Monday, June 22, 2009

Does the end of KERS mean that Hybrid technology doesn't work in motorsports?

With BMW having said good bye to KERS there's only Ferrari left using a hybrid module in Formula 1 in 2009. While McLaren-Mercedes may use its system once or twice again this year, the KERS technology seems to have lost the fight and its competitive edge. For next year the teams even announced that they most probably will drive without KERS at all.
How can this be, given that KERS contributes 80 horsepowers and substantial additional overtake potential? And what's the impact on the hybrid technology usage for other cars?
First it must be said that a formula 1 car is a highly optimized and tuned vehicle where every gramm of weight and where it's being put can make a huge difference. Secondly it's all about aerodynamics and putting an additional device with cooling needs may limit the engineer's freedom substantially. And thirdly the limits when driving such cars are astronomically high and any inflencing of braking behavior can mean to add a couple of tenths of a second per lap and decide on 3rd versus 15th place on the starting grid. Taking all these things together most teams acknowledged that having one technology less to worry about allows them to focus on the rest better. This doesn't mean the technolgy doesn't work. Actually it works quite well and teams like McLaren and Ferrari, but also Renault showed the benefits of additional power on a straight a couple of times. In other race series such as touring cas or GTs the established level of quality certainly would make cars using KERS highly competitive. But for formula 1 the compromises to take into were too big to create winners. Too bad, as this is quite a bit of negative PR for hybrid systems as such. But if you are looking at how perfectly these systems work in the Mercedes S400 Hybrid, the Lexus, Honda Insight or Prius, there's nothing to worry about and in the future we will see hybrid systems in almost any model range of any manufacturer.

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