The introduction of KERS (Kinetic Energy Recovery Systems) into Formula 1 has turned into rather controversial issue. One hand this brainchild of Max Mosley is here to show to the outside world how green and road relevant F1 can be. On the other hand this for F1 new technology has been a massive drain on financial resources of the teams at the time when FIA , FOTA and even Bernie Ecclestone talk about need to drastically reduce the cost of Formula One.
The decision to bring KERS into the F1 picture however came at the free spending times, before the current crisis hit. The teams have already spent millions on development and because of that, as Mario Theissen says, dumping KERS now perhaps would not be too wise:
"We agreed that the cost of KERS was quite significant, but the real thing is that when we discussed it a month ago the money had been spent already on development, so it would be the worst thing to spend money on something you don’t use."
There are calls to delay the introduction of KERS to 2010. Different people have different arguments. Some argue with the cost, some with safety concerns. I however think that the main reason for those who now oppose the 2009 introuction of KERS is much more simple—difficulties and set backs with the KERS development. I do not think that Luca di Montezemolo or Flavio Briatore would be now so vocal opponents of KERS should they have a perfect working KERS fitted in their brand new cars. So let’s look where all the teams currently stand and what are their KERS plans for 2009:
McLaren are believed to be advancing well with their KERS development and are even expected to supply KERS to Force India as a part of their technical partnership deal. However, according to McLaren test driver Gary Paffet (to Forumula1.net at the Autosport International Show), the team hasn’t decided yet whether they will run with or without KERS this year:
“Yes, the rumours are that Ferrari are struggling with their KERS device, but there is no guarantee that everyone will be running the system anyway. Our system is coming on relatively well and we are happy with the development, but I can’t say that we will definitely run it. It all depends on the trade off between the weight and how much time it is going to give you. There is only a limited amount of lap time it can give you with the available power.”
Ferrari are one of the most vocal opponents of KERS. They abandoned their original project with Magneti-Marelli and rumours are they are still struggling with the development. Several prominent Ferrari figures slammed KERS as expensive and irrelevant to road cars. Kimi Raikkonen however had something positive to say after running the new F60 with KERS in Mugello this week:
“Both days the use of KERS had positive results. The system works well like every other new component. You have more power but for such a short time that I think it won’t change things much. Maybe it’s an interesting invention, but I don’t think it’s decisive.”
There are no words from the team yet whether they plan to run KERS from the beginning of the season or not.
BMW Sauber have been the biggest supporters of KERS. BMW also opposed the proposals of the other teams to postpone KERS introduction to 2010. But being supporter of KERS does not mean being ready—Mario Theissen:
“KERS is still the most challenging and exciting part of the new package to me. Looking back to when we started more than a year ago on KERS, that time was pure research. Then we went through a stage I would call pre-development. Now we are in the development stage. We are still not ready to race, but if I look at what progress we have made in last 12 months, it’s amazing. We have learned so much. We are still pushing hard. We are not ready yet. I am sure we will be ready at some point, I don’t know whether we will be ready for Melbourne. That is the character of innovation, you take risks and you don’t know when they will pay off. I’m pretty sure it will pay off at some point in the season and that it might become the crucial factor.”
Renault bosses are one of the fiercest critics of the dangers and cost of KERS. Flavio Briatore even calls introduction of KERS in F1 “a terrible mistake”. Renault’s technical director Bob Bell voiced the safety concerns:
“It’s unknown territory for us. We are not used to seeing cars with high voltage stickers. I think there will be some accidents this year. It’s inevitable. And you’ll probably see some mechanics get nasty shocks. Let’s hope it’s no more than that. The same could be said of marshals. The sport has done a very good job of trying to minimise the risk, to mechanics, technicians and trackside people, but there is still a risk. It’s several hundred volts and the potential to be tens of amps, so it’s pretty lethal. And it’s DC (direct current), so if you hold it you cannot let go.”
Flavio Briatore slammed the cost of KERS:
“I think it is a terrible mistake. In the end Renault, Mercedes-Benz and Ferrari supply engines to other teams, and we are not making any money - it is costing us but we are doing it for the good of F1. We have the big reduction in the costs of engines, but in another way we have opened the door on something else. We don’t know how much it is going to cost us in the end with development, and we don’t know if it is dangerous or not - it looks like it is not 100 percent in control. And does it bring any good to us? What it brings to us is only cost, that is sure.”
According to Bob Bell the teams is not yet sure if they will run with KERS in Australia.
According to Toyota’s senior general manager of chassis Pascal Vasselon their “KERS system is running on the test bench, and it is working reasonably well”. Toyota has however decided not to run KERS from the beginning of 2009 season as they are not convinced KERS would be an advantage. Pascal Vasselon to Autosport:
“We took this decision being convinced that it would be an advantage. It’s not because we are late with the programme that we are not going to run it at the beginning of the season. We took into account the performance of the whole package. When you have KERS on the car you have almost no freedom left in terms of centre of gravity. It’s not only the boost you get for a couple of seconds, you have to take into account the effect on the whole car. That’s why we felt we needed some additional time to know whether there will be a net benefit.”
Williams are the only team developing a flywheel based KERS. The team believes KERS may bring them some benefits later on in the season. They may however opt not to use KERS from the beginning of the season and focus on the new 2009 aero package instead. Williams technical director Sam Michael:
“It’s very difficult to sign off KERS in time for Melbourne with all the other things we are trying to do. We are trying to make sure that the cooling and gearbox and everything else on the car is working first, and we are also concentrating on making sure our mechanical and aerodynamic package is optimised before we try and get KERS on the car. Because if you get something wrong on the aerodynamics or you get something wrong mechanical, you can lose seconds. Whereas KERS, even when you have everything 100% reliable is worth two and a half or three tenths. It’s important and that two and a half or three tenths will be important during the season, but to start with it will be swamped by the aero and getting the setup of the car right around the slicks and making sure all the mechanicals don’t break.”
Force India, Toro Rosso and Red Bull are not developing their own KERS and will rely on progress of their engine partners Mercedes, Ferrari and Renault. The same would probably apply to the team formerly known as Honda, should they find a buyer.
At the moment it does not look like there will be too many cars fitted with KERS on the grid in Melbourne …