K.E.R.S.

June 23, 2009

Health & Safety, regulation

Source: http://uk.reuters.com/article/motorSportsNews/idUKSYD49346020090327?feedType=RSS&feedName=motorSportsNews&sp=true; http://www.crash.net/f1/news/148788/1/bmw_drops_kers_as_domenicali_brands_it_an_expensive_mistake.html

Kinetic Energy Recovery Systems (KERS) was a new innovation this season in Formula One and were heralded as a way of making cars more environmentally friendly (by recycling energy normally lost under braking into kinetic energy) and also providing additional opportunities for overtaking (KERS gives a potential power boost of 6.7s per lap).

Teams were given the opportunity of storing this energy through Flywheel technology, batteries, supercapacitors, or hydraulic based systems (see a good description and pictures of each system here: http://max-rpm.blogspot.com/2009/04/kers-in-f1-basically-explained.html ) KERS has a number of significant problems though. The first is that its weight is at least 35kg (thereby penalising heavier / taller drivers) and the position where that weight is sited on the car (higher on the rear, thereby raising the centre of gravity) can have an effect on the balance of the car. As such a number of teams, like BMW, have confirmed that they have now dropped KERS and will concentrate on improving the aerodynamics of their car instead, viewing the two technologies as mutually exclusive. Indeed, BMW Motorsport Director Dr Mario Theissen has suggested that if KERS isn’t made mandatory next season, then it will disappear from F1. The Formula One Teams Association (FOTA) has also confirmed that they are pressing the FIA to drop the technology for the 2010 season. Given this, it therefore seems crazy to focus on cost-reduction strategies and budget restrictions, while at the same time asking teams to spend a considerable amount of money, research and development on trying to make KERS technology, safe reliable and effective.

In particular, concerns were also raised at the start of the season by drivers as to a possible safety risk caused by the potential for electric shocks from the high-voltage system. This is because the circuit used in the battery systems remains live for around a second after the car has stopped. Reuters reports that the matter came to light when a BMW mechanic suffered an electric shock when he touched a car during testing last year. Marshals and medical teams at the Australian Grand Prix were therefore advised to wear special gloves to protect against the risk of any electric shock. The disadvantage of this precaution though, is that in the event that emergency treatment was necessary, there is a fear that these thicker gloves may prevent trackside medical staff from carrying out life-saving procedures.

Although Mark Webber said the matter had already been discussed by the Grand Prix Drivers Association but there was still some level of uncertainty about how it would work in a real-life crisis: “As usual you do gain knowledge and experience on the front line so we’ll see how it goes”

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About Kris

Associate Professor in Sports Law, Staffordshire University; British Gymnastics Senior Coach

View all posts by Kris

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