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Who KERS?

August 25th, 2009

Unfortunately, I haven’t had much time to keep up with the goings-on in Formula 1 for the past season and a half.  But this weekend, I found myself with a few hours to spare, so I sat down to enjoy the European Grand Prix from Valencia, Spain.  This was the first race that I’ve watched since the season opener in Australia.

One thing that struck me during this weekend’s broadcast was the lack of talk about KERS – the Kinetic Energy Recovery Systems that were allowed this year, effectively making F1 cars hybrids.  At the beginning of the season, KERS was a hot topic, with about half the field attempting to take advantage of the technology.  Unfortunately, given the effort of developing the systems (and the artificial limits placed upon them by the FIA), KERS didn’t immediately prove successful, and most teams decided to drop the technology.  McLaren and Ferrari were the only teams that decided to stick with it.

Louis Hamilton's McLaren

Louis Hamilton's McLaren

At this weekend’s European Grand Prix, McLaren swept the front row in qualifying, and McLaren driver Louis Hamilton finished the race second (and would have arguably won it if not for a botched pit-stop).  Kimi Raikkonen‘s KERS-equipped Ferrari rounded out the podium, with the other McLaren finishing fourth.  So, KERS-equipped cars grabbed 3 of the top 4 spots – and the top two spots at the previous race in Hungary (Hamilton’s McLaren followed by Raikkonen’s Ferrari).  It seems to me KERS development has finally paid off!  Yet the only mention of it (that I recall) during the broadcast was over the fact that KERS will likely be abandoned for the 2010 season, due to its ineffectiveness and added cost.  How frustrating. …I still maintain that if the FIA had not set such low limits for its use (max of 60 kW boost allowed for 6.6 seconds per lap), it would have been more successful.

As an aside, I recently found out that the KERS system used in the McLaren uses A123’s Li-ion cells for energy storage.  Ferrari also uses a battery system (though I’m not sure from whom).  The other option some teams employed was a flywheel system.  …In any case, I’d sure like to see KERS remain for 2010, though reining in costs is a high priority in racing – even F1 – these days, so I’m afraid this season may be the end for it.  Of course, if McLaren and Ferrari continue to enjoy their recent success, KERS may again gain favor with the teams just as quickly as it lost it!

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