Saturday, 9 April 2011

DRS and KERS in the new F1 season

I'm a massive F1 fan, it's such an exciting sport, it competes with Rugby as my favourite. With the new season just underway, I thought I'd give my two cents regarding the new DRS and KERS on the cars.

Lets start with DRS. First of all a quick introduction, DRS stands for Drag Reduction System, which basically means that the drivers have a button they can press which will flip up the top half of the rear wing. This reduces aerodynamic drag giving the car a slight but none-the-less significant speed advantage.

There are however some complex rules regarding its use. In qualifying it can be used whenever to decrease lap time. But it has to be used carefully by the drivers, if they flip it on or off at the wrong moment in a turn, it can potentially cause a massive imbalance of drag which will spin the car. This has the power to ruin a flying lap.

In the race proper it becomes a little more complicated. It is purely a tool to assist in overtaking. Once a driver is within one second of the driver in front, the DRS light flashes, indicating to the driver that they can switch it on to increase their speed and give them a better chance of overtaking. But crucially the driver being overtaken cannot use the DRS to comeback, they just have to sit back, take it and do their best to defend their line. This makes—in my eyes—overtaking, massively artificial.

David Coulthard is arguing on the BBC that the car itself is an overtaking device, but, to my knowledge there is no other device that essentially gives the drivers an overtake button, and that is the crucial difference between DRS and the rest of the car.

Whether or not this is the way the DRS is currently working in practice is moot, because based on the rules this is the way it is clearly intended to be used.

Next KERS, which stands for Kinetic Energy Replacement System. I'm not going to pretend to know exactly how it works, but as I understand it, it's an electrical boost to speed. The rules state that in contrast to the DRS, it is up to the teams whether or not they have a KERS in place.

In the coverage you will see a little battery icon when following a driver which shows the state of the KERS. It has a limited use per lap, and has a 'recharge zone' which doesn't actually mean it recharges it simply becomes available to the driver again. Before the season started I assumed that KERS was an obligation to all teams. Sometimes the press coverage of rule changes and such on can be very ambiguous. KERS weighs a fair amount and takes up space in the car which can cause performance reduction and compromise car and engine design.

Red Bull, last week in Melbourne, did not have KERS in their car, which reduced the weight in the car and allowed Adrian Newey; the car's designer to not compromise his clever designs and gave them a big advantage in both qualifying and the race.

I don't think the DRS is a good idea, or at least in the way it is currently regulated. But is there another device in the car that creates a similar overtaking advantage, that has been around for several previous seasons? If KERS is in the sport at all then it should be compulsory for every team.

I'd love to know what you think, thoughts in the comments.

*UPDATE* 8th May 2011

It's since been clarified that all teams have to have a KERS system in place in the car. The difference with the first race and Red Bull is that they did not activate their KERS, because they couldn't figure out how to make it work and are still having trouble with it. So they were still carrying the weight and design compromise of KERS without the extra performance. That is in all honesty, quite impressive, though I understand Adrian Newey is still hating on KERS.