Mosley: KERS is here to stay

The introduction of Kinetic Energy Recovery Systems (KERS) in Formula One remains one of the hottest topics of debate in the build-up to the new season

Mosley: KERS is here to stay

Arguments have raged for months about the development costs of the devices, whether they will be safe and what difference they will make to the racing.

So having heard from the teams, autosport.com wanted to gauge what FIA president Max Mosley thought of KERS when he met a few journalists for a pre-season chat. Here are his thoughts.

Q. Should KERS be a performance differentiator in Formula One?

Max Mosley: What I would like, and what will actually happen, are two different things because we are in a democracy and so on. For me in a perfect world we would standardise the things that are known and old technologies, the obvious one being gearboxes. And we would have the performance differentiators with new and cutting-edge technologies like KERS. To me it makes no sense that a big team will spend millions and millions of pounds on a gearbox which is just refining, and complain of spending less money on KERS that is cutting-edge technology.

That is my view and obviously other teams are entitled to their own opinion. One of the teams for example uses 13 engines a year just to test gearboxes - there is no other purpose. It is completely mad. Nobody sitting in the grandstands knows or cares which gearbox it is. Nobody in the 1970's would watch racing and say that is no good because everyone other than Ferrari and BRM have a Hewland gearbox. They didn't know and they didn't care.

Some of the teams are spending 20-25 million Euros on their gearbox department. They would have 10 or 12 engineers, all the back up staff, endless equipment and endless testing. And each year the gearbox would be marginally better. You could have a standard gearbox - it would cost about a million and a half a year. You could supply gearboxes for that sort of money but the rational thing is to have a standard box.

Q. Do you believe the current KERS technology is 'cutting-edge', or does it need to move up a gear?

MM: We would like to up the amount of energy stored and up the rate of energy flow. At the moment it is 400 kilojoules stored, and it is 60 kilowatts in and out. We would like to see 800 kilojoules stored - twice as much - and we would like to have perhaps up to 150 kilowatts in and 100 kilowatts out. That would then put it into a category of a device that if you fitted it to a road car, you would be able to absorb all the energy when the car is braking hard - except in really extreme braking. And that is what is missing.

In road cars, the amount of braking energy that is actually recovered is very low because the batteries cannot afford the energy flow. To solve that problem you first of all need to up the energy flow a lot in the car, and then secondly you need to have something much smaller and lighter than the current KERS in the cars, which are crude, heavy and huge things. And that is just what F1 is good at - making things small and light and reliable and working.

The really interesting bit is the technology because batteries, unless you have got a whole load in a trailer behind the car, they cannot absorb 150 kilowatts. You would need a huge amount of batteries and you could not put them in an F1 car. So if you open that possibility up, then F1 would have the possibility to do it - and they would have to look for a technology other than batteries.

Well, the car industry at the moment, who are fully aware of the problem, they know they cannot do it with the current generation of batteries, so the hope is super-capacitors because they can take a lot of charge very quickly. But the super capacitors are not being delivered.

If you have this in F1, you cannot talk about what we are going to do in four or five year's time. You have got to have it quickly, and I think if we did that for F1 we may well see some sort of mechanical based system, probably the flywheel - and Williams may be the ones who are on the right track there.

And if they succeed and if they can make a small, light device that can absorb all the energy, store it briefly and deploy it - that will be very, very useful for the car industry. And it may be that the car industry in the future may have a combination of the flywheel system and the battery - a battery for the longer storage, the flywheel system to absorb these huge flows of energy when you whack the brakes on on a car.

Q. Mario Theissen said at the BMW Sauber launch that he felt the flywheel system had no application for the road car industry, and said he wasn't interested...

MM: Well, he probably hasn't thought it through. He would be right if there were battery/super capacitor combinations that were very close to being practical - but all the information is that there isn't. All these cars - you get these electric cars but if you drive them fast they just don't have the energy. Good old Mario, but I think he may have got that wrong.

Q. At the moment KERS is a pure performance tool - you push the button and you get some extra horsepower. Next year when there is no refuelling, why doesn't the FIA say teams can choose to use it as a performance tool or a fuel-saving tool?

MM: For the road cars that is the idea 100 percent. You keep braking and accelerating, and that wastes fuel. The teams would have that option. As the rules are at the moment, they can deploy it in any way they want. So they can certainly set the engine up so in a way that sort of thing happens. The only thing is that it is the driver who uses the KERS, it is not automatic, so it requires a certain amount of input from the driver - but they can choose to go that route.

Or they could do a combination of the two because a lot of the time you could run using the stored energy to save fuel and suddenly you come up to a situation where you needed to overtake, you could use it for that.

Q. Wouldn't having a 150 kilowatts device mean that no team could afford to be without it?

MM: Absolutely. It is all in discussion but if the teams came along and said that we agree to the 150 unit but we want a standard system, then I would be very inclined to say yes. Then they could all research jointly a system which is beyond the known technology with batteries at the moment and they might then come up with something where F1 can make a huge contribution. The thing that I cannot accept is that you standardize something like KERS while competing with the gearboxes and the wheel nuts and uprights and all the other things that should be standardized.

Q. A lot of people are whinging about KERS. Do you believe that is because they are worried about being uncompetitive?

MM: I think that is the reason. It is a little bit sad in Formula One and it is in a way our fault with the regulations, but they have constricted the areas in which the teams can work, to keep the car speeds under control and also to keep costs under control, to the point where you get the best returns by endlessly refining every single component on the car. The top teams look at every single component even though they don't make the slightest bit of difference, and brave innovatory engineering has completely disappeared from F1. People like (Colin) Chapman, or (John) Cooper or (Keith) Duckworth would be lost in modern F1.

So suddenly having had this culture of minimal innovation and endless refinement, we dump on them an absolutely new concept, cutting edge technology and some serious engineering, and they don't like it - except for some. There is the odd person like Patrick Head, who is a proper engineer, who sees it as a fascinating challenge. But the team principals? It interferences with their cosy world where if you make it one thousandth of a millimetre thinner, it will be just that little bit quicker.

Q. Are you afraid that over the course of the season engineers will find that it will be better to run without KERS as it helps with the weight distribution and saves the rear tyres? Will that not make F1 look ridiculous?

MM: Up to a point, but if that does happen then it will be because of another mistake we made - which was when we made the rear wheels narrower we didn't narrow the front wheel enough correspondingly. It meant that in order to maximise the rubber on the road they have the front wheels as wide as the regulations allow, and that means they have got to get the weight distribution in proportion. That is extremely difficult with the engine in the back - which is why the ballast goes to the front.

What really needs to happen is we need to make the front wheels narrower or the rear wheels wider, and then that weight distribution problem would disappear. It is really about weight distribution - but that is another mistake in the regulations.

Q. What about the safety aspects of KERS. A lot of teams are still worried about the dangers?

MM: Yeah, I don't know much about it. We have got a KERS Safety Working Group, and they have looked at all aspects and discussed things.

There are a lot of issues. For example there is a nasty phenomenon with lithium-ion batteries called thermal runaway, where if they get into a certain condition the things just gets hotter and hotter and hotter. You have to take care of these things, and that is what the group is doing. Of course, they have said they need rubber gloves everywhere and I don't see any difficulty with that.

There are two aspects. There is the at the factory or in the workshop; and there is what happens out on track. We don't have too much to say about what happens at the workshop, but the teams are all looking at that as they have got Health and Safety and all the rest of it.

It is difficult but that is what engineers are for and what F1 should be doing - solving difficult problems that are relevant to the real world.

Q. What happens to the batteries that are used this season?

MM: Presumably they will be recycled like any other batteries. If we were to go to the 800/150/100 we would also say that they have to last the lifetime of the engine. If it is going to be used on road cars it is no good having batteries that last for one race. The usage depends on how much you stress them up because the life of the lithium battery starts going down as soon as you start pouring energy in or taking all of the charge out.

Q. How would you feel if no one started in Melbourne with KERS?

MM: That would be fine by me, as it shows it is a challenge. And they will still be working on it. I don't think that will happen because I remember saying to one of the teams nearly a year ago, when they were saying it was desperate for them to try and get it finished in time, what does it matter? If you don't have it at the first race, what difference does it make?

Obviously it is a matter of pride, but they don't like having to admit they couldn't do it. After all, we settled the rules with them at the end of 2006. It is the only serious engineering challenge they have had in the last two-and-a-half years, and if they can't do it, it shows there is something wrong with F1.

Q. How do you feel personally about banning KERS in 1998 when McLaren had their own energy storage system?

MM: It was even further back than that, 1996 I think. There were three teams working on systems, and the McLaren one was done by Ilmor and I think it was hydraulic.

I looked at it and thought it was fascinating technology. Then I talked with Charlie (Whiting) and a few other people and we decided that we could not guarantee the safety of the storage devices. It was potentially explosive and the problem is that if you have 400 kilojoules, it is not a huge amount of energy and enough to vapourise about 120 grammes of water, but if you release it instantaneously it will be a hell of a bang. It needed to be dissipated over two or three seconds, and that technology didn't exist.

In the meantime, flywheels in particular were what we were worried about, as in those days they were not talking about batteries to do that. There was an enormous amount of work going on in the States and there was an organisation where they had the speed on the edge of the flywheel up to about four times the speed of sound, and they found ways to dissipate the energy progressively so that problem had gone.

Then there were also other sorts of development happening. It was never the question that it (having KERS in F1) was the right thing to do, but it would have been premature to let it happen at that stage.

Q. With KERS on board, ballast is restricted - which means the heavier drivers are disadvantaged. Why didn't the FIA increase the weight limit a little bit in order to help the drivers?

MM: Fundamentally because no one asked us to. For a long time, we used to weigh the car and not the driver and we had no restriction on height.

I remember having lunch with Gerhard Berger and he said unless you do something you will have a race of dwarves driving these cars. So we brought in this rule saying the car should accommodate a 1m90cm driver, and we will weigh the driver and the car together.

The problem we have now is that because of this phenomenon with the tyre width, the weight distribution in F1 is fundamentally wrong and what we need to do is either change the width of the tyres or increase the weight, but that is probably not the right thing to do because you have more energy to dissipate in an accident. So we need to make the rear tyres wider or the front tyres narrower.

Q. Are teams allowed to run with batteries in the nose cone area?

MM: As far as I know, yes. There are regulations about what part you can put in what part of the car. I understand that one of the manufacturers is making a special battery which goes where the ballast goes, but obviously it is not as heavy as tungsten. I think most of them are going to put the entire system inside the fuel tank.

However, if one of those batteries goes into thermal runaway you need to get it out of the car - but we have left it to the experts. The last thing someone like me should do is second guess them, but they must make sure it is safe - and that is what we have the Working Group for.

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