If you have read my previous post on the changes to Formula 1 for the 2009 season you will no doubt be wondering a little about KERS or Kinetic Energy Recycling System. I said little about this new technology because it deserves to be explored on its own. It will change Formula 1 and it will change the cars we drive, in time. All for the better I hope.
KERS is simply a way of collecting and storing the energy created while braking. When we apply the brakes we create friction, friction slows us down. Every action has a reaction. The action of braking is friction the reaction of this friction is heat. This heat is energy, energy that is currently wasted. KERS is a technology that will collect and store this energy. This energy will then be used for another purpose, propulsion. In Formula 1, they are estimating that KERS will provide a temporary, additional 80hp to the car. 80hp is almost 10% of the engines current output, enough to propel a following car ahead in less than 500 meters. They will only have this for 5-6 seconds a lap though, so they will have to become skillful in their execution of this advantage.
So why am I so excited about KERS? I have two reasons. The first is that, combined with the changes to Formula 1 that we discussed previously, I expect a lot of passing this season. I also expect that there will be a lot of re-passing which is even more exciting and a rarity in recent years. How many of you have seen that marvelous display of driving that René Arnoux and Gilles Villenueve showed us in during the closing laps of the 1979 French Grand-Prix. If you have not seen this clip, you can find it on YouTube (search Villenueve vs. Arnoux). It is a spectacular display of driving, one that has been absent from Formula 1 for over two decades. Now I think Gilles Villeneuve was the greatest, bravest and most talented driver of all-time and Arnoux was no slouch either. When you watch this lap, you will see few mistakes and much daring bravado and heroics by both. This is not possible in modern Formula 1, regardless of driver talent and bravado. For reasons we discussed previously, the aerodynamic advances have put an end to it. KERS might just bring some of it back, and if it does, we will be glued to the race until the finish.
KERS will give the following driver the ability to attack coming out of the corner, with a push of a button, they will have more power. The lead driver will have to decide whether to defend on this straight or take the position back on another. Since they will only have this advantage for a short time on each lap, well you can see the picture developing. We have become used to seeing drivers wait for the car in front to pit, releasing the faster car to achieve its potential. Now, instead of waiting they may become impatient, they may force each other to make mistakes and we will have more to watch and enjoy. I hope I am right on this one.
The second reason this technology excited me is that it is of great potential value to all of us. Not that we will get 80 extra horsepower to pass the transport truck, consider the emerging technologies of electric and hybrid vehicles. Now consider that every time we brake we could re-charge the battery. For free! It is almost good enough to enjoy braking. To give you an idea of how much potential energy there is in braking let us consider the average sports cars being driven on a racetrack. After about 20-minutes of hard driving the tires will be much hotter than you would experience on the road, approximately 180-degrees F. The brakes will be much hotter, four to five times hotter. That is a lot of potential energy.