Why F1 must return to hybrid power
April 8, 2010
Sir Frank Williams is one of the grandees of Formula 1, with the departure of Ron Dennis he is certainly the elder statesman amongst the team principals. Frank’s continued presence at Grand Prix mean that we sometimes forget that he is one of world’s longest surviving quadriplegics. He severed his spinal cord between cervical vertebrae C6 and C7 in a car accident in 1986 and has been paralysed from the shoulders down and confined to a wheel-chair ever since. The Superman actor Christopher Reeve survived for less than ten years as a quadriplegic after a horse riding accident in 1995, Frank is still going strong after nearly twenty four years. Even so life is not straightforward for Frank, he cannot cough, sneeze or laugh, he needs constant nursing care and even activities you and I take for granted, like talking, take a lot out of him. Therefore when Frank makes a statement it is not something he does lightly and he recently made a statement about KERS – The F1 Kinetic Energy Recovery System that allows F1 cars to store energy created while braking in a battery and then apply a short power burst of around 80hp when the driver needs it by means of an electric motor. KERS was used in 2009, but only McLaren and Ferrari were able to get their systems competitive, it could also be argued that the failure of the BMW system was one of the reasons why they pulled out of F1 that year. Williams went down a different technological route, developing a mechanical rather than an electrical system which uses a flywheel to store the energy, they have also set up a separate business – Williams Hybrid Power with which to exploit the technology. Williams clearly believe that KERS is here to stay.
It was agreed amongst the teams that they would not use KERS in 2010, but if it is to come back in 2011 then agreement between the teams needs to be secured pretty quickly. The fact that Sir Frank is making a statement (in support of KERS) suggests that (as expected) there is not full agreement amongst the teams as to whether or not KERS should come back in 2011. Of course the biggest argument against is that it will increase costs with the teams having to engineer in KERS to their new cars, it is inevitable that there would be some level of cost increase, but F1 has already worked through the expensive bit of developing systems that work, the argument is more likely to revolve around whose system is used and when it is introduced. In my view it can’t come soon enough, F1 cannot afford to be seen to be behind the times technologically, yes it is about the show and the racing, but technology is a big part of the F1 brand, without which it would not be the wealthy sport it is today. Jean Todt has emphasized that his FIA Presidency will place emphasis on strategic issues with sustainability being pretty high up the list, it will be interesting to see if he is able to find a way forward to ensure that KERS remains. Let’s hope sense prevails and we see the return of KERS in 2011.