Tuesday, March 10, 2009

KERS IN FORMULA ONE - WHAT IS IT?

Submitted - Chembur-Ghatkopar Plus (Times of India)




March 29, 2009 is the day when Formula One would re-emerge, re-confer and re-start to enchant us with its mesmerising charm. Just like the last year, this year too promises to be a king size entertainer. The global slowdown has made the organisers scratch their heads in bewilderment though. Team Honda has announced that they would be pulling out of Formula One due to financial problems. Keeping in mind the interests of the sponsors, new rules have been introduced to bring down costs. These rules are mostly focussed on introducing new technology in the car which would also make the Formula One cars "greener" and more energy efficient. The new rule which has raised most eye brows is the introduction of the KERS (Kinetic Energy Recovery System). This would however be optional for teams. Most of the teams have radiated their disapproval about using KERS though, but are preparing their cars to race with it as well. No one would want its advantage fizzle away. This technology is still in its nascent stage but teams are expected to ramp up its use in years to come. Many believe that the decision of its introduction has been taken in a hurry and teams have not got a better chance to test it.

Let us, however, explore this phenomenon. KERS is based on the first law of Thermodynamics which states that Energy cannot be created nor destroyed, it can however be converted from one form into another. When brakes are applied to a running car, a lot of fuel is wasted and energy is lost in the form of heat. With KERS the drivers can store this heat in the form of electric current and can utilise it to improve the cars performance during the race.

This is the fundamental expectation from KERS. The heat can be stored either in lithium batteries or in the fly wheel and would be available to the drivers via a boost button in set amounts per lap. Most of the teams have opted for the former (storing in batteries). Sounds good, till now! There are a lot of problems teams have encountered with KERS. First and foremost, it has made the car a lot heavier. Drivers are also worried about using lithium batteries in their car which is dangerous as they heat up at high temperatures. Recent reports claim that a BMW engineer got an electric shock while testing it. Additionally, if the car comes to a halt during the race in the pit lane, the heat would have to be discharged immediately as it may pose a danger to the mechanics. Williams, who are working on developing KERS into the flywheel have already ruled out using it in the inaugural race at Melbourne. KERS is expected to save fuel but since the technology is in its nascent stage, it'd not be able to save more than 2 litres of petrol per race this year. Racing teams have spent a lot of money on KERS for gaining an advantage over their opponents but the returns are marginal. Renault are said to have spent 8.5 million Euros. It is not going to be easy on others pockets too. Ferrari too has announced that KERS is going against their plans to save money.

One of the aims of people who control Formula One in introducing superior technologies is to make it available to common people like you and me. This seems impossible in the current scenario. The costs at which the teams operate are not only huge but also out of reach of the common man and they have continuously gone up in the recent years. There are many hurdles in transferring such an advanced technology like KERS to the common man. The relentless fight to provide access of superior technology to the common people has been going on for ages but questions still remain unanswered. The fight is going to continue further for sure. And the availability of the superior technology to us remains a distant dream. More cuts may happen next year in Formula One with a view of solving problems being faced today and whether they make the sport interesting or not is yet to be seen. Nevertheless, the razzmatazz of Formula One has the power to pump up the adrenaline.

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