Tonight as Christian Horner and Adrian Newey were leaving the paddock I told them that the ‘start only’ KERS rumours were gathering momentum. Christian laughed and said we’ll see tomorrow…
The confirmation from the Red Bull drivers that they didn’t use KERS in qualifying led to speculation as to why. I asked some top people at teams like Renault, McLaren and Ferrari, and they had no clue.
The most obvious reason was some sort of reliability issue that meant it was safer to switch it off, on the basis that the team had enough in hand and didn’t need the 0.3s a lap benefit.
The problem is the race, and what the team would do at the start, given that without KERS both drivers would come under threat. Had Mark Webber qualified second you could argue that he’d be riding shotgun for Sebastian Vettel. But with Lewis Hamilton taking that spot Vettel would almost certainly lose the lead if he doesn’t have KERS at the start.
And that’s why suggestions tonight that Red Bull has a start only KERS system make sense.
When a car goes to the grid it goes with the KERS having been fully charged in the garage – it’s not a question of loading it up by using the brakes on the warm-up lap or anything like that.
So in theory you could have a system that gave you a start boost and was inoperative thereafter. It could be smaller, lighter, create fewer packaging compromises, and require less cooling. A simplifed KERS could create an always welcome opportunity to play with ballast, although obviously this year there is less scope to adjust the weight distribution, as that is restricted by the rules.
Without KERS working off the brakes, drivers would be able to use them in a more optimal way throughout the race, and be at less risk of damaging the tyres or flat spotting them.
And of course it’s one less thing for drivers to think about. Mark Webber has made his feelings about the multi-tasking he’s now required to do quite clear.
Remember RBR briefly tried KERS in early 2009, and Adrian Newey soon discarded it. Back then weight was an issue – Webber is not the lightest driver in the field – but the limit has since gone up from 605kgs to 640kgs, so that has become less critical.
Clearly Newey did his sums back then and found that KERS did not fit his way of going racing, and it could well be that it still doesn’t, for the reasons outlined above.
So does RBR just have a regular KERS system that can be easily set-up just for start use, with a few elements removed or disconnected? Or does it have a dedicated ‘mini KERS’ that meets the letter of the rules and is never intended to work over a race distance? Does it have both and thus the option to fit either, depending on the track and the circumstances?
We should get some answers tomorrow, with a little help from the TV KERS graphic. Then the question could be whether other teams feel that such a system is within the rules.
It’s pretty clear that some might think it contravenes the spirit of the regs, in that having a system that doesn’t harvest energy over a race as it is intended to doesn’t do a lot for the green image of F1.
Tonight I asked a senior FIA guy if any of this made sense. He said he had no idea, but would ask his experts in the morning…