Formula 1 Insight

Pressing the Button on KERS

Qualifying in Sepang confirmed what we were beginning to suspect - the quickest cars are the Brawns, the Toyotas and the Red Bulls, probably in that order. The Ferraris threatened briefly in testing but then faded when it mattered, compounding their problems with a strategic error that left Massa behind in Q1. Rosberg's Williams looked quick and is well positioned for the race, BMW squeezed a little more performance from the car to give them respectability and Alonso managed a top ten time in spite of feeling pretty awful with an infected ear. The rest, including McLaren, trundled into their accustomed places for this season.

Jenson Button
Jenson Button at the office

The qualifying times can be found on the usual websites but try Ollie's BlogF1 - he lays everything out in prettier and clearer format than anyone else. Remember that Barrichello gets a 5-spot penalty for changing a gearbox and Vettel goes back ten places for shouldering the blame in Melbourne.

For this post, I want to step back from today's sessions and look at something that is beginning to puzzle me. Can anyone explain to me why all the teams with KERS are so enthusiastic about it and the ones without it cannot wait to have their own versions? I must be missing something because it looks to me as though KERS is proving a costly and unreliable mistake.

Today eight of the fastest ten cars had no KERS and the favored two were ninth and tenth in the order. In Australia the same was true, except that the KERS cars managed seventh and ninth spots. Even taking the double diffusers into account, this must surely mean something; Red Bull has neither fancy diffuser nor KERS yet seems to do just fine, thank you. It really does seem that KERS is the kiss of death for qualifying at least.

BMW confirms this with their policy of running one car with KERS, the other without. Twice now Kubica has made it into Q3 without KERS while Nick, saddled with the silly contraption, has gone no further than Q2. The team dithered over whether to run Heidfeld with KERS this time but opted for it in the end. That must indicate that they are beginning to understand its disadvantages in qualifying - this is likely to be its last chance and it has failed, yet again, to produce the goods.

I understand that the idea is that KERS is useful in the race. Many of the drivers have spoken about the ease of passing when using the "go faster" button and have complained about the impossibility of overtaking a KERS car when one has none. So it comes into its own when passing slower cars and when defending a position; but is this sufficient to compensate for a poor grid position?

The hope is that, in Sepang, the long run to the first corner will allow the KERS cars to gain places. That remains to be seen but also raises the possibility of more collisions as fast cars arrive amongst slower ones at the entrance to the corner. Even supposing that the theory works, the result will be several mobile chicanes circulating at the front of long lines of quicker cars; everything then depends upon pit stop strategy. Unless the KERS cars can keep their positions during the stops, they will fall down the order helplessly.

As Hamilton demonstrated in Melbourne, KERS is great if grid position does not reflect the true speed of the car. No doubt Massa will have a fine time in the early laps as he passes one slower car after another. Once he reaches the level of the Ferrari's capability, however, he will stick. If everyone survives, we can expect him to finish round about where Raikkonen now sits on the grid - just out of the points, therefore.

It seems madness to me. How long will it be before the teams realize that KERS just isn't worth it? BMW may well be in the process of learning the lesson and I suspect that Ross Brawn, having done the calculations and watched the others, has no intention of introducing KERS this year, in spite of his statements to the contrary. If your car is handling well and winning races without KERS, why handicap it, after all?

But I must be missing something, somewhere. When just about everyone is enthusing about KERS, my doubts must be the result of not understanding something that others can see. What do I know, after all?

I just wish someone would show me where I'm going wrong...



The qualifying times can be found on the usual websites but try Ollie's BlogF1 - he lays everything out in prettier and clearer format than anyone else.
Thank you for noticing and complimenting. I also recommend The Grid posts, which go up a 2-5 hours after the results posts and include any penalties given. I'll link to the Malaysian Grid from the results post just as soon as I've created it (the table that is, not the grid).

How long will it be before the teams realize that KERS just isn't worth it?

It comes back to the age-old saying: If it ain't broke, don't fix it. However, KERS-of-the-supposed-future is apparently going to be more of a boost in horsepower to the engines, so next year it may well be worth it. And if this is the case, the teams will want to try it out this year and get a solid system working, especially as testing is so limited. Although on the face of it, I am leaning towards agreeing with you. It isn't all that obvious when looking at the cars lap the circuit who has KERS, and who has not.
Date Added: 04/04/2009

I might have messed up the blockquotes in the previous comment. As a result, I'm putting the kettle on for more coffee. :)
Date Added: 04/04/2009

Ah yes, a Q missing from the /blockquote, Ollie. No problem, I'll get Mad to fix it.

I thought of the matter of preparing for next year but it is likely that Max will choose a standard KERS system by then (very likely Williams' since Max has realized that the electrical ones are dangerous). So using the races as test beds seems a bit wasteful.

Watch the Brawny man - I bet he's not going to introduce KERS this year and then will just bolt on the standard issue for next season. In the meantime he will let the press hear him muttering about having his own system soon, just to keep the other teams plugging away at something that actually makes them slower. ;)
Date Added: 04/04/2009

KERS is fantastic! Here you have a technology there can give an advantage, but only to the absolute best engineers and only sometimes. The timing might be a bit wrong because of the cost, but I like it.
Its a extra strategy to think about, because its clear that some tracks are better for KERS than others. I like it even more because there is a mix of KERS and non KERS cars.
BMW and Heidfeld tested with and without KERS and chose KERS for the race tomorrow.
About Heidfelds qualifying I am not sure that is related to KERS, it could just be a repeat of the same qualifying problems for Heidfeld as last year.
There is one thing I don't like about it and that is the disadvantage for heavier drivers.
I would suggest they should adjust the min. weight of the cars and perhaps at the same time forbid some of exotic materials and make the adjustment of the weight with that in mind.
Does Kimi have KERS installed?
In qualifying when we saw the graphical display from Kimi then the KERS bar was displayed like the car had no KERS.
Date Added: 04/04/2009

Hezla: KERS may be fantastic for road cars, Hezla, but my point is that it doesn't seem so in F1. How else does one explain the fact that the quickest cars this year do not have KERS? It might be the coincidence of the poorest chassis designs also being the ones with KERS but it might just as easily be that KERS upsets the handling capabilities to such an extent that they're slow.

BMW is the only one to be running one car with and one without KERS, so they're useful as a sort of measure. And so far the KERS car has been slower. That might be accounted for by the difference between the two drivers but, apart from the early part of last year when Nick had problems with getting the tyres up to temperature, they have been pretty even in qualifying in the past.

Nick has been even happier than Robert with this year's car so I doubt that is causing the difference between his car and Kubica's. BMW were very undecided until the last moment whether to run Nick with or without KERS in this race. That tells me that they know there's very little difference between the two yet Sepang is supposed to be a good circuit for KERS.

If KERS proves to make no difference in this race, you can bet BMW will drop it, at least for a while. Then we might see Nick qualifying ahead of Robert again.

I think Kimi switched his KERS off for qualifying, which gives him the worst of both worlds - the extra weight and no boost down the straights. Perhaps he was wary of the thing catching fire again. ;)
Date Added: 04/04/2009

Dave Spurr
I'm trying to make sense of it myself, so far it does seem to be more beneficial in racing conditions and absolutely pointless in qualifying (according to the BBC commentary Raikonnen even had his turned off for quali after his practice battery-melting fume-breathing experience).

In part of trying to make sense of it I'm keeping track of who's running KERS and what their starting (not qualifying) positions are and then their finishing positions on my site:

Hopefully when we get some more data the picture might become a little clearer. But as the KERS storage/usage is limited I can only predict that once all the teams have it then it will only be down to tactics. At that point lets hope that FOM have improved the presentation of when KERS is being used so that we can follow those tactics -- I personally loved Ian Phillips (from Force India) recent comments (don't remember if they were on Five Live or a podcast) that the cars should have a visible external light to show the status of KERS (that'd help everyone, but may ruining the tactical advantages of it).
Date Added: 04/04/2009

The problem with using BMW as a measure is that Kubica had a habit of beating Heidfeld in quali last season too.

I think KERS showed enough potential in Australia to show it's the way to go. It might be a slight disadvantage in qualifying right now, but the teams will likely improve it. And if Ferrari et al get them fancy diffusers going as well, then...
Date Added: 04/04/2009

Alianora La Canta
Clive, I see what you mean by KERS being somewhat helpful in races, but even there it's somewhat limited in utility - I saw a KERS-equipped, single-diffusered Renault unable to pass a non-KERS-equipped, double-diffusered Toyota in Australia despite the Toyota being slowed by a KERS-equipped, single-diffusered Force India. Which simply advances your argument that KERS is an unnecessary expense.

Dave Spurr, there is a light on the cars (as well as one on the steering wheel) to indicate when KERS is active - it's mandated by the regulations, largely to tell the world when it's active. The trouble is that it's so small we can't see it from either the on-board or external cameras. Enlarging the light and consistently placing it next door to the KERS deactivation switch (and high voltage sign where relevant) would solve the problem.
Date Added: 04/04/2009

Dave: Good idea to build a table showing who is using KERS at which races. We're bound to forget later on!

But wouldn't a light on the cars to show KERS use destroy some of that "ooh, ahh, what a brilliant pass" factor? ;)
Date Added: 04/04/2009

Magnus: Kubica only qualified better than Heidfeld last year while Nick was having a problem with getting temperature into the tyres. Later in the year, when the problem had been overcome, Nick was usually quicker in qualifying and race trim. It was round about then that Robert began whining about BMW not helping him enough... ;)
Date Added: 04/04/2009

Alianora: As you say, that only makes the argument against KERS even stronger. What on earth does anyone see in it?
Date Added: 04/04/2009

Broer Sammy
Clive, I eager to know how the adjustable front wings works so far.
Date Added: 04/04/2009

Sammy: I would like to know that too - there has been very little said about the movable wings. Alonso maintained that he didn't touch them at all because they made too little difference to be worth all the extra fiddling about with controls that would be required. I strongly suspect that is why no one else has mentioned them - they just don't use them.
Date Added: 04/04/2009

Mr Soap
Judging by the radio during the race, I think Barrichello used his adjustable wing after his wing was damaged, to make up for the lost downforce, that's the only mention of it so far.

I also remember being told that the Red Bull cars hadn't even got adjustable wings, but I'm not sure I'd place too much by that, particulary considering I can't remember the source.
Date Added: 04/04/2009

You are far from alone in ever believing KERS belonged in an F1 car.

Regardless whether the system produces 80 hp for 6.6 seconds, or say 120 hp for 10 seconds, its effectiveness remains the same once all teams are equipped with this abomination - and after the drivers learn to counter an aspiring overtaker by applying their similar ‘advantage’ what will this advantage really be?

Since the system favors lighter drivers, there is a tendency to even the playing field by increasing the cars’ minimum weight specification. Increase the weight, and so goes the fuel needed to push it around the track, thus putting a further dent in the purported ‘green’ advantage. Add the carbon produced by the batteries initial manufacture - to that produced by air-freighting them world-wide to each race - to that produced by recycling them after each race too - and once again, there really isn’t much advantage left.

Yes, I too believe Brawn is sitting on the KERS fence, and rightly so, for if he ever does need a system he’ll be well positioned to just buy the best - which may yet come from Williams. While I feel for the teams who’ve invested heavily, I have no sympathy at all for those who introduced this technology to F1. The myth regarding its inherent safety has already been destroyed by the toxic fumes pouring from Kimi’s car in practice, since it’s difficult to translate that event alone to safety on a race track - never mind the potential danger from other aspects.

The solution is to let KERS go before it does any real damage.

PS Overtaker? Well - it works better than KERS
Date Added: 04/04/2009

The moveable wings seem to make a difference for Massa. In the first practice session the team for got to tell him to "drop" the front wing and he could barely keep the car on the track. Then the team got on the radio and corrected their error and Massa went to P1 or P2 (I think) the very next lap.

Now, I'm not claiming that drivers make much use of adjustability each lap, but this alone demonstrates a level of flexibility that was definitely not available before.
Date Added: 04/04/2009

Mr Soap: Yes, I remember them saying Barrichello had compensated for the damaged front wing by putting the flaps to maximum setting. Interesting about Red Bull too - I've not heard that before.
Date Added: 04/04/2009

David: The fact that some cars have KERS and some don't in this early part of the season allows us to get some idea of how effective it is. And it looks as though its main effect is to spoil the handling of the cars. I know the drivers love the surge of power they get from it (and I know how they feel about that) but it's a bit like hanging the tail out through the corners - fun, but it doesn't help your lap time.

As you say, it has become obvious that any green benefit to KERS was grossly exaggerated - everyone has conveniently forgotten that aspect and has moved on to claiming it is an advantage in the races. Yet the evidence seems to give the lie to that too.

I guess it's just one more bad idea of Max's that the sport will be saddled with until it can be dumped after a suitable number of years.
Date Added: 04/04/2009

JD: Interesting, I'd not heard about that happening to Massa. Taking all this into account, however, it seems the main use of the movable flaps is that the driver can adjust them without visiting the pits. Once he has them at the correct setting, he leaves them alone for the rest of the race.

Not quite what they were designed for. If they really want the things to be used as intended, they need to be like the first wings in F1 - directly linked to the brakes so that they flipped up to maximum downforce when the driver jammed on anchors and then flipping back when he switched to acceleration.
Date Added: 04/04/2009

Green Flag
Like any new technology, KERS will be developed and improved, and in F1 this will happen quickly. KERS offers huge advantages in an F1 car that will be realized once the system weight is reduced with lighter motor/generators and lighter, more energy-dense electric storage devices such as batteries and/or supercapacitors. The flywheel-type KERS will disappear quickly as their opportunities to reduce weight are limited and they have little future potential in road cars. Also, the FIA will permit more than the 60 kW power output and 400kJ per lap restriction in future years allowing KERS to become a major F1 propulsion system. Within the next 5 – 8 years I foresee the F1 internal combustion engine being reduced in size to produce around 500 hp and the KERS producing 300 - 400 hp, totaling 800 – 900 hp, while the cars will require far lighter fuel loads. Progress indeed, which will quickly trickle down to commercial and passenger vehicles.
Date Added: 04/04/2009

Green Flag: Ah, my good friend, you fill my head with visions of the future! It is one that I too have dreamed of, although my dream was more in connection with electric motors. I can only hope that I live long enough to see the day.
Date Added: 04/04/2009

Peter Boyle

oh well...

replace "true pace" with "race pace" and I believe you.
Hamilton's quali pace differs less from race than others.

God... Mclaren. Idiots. Whitmarsh was in on it IMHO - look at his TV interview prior to the hearing. Why didn't he say we let them past. It was spin. Ron, come back.

Hamilton - he'll go to Ferrari if they will have him.
Alonso/Hamilton for team mates again? ;)

Hamilton.. what a twit. All it took was to say, no I spoke to the media already and you know what was on radio.

Anyway, overall I'm glad. I was quite honestly going to refuse
to watch this season. Now, whatever happens to Mclaren
I can understand, even if not agree. Mosely must smell revenge against what his paranoid delusions suppose are originators of his spanky troubles.

My bet is big fine and excusion from constructors again,
but Hamilton in for pure Bernie type reasons with Ham's
apology & naivety plea used as the excuse (and his alleged
ire & unhappiness with Mclaren helping & initial honesty
with the media pre-hearing helping too).

Amusing that his first instinct was to not let him past,
overruled. First instinct was to tell the media what happened,
likely knowing it was on radio. Come the hearing he was allegedly overruled (no evidence as yet). I heard enough
spin from him in the first year with alonso head games to
believe him capable of saying anything in the media whether
or not true if he thought it gained advantage.

I do think his first guess ("you heard the radio right?" on BBC)
was that everyone must know, what's the point. Thus,
I believe the Ryan overrule line. But this is the only reason,
and I think the character flaw I allude to above is contributory.
How easy would it have been to say "Dave, I blabbed to the media and it is on radio - we can't get away with this.".

Date Added: 04/04/2009

You still seething about that, Peter? Heck, I decided to forget it and just try to enjoy the race. ;)

What happens, happens. I don't think Hamilton is a bad guy and nor is McLaren. They reacted in the most stupid way possible and that seems to be their speciality. Now the FIA will resort to its own speciality - being the bad guy.
Date Added: 05/04/2009

Ah... clive -

the luxury of being a BMW supporter... I envy you!

I switched to being a Mclaren supporter because
of my perception of them as victims taking on the FIA
& Ferrari. (ok, and a feeling of their Senna v. Prost hire the best drivers and let 'em compete that was not wiped out by Coulthard v. Hakkinen).

Probably still true - they acted like they were paranoid,
as a result of their treatment. But .. the doubts
are now there... As you said, Coughlan was one bad egg...
Now another? How many?

I really don't know how to interpret this. They were fundamentally in the right, but had lost faith in the system
to the extent that they felt they still had to lie.

Understandable, but why did they think they could get away with it! At the point they decided to let Trulli throught they made the decision to bank their 4th and gamble the 3rd. Why switch. It is not even self consistent! Really disappointed.

Stupid beyond belief.
And yet - I still want them to be fined, overcome this,
and stick it to mosely and the eccle-gimp.

P.S. Hamilton should have said:

"I feel liberated and want to publically apologise to Jarno.
I expected him to be demoted to 4th and me to 3rd which
would have been fair. The ever growing lie constrained me, but
the severe penalty was the last thing I wanted".

But,... he doesn't give a shit huh.

Alonso's comments (beyond getting the boot in) seem to
me to imply he was TOLD to delay hamilton at hungary.
As we all suspected and as punishment for ham disobeying
team orders.

Only a complicit team could have timed it to such precision (which I felt at the time).

Date Added: 05/04/2009

Talking of the Hamilton/Alonso business in Hungary, it was so typically McLaren. The team realises Lewis isn't going to let Nando by - hasty conference - "I know, let's hold Fernando in the pit stop just long enough to ensure Lew doesn't get an extra lap" - frantic tapping at calculators - agreement in the end that they must hold him until there are exactly 2.314 minutes left - Nando comes in - a guy counts down the time - mechanics finish - guy carries on counting, then whips the lollipop away - Nando stays put, still breathing Latin fire - general consternation all round - "Ron, Ron, he won't go!" Hilarious when you think about it - precise efficiency creating monumental fiasco. ;)
Date Added: 05/04/2009

Hi Clive,

my god.. wonderfully put. I sigh deeply when my clipped and curt English (I'm a physicist, surprise surprise) is so clearly compared to a skillful description of the same event! Especially when I meant pretty much the same!

Your writing talent and intelligent analysis get my vote as my favourite place to read about F1!


Date Added: 05/04/2009

Thank you, Peter. I do my best. ;)
Date Added: 05/04/2009

Kers seems to be a complication too far. It seems to have advantages but over all it appears that these advantages are cancelled out by the disadvantages. Ferrari claim that it gives them an advantage of 2 tenths per lap which seems quite a lot. However this either means that they have one truly bad car or this advantage is only in a best case scenario.

One thing is clear and that is for all Mclarens problems the one thing they seem to have got right is their kers system. It really does catapult their car when it is on and it seem reliable so far.

On the Mclaren issue above, I hope for the sake of f1 the FIA draw a line under the issue now and do not take it further. They have been punished not only in the deduction of points but also reputation and the loss of a key member of the team.

I do however think they will search any possible way to ban Mclaren from F1 this season such is the equal stupidity of the FIA.
Date Added: 05/04/2009

when you're right, you're right. i never did see the attraction to kers from the start. i mean, i love the idea of it as far as it giving the engineers something new and interesting to work and i can see why a little extra power at a critical moment would appeal but really, i just don't see the ethical difference between this and other driver aids that have been banned.

and i'm very curious to see how you get away with not saying " told you so" today. FIAsco is the correct description if ever there was one.
Date Added: 05/04/2009

Lee: Two seconds a lap? Sounds to me like Ferrari are trying to compete with McLaren in the lying stakes now. Kimi qualified reasonably well in Malaysia with his KERS switched firmly off - maybe the "two seconds" quote is so that they can claim he would have been on pole if he had used KERS. ;)

Judging by the latest from Mosley, it looks as if he's gearing up for another show trial. Sometimes I wonder what awful thing McLaren did to him in the dim and distant past...
Date Added: 05/04/2009

Vera: Sometimes even I get it right. :D

But you've given me an idea for a post - I dare say no more or I might write it all here. Excuse me while I get down to work!
Date Added: 05/04/2009


Sorry, you seem to have misread my post. It is 2 Tenths of a seconf that they are claiming is the advantage.
Date Added: 06/04/2009

Good points Clive. When you read about KERS giving the cars 3-4 tenths per lap improvement and you compared that with the figure of losing 3-3.5 tenth per lap for each 10 kg of extra weight something is not right. Assuming a 50 kg KERS system, it means that you're losing about 1.3 sec per lap just because the extra weight -at this point I would like to know if the numbers here are wrong-. Clearly KERS kills you during quali. It may work to defend positions but overall it is not worth for the moment because it provides a tiny fraction of the energy the car needs to complete a lap and the multiple re-conversion of energy of most units requires heavy gears, motor, batteries that takes a lot of critical space and weight, needed for setup.

A few days ago I suggested in formula1blog that a team like Renault should try to race Sepang or China without KERS; Alonso made it clear there's no much of an advantage and certainly 1 sec faster would put the Renault fighting for podiums.

I agree the KERS is a nice concept and the pain and troubles of this season can payback in 2-3 years but right now, it almost clear that a light car can race quali and race better than a KERS car and ther's no extra liability for potential problems. If the FIA opens the door for more than one technology for energy storage or re-utilization -KERS, turbos, etc- and increase the amount of energy/time of application, it would be intresting for the sport.

When it is not clear that KERS gives you ans advantage, it means there's no much of an advantage to enjoy from...
Date Added: 10/04/2009

Benalf: Agreed. There are better ways to reclaim energy and the existing KERS systems have proved themselves unable to bring enough return to compensate for their disadvantages. People tell me that development over the next few years will give KERS huge advantages but, in the meantime, those teams working hard on improving it suffer in the races. Is it really worth giving up your chances this season for the sake of a benefit that everyone will have when Max standardizes one of the systems?
Date Added: 11/04/2009

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