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What is KERS? // More about the new Kinetic Energy Recovery System technology

Published by Christine

This article was originally written for BellaOnline, but is republished here for posterity.

Towards the end of this season, we have been talking about KERS quite a lot. It’s a new technology to be introduced in 2009, and we have already seen teams testing it and talking about it a lot. But what is KERS and how will it affect Formula 1?

The most important thing about KERS is that it is not a compulsory regulation change. The technology has been suggested as an improvement to Formula 1 as it saves on energy and therefore helps to improve the green image of the sport. The basic premise of KERS is that energy that is usually lost during braking is stored and/or converted into more power.

There are two types of system: the battery and flywheel. The first is an obvious concept where the excess power is stored in a battery until being released when required. The flywheel option means the energy is used constantly but connecting to the flywheel only occurs when the power boost is needed. At the moment, the regulations look as if they are heading towards a boost button, which a driver can use when he is lining up behind another car and ready to overtake, or is about to be overtaken.

We’ve already seen problems in testing the new technology. Red Bull have seen a component fail at their factory causing an evacuation due to the smoke released. A BMW mechanic had a well publicised electric shock, and drivers have expressed concerns.

There are other problems as well, though. Whether a team is implementing a battery or a flywheel, the new components need to be housed in the car, and will have to be as light as possible. If a car has stored electricity and comes to a stop, either in the pit lane, or out on track, the power needs to be discharged before anyone can approach the vehicle safely. This means mechanics and marshals taking extra precautions before dealing with a car.

It doesn’t appear that there is a vast improvement in terms of speed and performance yet, however the technology is in its very early stages. The FIA have mandated the stages at which development should take place, if a team choose to implement KERS, but it will take a few years before we see any major influence on track action. Most teams and drivers are open to the new technology, but perhaps skeptical about its benefits and concerned about safety.