Turkish Grand Prix: The KERS Curse

Antony HerbertAnalyst IIIJune 7, 2009

JEREZ DE LA FRONTERA, SPAIN - FEBRUARY 09:  The warning sign on the Red Bull Racing RB5 car of Sebastian Vettel signals that the KERS energy system is disabled and the car is safe to touch during the Red Bull 2009 F1 Launch of the new RB5 Formula One car at the Circuito de Jerez on February 9, 2009 in Jerez de la Frontera, Spain. (Photo by Mark Thompson/Getty Images)

Growing up watching Formula One was always exciting for me for one main reason—the action. I spent many weekends glued to the screen watching titanic battles between the likes of Schumacher, Hill, Coulthard, Hakkinen, and Villeneuve.

The majority of technical aspects concerned with the sport went straight over my head. Don’t get me wrong, I appreciate the work behind the scenes—the hours, days, weeks, months, and years that the teams put into producing a car of such tenacity and pace. It is, in a word, inspirational. It is not something I would be capable of.

Yet, in recent years, the technical aspects have been hard to ignore. None more so for me than the KERS system, brought into F1 this year mainly to improve the overtaking opportunities for drivers and therefore enhance the spectacle for us watching fanatics.

However, today’s’ Turkish Grand Prix focused my attention on a frustrating downside to the system itself. As only some teams have partaken in the system, other teams are left vulnerable in certain situations.

Rubens Barrichello, not unexpectedly, got off to a sputtering start today, drifting backwards like a Trulli train from the front of the pack. The fighting spirit within the Brazilian didn’t seem to deter him, though, as he was attacking for positions early on, and despite his eventual catastrophe of a race showed some true grit on track.

The best example of his attempted recovery came at the end of lap seven and start of lap eight, as he aimed to climb ahead of the lacklustre McLaren within the hands of Heikki Kovalinen.

His initial passing manoeuvre was cool, calm and slick. It appeared effortless as he sneaked under the inside of the faltering McLaren into the final corner of the track. Barrichello’s clever work and faster car seemed to prove the better of the two.

Annoyingly then came the frustrating response. One press of a button and Heikki had his KERS system at the ready and comfortably edged back in front as they crossed the start-finish line.

Understandably Rubens then showed his desperation by tapping the Mclaren’s bodywork and spinning his car a few moments later, only to emerge behind Heikki’s heavier fuelled team mate Lewis Hamilton as a result.

This highlighted the defensive abilities of a KERS car but paradoxically also highlighted what could be seen as a lose-lose situation for any car in competition with one.

One of the greatest things a driver can do to show his power and precision is to fight his way up the field, stare adversity in the face, and walk away a celebrated driver.

Yet Rubens seemed denied this opportunity today by what I will describe as simply a button. A button which for approximately seven seconds a lap can give a car a short but sweet dose of improved pace, and give its driver a chance to battle a faster opponent.

The KERS system for me is a beautiful idea in theory, but in current circumstances will surely be detrimental to the sport unless all teams appear to reap equal benefits.