Why KERS should return to F1 in the future

An F1 KERS unit

An F1 KERS unit

Those who wanted it gone last year called it a monumental waste of money. Those who supported it claimed that it was a pinnacle for envirinmental technology, and could improve overtaking possibilites. Whatever your opinion is, the fact is that KERS left F1 last year, though not through a rule change. The teams unanimously agreed not to use this technology for this year, so as to save money. But my question is: should KERS return to F1?

To those of you not familiar with this feature, I will quickly explain KERS. Normally, when the brakes are applied, energy is dissipitated from the car in the form of extreme heat. As we all know, energy cannot be destroyed or created, it can only be changed into another form. In the case of KERS, the heat from the brakes is taken in, and turned into electrical energy through a generator. There are different ways of storing the electrical energy, but the teams that used KERS last year stored them in batteries behind the drivers. Alternatively, Williams created a flywheel KERS system, which was never used in F1, but now features on the road car, the Porsche 911 GT3 R.

This electrical energy is then used to power the car. It is activated by a button on the steering wheel, or a paddle behind it. Unfortunately, the FIA chose to restrict the power output of KERS to 60kW (80bhp), which could be used at for 6.5 seconds per lap. The use of KERS was very poor at the start of 2009, when the teams who used it struggled massively. Most dropped it, but McLaren and Ferrari kept pushing development, and made their KERS cars race-winners by the end of the year. However, this development was very expesive. Between Renault, BMW Sauber, Ferrari and McLaren, £40m was spent in 2009 on KERS.

Because of this, all of the teams decided not to use the technology for 2010, although the technical rules still allowed it. However, there are many reasons as to why it should return. First of all, it makes sense when applied to road cars. The previous generation of the Toyota Prius, for example, only produced 23kW of power from its regenerative brakes. But, within a few years, this technology has become much more powerful, with Porsche leading the way in the use of the innovation. The new 918 Spyder, for example, has a KERS-derived system which produces twice the power of the unit that was used in F1 last year. To further matters, this Porsche unit was designed by Williams, the the team who wanted it to stay in F1 this year.

Also, Ferrari are close to putting this into one of their road cars. The HY-KERS concept regenerative brakes are heavier by about 15kg, but produce up to 100bhp, which is impressive for a road car. So, if the motoring world is to embrace KERS technology, shouldn’t F1 do so as well?

The second reason why is because of the environmental impact. Now don’t worry, I’m not as much into being an eco-maniac as shutting them all up for a while. If KERS was developed responsibly in Formula 1, I’d say they could reach a power output of 150bhp, with unlimited use across the lap (as long as the FIA allow it to do so). We all know an F1 car’s brakes have massive stopping power, so this shouldn’t be too hard to do. If this sort of unit was placed into an F1 car of reduced engine power, a considerable fraction of the car’s fuel would be saved. Not only this, but the technology would work its way onto mainstream cars in a decade or so, which could mean millions of barrels of fuel could be saved (and burnt in some other way!). If KERS was reintroduced into F1, it would shut up the environmentalists for about 30 minutes, which, according to them, is how long it will take for the polar ice caps to melt, so this would be good work from the F1 world.

Building on my previous point, KERS should be integrated into the next-generation engines that are planned for 2013. The FIA are curently looking into using smaller turbocharged engines from 2013 onwards, so KERS could well be put into the mix here. If these new engines produced, say, 100bhp less, then this could be offset by the KERS unit in the car. This would again improve fuel efficiency in the car by a huge amount.

However, the biggest obstacle to the return of KERS would be the cost. We are all aware that teams are looking into saving money, especially the new teams, so reintroducing KERS at the wrong time could put many teams into trouble. Lotus, HRT and Virgin would seriously struggle, for example, if unlimited use and development of KERS was put into F1 next year. My solution would be to introduce one or two suppliers of KERS units for a few years, then allow teams to develop their own, as long as they stay within a spending cap (on KERS only, I’m not bringing back last year’s massive shootout on budget caps).

Another observation is that is must be everyone or nobody. What I mean by that is, either all of the teams use KERS or none of them will. I don’t want to go back to the situation last year where the Ferraris and McLarens made great starts, then held up everyone else behind them, because nobody could overtake them. If KERS is to be reintroduced, it must be compulsory, so as to keep the racing pure and even, and give everyone a fair chance. The idea of a “push to pass” button has already been used in other racing series, such as the A1 GP. It worked to an extent last year, in that the McLarens and Ferraris were able to make progress through the field easier, when the rest of their car was able to keep up. So, I believe that if everyone used this, it would result in a nice shake-up in the races, and make the racing better (note I didn’t use the phrase of death).

But these are just my thoughts. What are yours? Have a say in the poll below:

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