Problems with KERS and its impact on F1

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Max Mosley has tried to shrug off growing demands for him to quit in the face of lurid revelations about his personal life and pushed ahead with his plans to introduce environmentally-friendly kinetic energy recovery systems (KERS) in F1 from 2009.

He has written to teams outlining a vision of how a more powerful KERS could be allowed from 2011, and operate on all four wheels from 2013.

But there are problems with the plans as they stand already.

Mechanical or electrical?

Essentially KERS allows team to take energy generated under braking, store it, and use it again for a concentrated burst of no more than 60kW of energy (80.5bhp) for a total of 400kJ per lap (i.e. six and two-thirds of a second of 80.5bhp per lap).

There are two technical solutions to this – mechanical and electrical. A mechanical KERS uses a flywheel to retain power under braking; an electrical system, as the name suggests, uses an electric motor twinned with either a battery, capacitor or flywheel.

Although an electrical system may be less efficient, as the energy has to be transferred into electric and then kinetic energy, the lack of any gearing gives it an efficiency saving over a mechanical system. Plus, unlike a mechanical system, the flywheel need not be installed next to the transmission, which could be very useful in a tightly-packaged F1 car.

Revolutionary or primitive?

Formula 1 could have had KERS a decade earlier as Mario Illien created a system for Mercedes in 1999 that used hydraulic fluid pressure to recover energy lost in braking. It would have provided a 45bhp power boost for four seconds but could have been used many times per lap. But the FIA outlawed the system before it could be raced, not wanting to allow cars to get any faster.

Illien’s system nine years ago, then, was not too far off what FIA have now declared legal for 2009. Unsurprisingly some of the manufacturer teams have expressed dissatisfaction with how basic the 2009 system is. Even Toyota, who seldom offer criticism of the FIA, claimed KERS was ‘primitive’, engine boss Luca Marmorini saying in Febraury:

The adoption of energy recovery leaves me rather perplexed because the system chosen by the FIA is really primitive.

The potential of hybrid engines is immense, but the solution chosen by the FIA restricts itself to recover energy from the rear wheels. The parameters involved should be more.

Toyota, of course, markets the Prius hybrid car (which it says has a more advanced KERS system than F1 will have next year) and won a 24-hour race in Japan last year with a Toyota Supra hybrid (pictured).

Max Mosley hit back saying:

[KERS] is set to revolutionise F1. It will make the sport at once more environmentally friendly, road relevant, and at the cutting edge of future automotive technology.

Cutting edge? Perhaps in 1999, when Illien designed it. How advanced might KERS technology been now if the FIA hadn’t banned it nine years ago?

Impact on races

How will drivers use KERS in the races?

Perhaps not just as a simple ‘push-to-pass’ system as I first thought. In other categories that have ‘push-to-pass’ systems such as A1 Grand Prix they only have a limited number of times they can use them. When I did a poll on this two months ago only about a third of people thought this was something F1 should have.

As F1 drivers can expect to be able to use it once per lap they may well incorporate it into their setups and, for example, always use it on the start of the longest straight.

It may not have much effect on overtaking then, although drivers will always be able to deploy it at will, say, to capitalise on a mistake by a rival.

Beyond 2009

The FIA plans to double the power limit to 800kJ in 2011, and double it again to 1,600kJ (1.6mJ) from 2013 while also allowing it to work on both front and rear axles.

Perhaps acknowledging the criticism of how restrictive and comparatively basic the initial system is, Mosley has also suggested opening up the technology to thermal energy recovery. He has proposed allowing energy recovered from this process to be used continuously, rather than at the push of a button.

This proposal could be the ‘revolutionary’ angle he is looking for, as teams would be developing the new technology and reaping the reward for it on the race track, something that Mosley has cut back on with ever more stringent restrictions on the development of engines.

Of course in doing that he runs the risk of allowing costs to escalate. But it’s not easy to fix one problem in F1 without aggravating another.

More on KERS

Author information

Keith Collantine
Lifelong motor sport fan Keith set up RaceFans in 2005 - when it was originally called F1 Fanatic. Having previously worked as a motoring...

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16 comments on “Problems with KERS and its impact on F1”

  1. This may be a stupid point, but KERS does not seem like it will help F1 "go green" at all.  Energy is recovered to be used for some boost at another point, in order to make racing unequal at random times in the race. I had initially thought it would be used like the Toyota Prius to actually reduce fuel consumption and hence CO2 emission. Now that may have been a PR coup…

  2. on all 4 wheels?
    practically negating the slides we are now seeing as tc has finally been removed!

  3. I Remember an Adrian Newey  interview about a recovery system some years ago. Mosley outlawed it.

  4. Ok, call me a caveman. However, i think we should not really mess up with what has been an entertaining affair over the years for us. What with KERS, as Keith suggests, FIA will be increasing costs. Stupid rule changes like removal of tyre warmers and KERS etc., are only going to make the people involved both directly and otherwise, to tear their hair apart with many reasons to boot.

    Ok, now lobbyists for the green, may be we should try and go to an alternate fuel. So may be we could keep the same formula without messing with it too much. Maybe plant more trees, well it is old fashioned but it works i guess. I think it is about time that Max got his head out of you all know where.

    Ok people, my logic for removal of KERS is, there’s no incremental value that it brings to F1, or motor racing in general. Apart from the fact that F1 could claim to be fashionably green, it has no value in motorsports.

  5. "Essentially KERS allows team to take energy generated under braking, store it, and use it again for a concentrated burst of no more than 60kW of energy (80.5bhp) for a total of 400kJ per lap (i.e. six and two-thirds of a second of 80.5bhp per lap)".

    I understand that the 60kW of power is the maximum you can draw from the axle, not the power you can burst with the "push-to-pass" button. Am I right?

    1. My question is silly…..probably
      What advantage do the teams using KERS have (is it only a burst of energy?), and what disadvantage do the teams not using KERS face….for example…
      If a team not using KERS proves faster than one with KERS…what deterent is there for teams to simply get rid of it….or is it not that simple….

  6. Yes I believe that’s right.

  7. So, if I’m right, my numbers are this way: you can take 60kW from the axle with the KERS. With this power, you can store 400 kJ per lap (this number is the result of supposing 6.6 seconds of braking in one standard lap). So, I understand that the way you use those 400 kJ is not restricted. So, you can have extra 55hp during 10 seconds, or maybe you prefer to have 110hp in 5 seconds. It’s up to you. But this is different from storing 400 kJ per lap and using them with a maximum power flow of 80hp. Do we know the exact text of the FIA document?

  8. I think is primitive and another green-washing campaign (now in F1). The polution concerning to the cars or to the races are ridiculous if you think the quantity of resources used in logistic by any team each GP.

    But engines are frozen, electronics are not longer allowed, fuel development banned, aeros reduced from next season, only one tyre provider (= tyres development frozen)… It seems like if F1 is not longer the top of the motorsport. The FIA solution is sold to us an old system, which they name future.

    Lately F1 only develops existing systems, and it seems they have lose a lot of their 80’s creativity

  9. Mosley is an idiot only interested in himself. The KERS letter, just at the time he is lobbying FIA members to keep him in post. Read the report as to what he wrote and one may detect a far more conciliatory tone than he is more accustomed to using.
    Let’s not forget (for a second) that is is and was Mosley (before his perversions were known to us all) who has so tightened the rules that F1 is where it is now, where overtaking is all but impossible on most tracks.
    Had Mosley allowed innovation then Mclaren (who have been hit the most) and others would now be showing some truly stunning breakthroughs.

    Make no mistake this is just dirty politics by Mosley the perve – the sooner he’s out the better.

  10. You can use 400 kJ per lap, but store a maximum of 300 kJ, which implies that the driver will use as least two bursts during a lap.

  11. Just a thought….

    Is it really that sensible to stick a huge, high energy gyroscope
    in a car designed to turn quickly?

    Guess it depends on the plane of the gyroscope, but even
    if vertical it could yield some interesting effects over bumps…

    I’ve simply got no hard idea how much angular momentum it would have, the figures of around 60krpm, in something designed to have a high moment of inertia make me wonder
    how much torque it would exert…

  12. Now that I can’t answer, Peter! Anyone?

  13. When you have time spare, have a read of this –
    On a first read I saw no mention of gyro effect.

  14. If Mosley was really thinking this out, the biggest producer of CO2 gas are: 1) the Transport that each team us. 2) The air transport of the team around the world. My God this is F1 not NASCAR!

  15. Can I take the discussion a slightly different way. I understand that F1 wants to make itself look “greener” by providing an environment for green R&D but I think it has made a bad choice adopting KERS. I have serious doubts about the safety of adopting this technology in road use cars anyway. With cars as they are now I do not drive “on the brakes”, instead I judge approaches to corners and stops to conserve fuel. If I had a system that recovered all my kinetic energy when braking then I would always brake at the last possible moment to get ahead of the pack etc. and become a horrible driver. Give KERS to most people and they will be doing this last minute heavy braking all the time and there will me a massive increase in rear end accidents and sliding accidents in poor conditions.

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