KERS and DRS: Formula One Technology

KERS and DRS: F1 TechnologyFormula One is the pinnacle of motorsport. The technology that is injected into the sport, usually by regulation change, will end up on your car in the near future. The teams spend millions of Pounds, since most teams operate in the UK, on the development of their cars and the technology from regulation changes. I’ll go through two of the 2011 season regulation changes. The acronym KERS stand for Kinetic Energy Recovery System and DRS stands for Drag Reduction System. Although I doubt DRS will be coming to a road car near you, KERS is certainly being used in some road cars already.

The FIA, which stands for Federation Internationale de l’Automobile, are the sport’s governing body. They deal with everything from rules and regulations to the enforcement of these rules and regulations. The regulation changes continually push the teams’ engineers and aerodynamicists to be even more creative with devices that could give them an edge when it comes to speed or performance. There are other changes, like the Pirelli tyres, which came back to Formula One in the 2011 season.

KERS

There are two options for KERS, and they are mechanical or hydraulic. Mechanical KERS has two types of systems: electrical and mechanical. The electrical system uses a battery to store energy, and the mechanical system uses a flywheel. The electrical system uses a motor generator built into the car’s gearbox; this converts the mechanical energy into electrical energy and vice versa. Once this energy has been “harvested,” it is stored in a battery to be released as required.

The mechanical system captures the braking energy and uses it to turn a small flywheel. The flywheel can spin up to 80,000 RPM (revolutions per minute). When the extra power is required, the flywheel is connected to the rear wheels of the car. This system is the most efficient because there is no change of state for the energy. The electrical system changes mechanical energy into electrical energy and stores the mechanical energy so there will be no energy lost in the change of state.

The current regulations allow the systems to convert a maximum of 60 kilowatts of electrical energy, whilst the storage capacity is limited to 400 kilojoules of mechanical energy. These both equate to around 80 brake-horsepower and this 80 BHP can be used for up to 6.67 seconds per lap. The energy can either be released all in one go or at strategic points around the lap. Lap time benefits range from around 0.1 to 0.4 seconds per lap.

That doesn’t sound like an awful lot of benefit but remember that, during qualifying, the extra tenth of a second could be the difference between pole position and second. During the race it could be the difference between passing another car safely and making contact. If you make contact at the kind of speeds we’re talking about, it could spell the end of your race and his — if not your — life. I’m not meaning to be melodramatic, but it wouldn’t be the first time that racing has taken the lives of great racers.

The other option for KERS is hydraulic. In this option, braking energy is used to accumulate hydraulic pressure, which is then sent to the wheels when required. This is much like how places such as London were powered, including Tower Bridge, during the industrial revolution. The basic principle, if you don’t know, is that liquids cannot compress. So you can make a small thing move very fast with a big accumulator or make a big thing move very slowly with a small accumulator. A big thing moving slowly could be a press or a metal forming machine. A small thing moving fast could be a car’s brakes or a beer engine.

DRS

The Drag Reduction System is a technology aimed at promoting overtaking in the sport. The device, operated by the driver, opens up a flap on the rear wing of the car. This flap effectively dumps the drag and downforce of the car, thus giving it greater top end speed and an opportunity of passing the car in front. During qualifying, the cars can use DRS anywhere around the lap. However, this changes come race day.

During the race, the cars can only use DRS after two laps of the circuit and only at a specified point or points during the lap. These points are known as DRS activation zones. However, the drivers can only activate their DRS at an activation zone if they are within one second of the car in front at the DRS detection zone. These are usually placed around 100 meters or more before the activation zone.

DRS gives the cars an extra 10-12 kilometres per hour more speed at the end of an activation zone and during qualifying could equate to around 0.5 seconds per lap. The main question is “Why can’t DRS be used throughout?” DRS can’t be used throughout the lap because the drag and downforce is required to keep the car on track. Downforce is what allows the cars to go around corners at such high speeds. If you tried to take a corner at 135 kilometres per hour in a road car you would find yourself drifting and jailed for speeding and reckless driving.

In Conclusion

KERS is already making its way out to a road car near you. It uses either a battery or a flywheel to store energy that allow you to be more economical and fuel-efficient. In Formula One it gives drivers an extra 80 brake-horsepower for a total of 6.67 seconds for an 0.1-0.4 seconds per lap benefit. DRS is only for Formula One and gives drivers more opportunity to overtake. It gives cars an extra 10-12 kilometres per hour advantage and, during qualifying, could equate to an 0.5 seconds per lap benefit.

The one thing that many people don’t think about, including me until a few weeks ago, is that these drivers are stepping into and driving nothing more than a prototype. These prototype cars go racing every week or two for a total of three days. The factories where these cars are built are in operation all the time to build and test parts in a wind tunnel before sending them, if they are good enough, to the team at the track. It is then up to the driver and the telemetry to tell the team if that part is good, bad, or just the same. What are your thoughts on Formula One?

CC licensed Flickr photo shared by TMWolf

Article Written by

John “Scotsman” McKinlay is a 25-year-old autistic living in Glasgow, Scotland. He has been an online presence since 1998, but has only recently found that his voice and writing skills could bring him into the world of blogging and podcasting -- with a bit of YouTube on the side. He joined the ranks of LockerGnome back in March of 2012 and has been warmly received both by the LockerGnome staff and by you lovely ladies and gentlemen of the LockerGnome audience.

  • RaterKey

    I never thought I’d see an article about Formula 1 in LockerGnome :)

    Anyway, good bit of writing. But it is worth pointing out that there are DRS like systems on road cars too giving them what is commonly know as “active aerodynamics”. The more obvious one that comes to mind is in the McLaren SLR. Below 59 MPH the spoiler is fully retracted, above that speed it raises to 10 degrees and on command it can be increased to 30 degrees. And when the driver brakes the spoiler raises all the way so the extra drag
    aids with the breaking.

    But this technology isn’t just for supercars it can help with average economy cars too. The upcoming 2013 Chevrolet Malibu being an example, this features shutters which at higher speeds redirect air that would normally go into the lower grill under the car in order to lower drag.

    • http://twitter.com/ThisDamnScots John McKinlay

      Ah! That’s interesting. One of the few times I am happy to be wrong because I means that I am learning something. Cool and I’m glad you liked the post.

    • http://twitter.com/ThisDamnScots This Damn Scotsman

      Ah! That’s interesting. One of the few times I am happy to be wrong because I means that I am learning something. Cool and I’m glad you liked the post.

  • adrian

    Just saw the TV advert for the new Ford Focus and it has a DRS system as it can close the front grill at high speeds. They call it an Active Front Grill and is designed to reduce fuel consumption by reducing drag at high road speeds.

  • Quark_ok

    Just a couple notes from an engineer:
    1) An electrical KERS system is not a subset of mechanical KERS systems. It is a different principle (every bit as different as using rotational kinetic energy is from using hydraulic pressure). All three types perform the same overall function, storing energy to be used later, but that’s where the similarities end.
    2) You need a big accumulator/reservoir to move a large object using hydraulics, and a small accumulator is fine for moving small objects (think about the size of the hydraulic fluid reservoir in the master brake cylinder on your car).

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  • Milan

    While DRS related restrictions are comprehensible, reasons for limiting KERS to 6.67s per lap are not. (?)

  • Myles Harding

    I suggest including the DRS Formula 1 rule to avoid confusion.
    “The system cannot be used by the defending driver, unless the defending driver is also within one second of a car in front.”