KERS failure caused Red Bull fire scare
|By Simon Strang||Thursday, July 17th 2008, 18:01 GMT|
A fire scare that occurred in Red Bull Racing's factory on Wednesday was triggered by a battery failure in the team's new Kinetic Energy Recovery System (KERS), autosport.com has learned, but team principal Christian Horner insists there was never any danger to the team's staff.
The local fire brigade was called out and the factory evacuated after a controlled test of the new battery caused the system to malfunction.
But Horner said the problem was not a setback for the team's development of the system and was merely part and parcel of the R&D process being undertaken.
"For next year, we are introducing batteries to the cars, which are very high voltage, high technology pieces of equipment," said Horner. "Basically, in a controlled environment we had a battery that basically ran away with itself.
"It was contained within a chemical, as a safety precaution to keep it cool, that let off quite a lot of steam and unfortunately caused about two hours of disruption in the main factory as the smoke had to be dealt with by the fire brigade.
"It was not a major incident and never at any point dangerous, but one that we obviously had to take all precautions with."
Horner explained that the system, which is set to be introduced next year as part of the 2009 Formula One regulations, was bound to suffer teething problems like any new cutting edge technology.
He added that he believed Red Bull Racing were not the first to have encountered such issues and said that the fast-paced development of the technology meant that KERS would not be bullet proof for a while.
"I think we are not alone in calling the fire brigade out, there are a few other teams around Europe that have had similar issues," he said. "But I would far rather it happened in the controlled environment of an R&D rig, than on a car at a circuit.
"We are still two months away from putting one of these systems into a car and that's why we are working hard on the test bench to make sure all the problems are eradicated and that the components are safe before they go into the car.
"I'm sure you could see some puffs of smoke next year because it is cutting-edge technology, but that is the direction the FIA has chosen to go down. It is cutting-edge and obviously it is a steep learning curve.
"We have been working on this programme for a couple of years now and this was just one minor setback that was swiftly dealt with."
Both the FIA and the teams have made safety a top priority for KERS, which by its nature deals with potentially volatile levels of energy and chemicals including lithium.
Teams are believed to have been asked to carry out what is termed Failure Mode and Effects Analysis (FMEA) by the FIA, which is looking at ways to effectively safeguard the system for both the competitors and track officials and marshals.
The positioning of the battery in the car and the methods used to protect it through high-G impacts are key to the implementation of this. Some teams believe the safest way to do this is to place the battery directly underneath the heavily insulated fuel cell.
But while there are safety concerns, BMW team principal Mario Theissen believes that any dangers posed by KERS would not be equal to those that already exist for fuel tanks.
"We are still looking at various energy storage units, we have done deliberate tests on reliability and safety, we have done FMEA on the entire system, and tried out different situations in order to assess the risk and take measures against it," Theissen told autosport.com. "We think it will be under control."
Asked what risks he thought the system may pose, Theissen said: "I would say in the first instance it would be a risk for the car; for losing the car. If we look at the car as it is today, by far the highest source of energy is the fuel tank, and that won't change.
"If you see how well this is under control today, anything else is under control as well. I don't see a risk as high as an exploding fuel tank or a leaking fuel tank.
"But we have to take a very comprehensive approach to make sure that all the components are under control."