Formula 1's KERS explained

In 2009 Formula 1 teams are beginning to use kinetic energy recovery systems. Popular Science investigated how it all works

Brawn GP scored an amazing 1-2 at the Australian GP in their debut race: Brawn GP

The Australian Grand Prix last Sunday was a truly amazing race. Having only officially formed a few months ago, Brawn GP (born out of the remains of the Honda F1 team) beat off the likes of McLaren Mercedes, BMW Sauber and the Ferrari F1 team to record a 1-2 finish in their debut race having also locked out the front row of the grid in qualifying as well. It was the first time since 1954 this had been achieved. The result reinvigorated the waning careers of Jenson Button and Rubens Barrichello, who finished first and second respectively.

Aside from Brawn GP's amazing race, there was a lot more going on during the weekend. One topic of discussion was KERS - kinetic energy recovery system. In 2009 teams have the option of running the system which gathers energy from the brakes and transmission and turns it into a power boost. Although Brawn GP didn't implement the system, seven drivers, including 2008 World Champion Lewis Hamilton, chose to implement it. Here's a rundown of exactly what KERS is all about.

In an attempt to make passing easier in F1, and to develop more technologies relevant to road cars, F1 teams will debut the Kinetic Energy Recovery System (KERS) in cars this year. KERS will store energy from excess heat created by a car’s braking system and turn it into an additional 80bhp (60kW) of power the driver can use for up to 6.67 seconds per lap. A button on the steering wheel will deploy the KERS.

There are three ways that F1 cars can develop KERS, but only two are expected to see the light of day. The most popular is battery KERS. It will work by using a motor generator that is built into the car’s transmission to convert mechanical energy into electrical energy and vice versa. The energy is then stored in a battery ready for the driver to use at any given moment.

A mechanical KERS is also thought to be a contender for use. It’s a small flywheel that uses captured energy from the brake systems to spin at up to 80,000RPM. The flywheel is connected to the F1 car’s rear wheel, ready to give it extra power when the driver demands. This kind of KERS doesn’t require the energy to change state, as with the battery version of the technology.

In 2009, using KERS will not be compulsory, so expect teams to deploy it gradually rather than use it from the first race in Melbourne. The system will weigh around 35kg. Being that the minimum weight of an F1 car and driver is 605kg and teams are already having to use up to 70kg of ballast to reach the minimum weight, adding KERS won’t be a disadvantage for teams.
There have been problems during the development stage though, most notably a BMW Sauber F1 team mechanic being electrocuted when he touched the team’s KERS enabled car as it pulled into the pits.




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