Formula 1 Insight

The Curse of KERS

Today, F1 Fanatic has an article on the matter of KERS protection for marshals, thereby reminding us of the potential hazards inherent in strapping such systems on to F1 cars. Team managers have assured us that they will only use KERS once it has been made safe and the majority of work over the winter has been directed towards this goal - without too much success it would seem, judging from the fact that only BMW want to go ahead with the introduction of KERS for the 2009 season.

BMW F1.09
Robert Kubica in the BMW F1.09

So we head into the new season in a very confused state, uncertain whether any of the teams will use KERS from the beginning, still wondering just how much advantage (if any) it will be to have a working system and aware that there must be some safety concerns if the FIA deems it necessary to introduce protective clothing for marshals. From being a sop to the environmentalists, KERS has expanded to become one of the biggest headaches in F1, its development costs making a mockery of moves to cut costs and an unwanted addition to the hazards of the sport.

Even the guy who insisted on the introduction of KERS, Max Mosley, is now mumbling about outlawing the electrical systems, surely an admission that the cost of making them safe far outweighs any benefit they might be to motor racing. And the whole idea of the new technology being relevant to road cars is made nonsensical by Toyota's assertion that their existing systems, already in use on production cars, are not transferable to F1; they have had to start from scratch in their KERS design for the sport.

With Mosley indicating that F1 will have a standard KERS system in 2010, one wonders why any of the teams is continuing to work on a system for this year - it makes no sense at all that so much money should be spent on something that will have to be thrown away at the end of the year. Since all of the teams are doubtful that their cars will have KERS installed for the opening GP, they are not expecting that their system will be used even for as long as a season. Is it not insane to be putting so much into such doomed technology?

The problem is, of course, that every team is terrified of the possibility that KERS might prove to be an advantage in the races; they have to be in a position to answer any competitor's attempt to get ahead by the use of a working system. And so we enter the ridiculous scenario as it is at present - money being thrown at so dubious an addition to the sport while costs are hacked back in other areas.

It is ironic that it is the last independent team in F1 that holds the ace in this particular game of chance. Unlike all the rest, Williams opted for a flywheel-based system rather than the electrical solution preferred by the rest. And, if Mosley follows through with his intention to ban electrical systems, Sir Frank will have the only working alternative. He has already bought the company that designed and makes the system and so will be in very strong position when Max comes looking for a standard system in 2010.

The fly in that particular ointment is that Williams' survival through 2009 is not guaranteed. With their main sponsor, Royal Bank of Scotland, in desperate trouble and almost certain to cut payments to the team as a result, Williams remains in serious financial difficulties. It could well end up as a life-or-death struggle to get through to the potential lifeline offered by their flywheel KERS.

It is too late now to abort the silly idea of KERS in F1; BMW are quite right to expect that they reap the benefit of any advantage going as recompense for their greater expenditure of time, energy and money and their resultant lead in the application of KERS. But the whole sorry tale does illustrate once again the muddled and incompetent leadership of the FIA and its President in particular. They foresaw none of the problems that have become apparent, presenting it to F1 as the magic technology that would save the sport from the evil intent of the environmentalists. As I have pointed out in previous posts (listed below), it has been nothing of the sort, proving ineffectual in deflecting criticism from the greenies and hobbling the sport's drive to cut costs.

Mosley and KERS
KERS Bites Back
A Brief Ponder on KERS


If nobody can come with a better idea for a technology the engineers can compete with, then I think KERS is not silly.

What is silly, is the talk of a standard KERS unit next year because then it will be a total waste of money.

F1 should always be a place for new technology and engineering and when more and more are standard then it is good, there is a least one thing where there is room for new ideas and engineering.
Date Added: 28/01/2009

Björn Svensson
Well, even if the KERS will not become the CURSE of F1, what about the drivers?

If the marshalls are about to get special suites and equipment just to be able to handle the cars, what are the drivers supposed to wear?

Are we going to have a season where we se drivers suddenly falling over or collapsing when they try to enter or exit the vehicle?

KERS should never even have bee thought about from the beginning. Or at least it should have been thurougly thought about and tested on a standard testrigg before it got introduced into the sport.
Date Added: 28/01/2009

Hezla: There are much better ways of conserving energy than KERS, which can only ever be a temporary measure to extend the life of the gasoline engine. If F1 were serious about green matters, it would be introducing new fuels that do not use up fossil fuels and pollute the atmosphere. Hydrogen is an example, a fuel that has been successfully used in internal combustion engines for decades and that requires very little adjustment to existing engines. Give F1 engineers the opportunity to design hydrogen engines and we would see enormous progress made in that area.
Date Added: 28/01/2009

Björn: Since when did Max Mosley think carefully before introducing new regulations into F1? He tends to react from pique or as a demonstration of power and it is no coincidence that so many recently introduced regulations have required innumerable adjustments and amendments to be workable.
Date Added: 28/01/2009

Steven Roy
By sheer co-incidence I have been discussing KERS on a couple of sites in the past few minutes. There are a couple of news stories on the subject today which highlight the folly of KERS.

Pascal Vasselon of Toyota said that they have analysed the benefit of KERS on each circuit on the calendar and for the vast majority KERS will be a hindrance rather than a help.

More imortantly the dreaded Charlie Whiting has pronounced KERS safe which is good except he kept talking and said

"Also, the systems themselves should be safe. If there's a risk, it should be clear to a marshal who walks up to the car. He should approach the vehicle, look at the KERS status light and, if it is in the wrong state, he shouldn't touch the car."

So the marshal will be safe if he doesn't touch the car. He can just stand there and watch the driver die. My mind went back to a discussion on sidepodcast on Sunday night when we were talking about Elio de Angelis's fatal accident. The car a Brabham BT55 ended upside down in a spectator area at Paul Ricard during a test. The driver was completely uninjured. The car burst into flames and marshals wearing shorts and T shirts with utterly inadequate fire extinguishers stood and watched him die unable to do anything. It seems strange that Max the great self announced safety guru should want to take us back to those times.

KERS is not a sensible addition to any road car with an internal combusion engine. If you don't believe me take your car for a drive and when you park it put your hand on a brake disc. You will find that it is cold unless you drive five miles with your handbrake on. Now place your hand on the exhaust manifold or engine block. You will find that these are warm. This should not come a a surprise because your car has a device to vent the excess engine heat to atmosphere.

Here is the good bit about collecting engine rather than brake heat. You get heat from the brakes for a few seconds every now and then when you brake. You get heat from your engine from the second it reaches its working temperature whether you are accelerating braking or if you parked the car 5 minutes ago. Im agine a two hour motorway journey. Does it make more sense to lug a KERS device that is nothing but excess wait or an engine enery recovery device that is giving a constant energy recovery?

KERS is road relevant. Don't make me laugh.
Date Added: 28/01/2009

I agree totally of course, Steven. F1 is saddled with KERS for this year at least - hopefully it will be gone in 2010, if we can just get a new FIA President...
Date Added: 28/01/2009

Nick Goodspeed
How far should one stay away from an F1 car in that has crashed during a downpour?
How good an idea is it to refuel a car with an overloaded, high voltage condenser or other fragile storing medium?
If they want to look sound ecologically, why not run an electric safety vehicle?
I liked the nitrous oxide idea. I think it should be adapted to facemasks fork Mosley and Ficklestone.

Date Added: 28/01/2009

The incessantly bandied KERS issue is making me nuts.

These are the things that I view as true:

• The KERS rule has been on the books for some time.
• There are safety issues that have yet to be revealed.
• The FIA is remiss in not identifying the safety issues before KERS introduction.
• Changing the rules again will not save money.

My opinion as an F1 fan is:

Until now the FIA has risked little more than the teams' money to influence the direction of development, but the introduction of KERS, as it stands, will risk life and limb as well. This indicates the complete and all encompassing failure of FIA management.

It is my opinion that the FIA, as motor sport's governing body, should be limited to issues concerning safety. At the very least, I view safety as their baseline duty. If they cannot adequately perform that task then they have stepped too far outside their purview.

History has shown that racing teams will push the envelope of safety to gain a competitive advantage. It seems obvious that governing bodies like the FIA were formed to give teams a means to establish and ensure some element of safety or at least establish a limit to the amount of risk associated with the well being of fans and drivers. Sadly, we are seeing the FIA fail at that original purpose and push the envelope of safety to promote their agenda; it is gross incompetence.

I am excited for the introduction of KERS. I am excited to see what the engineers come up with. I like the fact that there are two viable KERS avenues with different benefits and limitations. But I don't want to see anybody hurt to satisfy my enthusiasm for engineering development.

KERS is not the problem. The FIA is the problem.

If the FIA enacts any rule at the expense of safety, they have failed at their basic duty, and FOTA, the fans, and all the motoring organizations that make up the FIA constituency should demand the removal of FIA management.

Date Added: 29/01/2009

Nick: Interesting proposal for headgear for Max and Bernie - definitely needs looking into...
Date Added: 29/01/2009

Marc: I agree that KERS is an interesting idea and deserves development - but I also feel that F1 is not the place to do it. Already we have seen how many problems it is causing as the teams try to implement it and promises to add nothing to the racing except a push-to-pass button (which must be anathema to any racing fan). The manufacturers have been looking at KERS for road cars for some time and there are systems in production already - which surely indicates the best place for such technology. F1 needs to look to the future, yes, but should be investigating other fuel-conserving technology with more relevance to motor sport.

Freedom for the engineers to develop the best answers is necessary and so I would favor a formula that allows alternative fuels without specifying any in particular. we would soon find out which is the most efficient!

As regards the FIA, they also have a duty to set the basic limitations of motor sport in the interests of fairness between competitors - such things as engine size, limits to external dimensions and aerodynamic aids, and so on. But within those parameters the engineers should be allowed the freedom to develop whatever solutions they can.

KERS in F1 is on the way to becoming a complete disaster, which is not surprising, given its hasty introduction for all the wrong reasons. I agree that the FIA has demonstrated its incompetence once again but how to change the organization is the big question of the moment. Max has it pretty well sewn up at the moment.
Date Added: 29/01/2009


I agree with you on most points:

• As KERS stands it is little more than push to pass, therefore useless.
• Other advanced technology may be more relevant.
• An FIA limited to safety and fairness would be great.

But I must disagree that F1 is the wrong place for KERS. It may not be useful to the outside world as Max would have it, but it is a part of the current system. It is irrelevant that some teams won't start the season with the system. It is unreasonable to pull it because some teams couldn't work it out soon enough; it should continue. The time for teams to cry 'foul' was at the announcement of the rule. Caveat emptor: Safety should trump all else.

McLaren and Williams introduced KERS devices in the late 90's, not Max or the FIA. However, the insistence of the FIA to limit/control new technology has muddled it up. I want all new technology: fuels, KERS, nitrogen filled tires... but KERS is what we have.

I say again, KERS is not bad in itself. The FIA's limitation on the technology and it's hurried and contrived reintroduction of an otherwise innovative and useful system has mauled its natural development.

Delay KERS for safety reasons, but leave the rules alone. Let's not standardize it or eliminate it. Let's use it, remove the imposed limitations, and allow it to develop naturally, as it would have if it had been allowed to continue from the late 90's.

You are right; if Max continues with his agenda for KERS, it is headed for disaster. You are also right that changing the FIA is key, and that Max has it sewn up, but let's not 'throw out the baby with the bath water.'

Date Added: 29/01/2009

I agree that, now that KERS is in the rulebook, it should remain so. Those teams that have spent more money and time on it should be allowed to reap the rewards of their investment, after all.

I am as interested as anyone else to see whether it makes any difference to the racing but fear that it will prove to have been a costly mistake, introduced for the wrong reasons as it is. Once again we see that it is better to let F1 develop naturally than to tie it to one man's feverish imagination and ambitions.
Date Added: 30/01/2009

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