Thursday, September 11, 2008

KERS development is a challenge

It is clear that the introduction of the Kinetic Energy Recovery System (KERS) is something that will test the Formula One world in regards to technology, safety, implementation and integration. However, the scope of the challenge is evolving everyday. The system is set for introduction in 2009, but is not mandatory.

Today, Ferrari's engine technical director Gilles Simon says they are struggling with KERS development. "The Kinetic Energy Recovery System is a complex subject, which finds us dealing with a lot of new and complicated areas, while ensuring that we still devote all necessary efforts into continuing our usual development program on the current year car. It will be really challenging to run this system next year. We are learning every day, but we are struggling and I think that all teams will struggle to run the new system reliably right from the opening race of the 2009 season."

Overall, the KERS has seen its share of teething problems. Ferrari and Simon have now voiced their struggles and earlier this summer BMW-Sauber and Red Bull Racing had problems when a BMW-Sauber mechanic was struck to the ground by an electrical shock and Red Bull had a fire in their factory due to testing of a new battery for KERS. There have been calls for the introduction of the KERS to be delayed, but Honda, Williams and BMW-Sauber, despite the incident earlier in the summer, have been vocal in their opposition to any delay.

Honda has encountered few problems with their KERS development and Williams and BMW-Sauber echo similar sentiments of the system being a welcomed technical challenge; Toyota's feelings have been mixed. Toyota team president John Howett was unsure if it would be ready in time but those comments were later countered by engine chief Luca Marmorini who expressed confidence in the staff that things will be done on time for the first race of 2009. "Our development is focused on producing a KERS system which is appropriate for Formula One and brings performance increase. We have a group dedicated to this and we trust them to deliver." Ferrari's revelation that they too are struggling is a bit surprising given the level of talent that resides at Maranello, but at the same time not surprising given the research and development aspects of developing such a system. Teams like Honda, BMW and Toyota can call on a lot of resources and some experience with this sort of technology whereas Ferrari can not.

Renault's Flavio Briatore and McLaren's Ron Dennis have been forces opposed to the introduction schedule for the KERS, which makes you wonder about the resources available to Renault F1 even though Renault do hybrid R&D with their partner Nissan. McLaren's call for a delay in the KERS implementation is more surprising than finding out Ferrari is struggling because McLaren houses its own automotive and electronics companies within its technology center, and has the resources of Mercedes-Benz plus talented staff. It makes you wonder the disadvantage a team like McLaren and Renault will be in if teams like Honda, Toyota, and BMW get this system working properly and McLaren and Renault have to delay. If Ferrari has to delay as well, we can see a real competitive shift in 2009 if only for part of season; and would that be bad for Formula One? If the system is safe for drivers, marshals, and spectators, then more power to the teams that can get it to work.

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