERS in F1 is not used the same way that it is in road cars. KERS in F1 is not a power replacement, it’s a power boost. It’s used as a push to pass (or defend) button, not a push to maintain the same speed. If KERS was used to save fuel, then the stored energy would be used to replace the energy from burning fuel, not add to it. F1 has marketed it as green, but I don’t really think their use of KERS is very green at all.

  30. Joe
    Maybe KERS has a point but only if regenerative energy is always used. Batteries should not be pre-charged so it should not be available at the start. However, once again the playing field tilts.

  31. @Robert Passman

    I agree with everything apart from your point about Audi/Peugeot at Le Mans. The reason they’re being reined in now is because they were given a massive performance break to begin with. They have a capacity advantage *and* two turbos over the petrol engines, so it’s hardly a surprise they are better!

    The other thing to realise is that they don’t use pump diesel fuel – it’s a special cocktail that even evaporates when spilled. Pretty much the only thing it has in common with a regular car’s diesel engine is compression ignition (although I’m sure they learned alot for their road engines from the exercise).

    Limiting fuel consumption and opening up the playing field and regulations on KERS (so it can be used in all manner of clever ways) I think would not only encourage technical innovation, but also more variance between teams rather than turning F1 into a sillhoutte formula designed by the regulations (the reason Gordon Murray lost interest in F1).

  32. KERS is a disastrous idea; literally.

    No we don’t want it back. Pass their research to the commercial boys and let’s get on with racing.

    Full petrol tanks and enough stored electrical energy to light up Blackpool Tower is a 1955-type catastrophe waiting in the wings. Sooner or later… first corner at Monaco BOOM: French-fries all round.

    Joe: You haven’t told us what we need to hear…

    What is YOUR honest opinion of KERS?

    1. Clin,

      My honest opinion of KERs is as follows. This was written in this week’s Business of Motorsport newsletter:

      Why KERS is important

      Formula 1 teams famously rarely look beyond the end of their noses and examine all problems based on what is immediately important for their organization. This is the correct focus for a racing team, because performance is the only thing that really matters as success will bring money and the best drivers. However, it is not quite as good for the sport as a whole. The sport needs to make sure that it moves forward in a sensible and strategic fashion. It is clear that there is an increasing awareness of the threats caused by the burning of fossil fuels and there is a desire to look for other options, alternative fuels and policies that will create a sustainable society. The automobile is – perhaps unfairly – singled out as being one of the causes of the environmental problems in the world.
      The automobile manufacturers have thus embarked on massive investment to find ways to reduce the effect that their products have on the world. The airline industry is doing similarly and so too should the power generation industry, although some countries have no real interest in the environment as they rush to build a better future for their peoples. The trend in almost every commercial sector is to be seen to be doing something to make the world a greener place. Technology is moving ahead all the time as scientists look for more sustainable practices.
      There are some in F1 who think that the sport can go on providing entertainment and promoting the automobile, but the FIA has realized that it is wiser for the sport to be trying to be at the forefront of change, rather than being seen as a world which does not care about the environment. This does not have to mean that the Formula 1 cars become electrically-powered but it does mean that attention must be paid to the problems. The mass transportation of crowds to and from venues is thus the most important problem facing most sports. If 100,000 people sit in traffic jams for hours, trying to into parking lots to watch baseball games, then the pollution produced is going to be significant. It is better for them to arrive and leave using public transportation.
      The primary environmental impact of the average Formula 1 team comes not from the racing its cars but rather from the electricity they use running their factories and wind tunnels. And just as F1 is used to showcase high technology the sport could (and should) be used to promote new technologies. It can also help to inform the public about the realities of the impact of motorsport on the environment. In this respect the sport must act as a messenger of the industry and if the industry can find solutions that benefit the world, the sport should deliver that message as well.
      At the same time, it is much better to use the brainpower assembled in F1 to work towards solutions to the problems than to create guz-guzzling engines which do the world no good at all. The primary area where the sport can help is in the design of powertrains. There is a clear trend in the car industry towards hybrid cars and it is right for the sport to embrace this trend. Formula 1 is looking at new engine rules for the longer term. These need to be different to the current regulations. In the interim F1 has kinetic energy recovery systems that are not being used. While everyone agrees that it is desirable for the sport to make more efforts to be environmentally-friendly, some of the smaller teams simply wanted to avoid the need for expensive systems that are not absolutely necessary.
      It is understandable that the small teams should feel this way and so in an effort to do the right thing and to keep the smaller teams happy the manufacturer teams have agreed that they will be happy to provide the smaller teams with KERS systems for the set price $1.4 million, on condition that none of these systems requires more than $7m in investment. Not all the manufacturers want to do this, but not embracing the systems may lead to their customers deciding to look to another engine supplier. The good news is that the idea of a standardized KERS system has been forgotten. That never really made much sense as it would have meant that there would have been no incentive to develop the system, and thus it would be nothing more than a cosmetic gesture by the sport. There is, of course, an argument that the batteries used in KERS systems are more damaging to the environment than the problems they are aiming to solve. This is possibly true, but it also means that it is more likely that manufacturers will look at alternatives and thus find new ways to achieve the same thing. The potential of KERS is, nonetheless, something that needs to be explored as the ability to use cars as a means of power-generation is something that could eventually be a huge advantage for the industry.

  33. Everyone loves to complain about this sport — and everyone wants “innovation” and high-tech, upper echelon racing…well…this is it. This is the evolution everyone, we’re in the middle of it…this sports evolution (evolution in general) doesn’t end…

  34. Everyone loves to complain about this sport — and everyone wants “innovation” and high-tech, upper echelon racing

    I don’t want a lot of thehigh technonsense that currently exists in F1. Most of it adds absolutely nothing to the sport and does nothing but make it more expensive.

    Do semi-auto gearboxes contribute anything to racing or would drivers having to change gears be a better test of their skill and potentially provide better enternatinment for fans?

    Does anyone gain anything from drivers being able to swap between multiple diff settings or engine maps so that their car is set up to perfection at each corner or would drivers having to deal with less than perfect cars be a better test of their skill and potentially provide better enterntainment for fans?

    You can look at a lot of the high teech aspects of the sport like this and in most cases we would be better off with the low tech option. This has the added advantage of being cheaper and using fewer resources they would be more environmentally friendly.

    Where is the sense in building high tech engines then limiting the revs and at the same time having electronic throttles and semi-auto gearboxes? If you mandate manual gearboxes you automatically limit the engine revs because there has to be a safety margin.

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