Kinetic Energy Recovery Systems were introduced this year as a way of making the sport of Formula One greener, more applicable to every-day motorists and to add to the spectacle of the sport through the re-distribution of the saved energy. However, few teams have adopted the technology and those that have are slowly ceasing its use on their cars. BMW today have announced they want to concentrate on car development rather than KERS development. Was KERS ever a good idea?
The pomp and circumstance surrounding KERS came primarily from the president of the FIA, the forever embattled Max Mosley. His dream, along with the FIA’s it should be noted, was to make Formula One more environmentally friendly. Or at least, to make it look more environmentally friendly.
It shouldn’t come as any surprise that Formula One cars aren’t particularly fuel efficient, although in the same breath, it should also be noted that they aren’t as bad as you think as this advantage can prove to be the difference between winning and not finishing. And that is a good enough incentive to the engineers to ensure their cars are making full use of the fuel.
Other areas where Formula One falls into the clutches of the green-brigade is the travel and transportation of all the materials around the world. The teams move several hundred tonnes of equipment each time they go to a race, and most of the time that involves an aeroplane and several trucks.
So the idea behind KERS was help the sport become more friendly to the environment by using energy that would have previously been lost. When a car is braking, it is still using the engine and therefore the fuel and other electrical systems. However, with KERS this otherwise lost energy is stored in the form of electrical energy in a battery, and used at the drivers command to give him an extra ~80bhp boost.
However, the system isn’t simple and has been in development since last year for most of the teams. Williams even attempted to try a potentially-safer flywheel solution that negates the use of batteries (as there were some electric shock incidents in testing, notably with BMW). Ferrari’s system has plagued them with troubles since they first tested it, and on more than one occasion a Ferrari driver has ultimately retired from a race this year due the system’s unreliability. Although it must be said, their device has improved significantly in recent events.
And BMW, who haven’t used KERS since the Bahrain Grand Prix, have now decided to completely shelve it in favour of spending more time, energy and resources in improving the aerodynamic efficiency of their car. This is in despite of the fact that BMW were originally all for KERS and were one of the first teams to use the technology in pre-season testing.
We evaluated different alleys, proceeding with KERS or proceeding on the aero side and what could we do with no KERS on board.
We had made some significant progress on the aero side which does not allow to fit KERS, and we have taken a decision just a few days ago to no more run KERS this year because we see a more promising alley in developing the aero. Mario Theissen.
Of course, the other side of the issue is the fact that many drivers felt the need to shed some weight over the winter in order to accommodate the huge weight of the system, something I feel is wrong for the sport to be indirectly encouraging. With the minimum weight set at 605kg, taller and therefore heavier drivers felt they were being penalised. In the BMW garage, Nick Heidfeld was able to use KERS for the first four races, whereas team mate Robert Kubica (who is one of the grid’s tallest pilots) was forced to only test system later in the year.
With all the money that has gone into developing the technology, it would appear to have been a complete failure. Mario Theissen insists that it is not a flop, and that BMW have made good use of the information collected by the Formula One branch of the company. However, within the circles of the racing teams, only Ferrari and McLaren still use the technology.
Considering there are ten teams, and that McLaren Mercedes supply Brawn and Force India with engines and technical support, and Ferrari supply Scuderia Toro Rosso with similar, one could rightly expect these teams to be running the same system as the suppliers. Alas not, and it is perhaps because the technology really isn’t all that useful in the grand scheme of things.
It would appear that KERS will not make into next year’s championship, whichever way the current issues surrounding the breakaway series are resolved. FOTA have called for it to be shelved, and with teams like BMW ceasing development work on it, it does seem unlikely that the planned mandatory introduction of the system next year will now happen.
And while running the risk of alerting the green activists, I say that is a good thing. In my own personal view, Formula One shouldn’t be green. Simply because it isn’t, and it never will be. I therefore feel that all the faffing around trying to change something that is inherently un-green a total waste of money. Formula One is a bit like a vice – it’s naughty, we know it shouldn’t be allowed, but it is. The well-paid playboy drivers thrash their cars around with little regard for their own safety and well-being, and we watch because it is fun, entertaining and most of the time, a darn good spectacle.
And at the very end of the day, it is only 20 or so cars every other weekend. Instead of thinking up of hare-brained ideas, wouldn’t it be better to develop better fuels, reduce unnecessary transportation miles/weight and insist the factories that house the teams make better use of alternative energy sources and are more environmentally sound? Honestly…