By Hannah Taylor, F1 Correspondent
Despite now being into round five of the 2011 Formula One season, it seems that Red Bull in particular, are still struggling with one key element on their cars. Among the new additions to the inside of the cockpits, is the KERS feature.
The Kinetic Energy Recovery System (KERS) made its debut in Formula One at the beginning of the 2009 season and it was removed from the sport the following year, before returning for this current one. The feature was introduced to present a more environmentally friendly way, of a system used in road cars, to see the impact it has upon the motor racing industry. From the drivers’ point of view it puts them at an advantage, whereby it can assist them during an overtaking manoeuvre.
KERS works while under braking, and kinetic energy is recovered from this, where it then converts to power and aids acceleration. An extra power boost of 80bhp is then on hand to propel the car and pass another to take a position from them.
As the lead up to the Spanish Grand Prix today proved, during practice and qualifying, for now the fourth time in five race weekends, the Red Bull team alone have faced problems with their KERS. As a result of this, the tables turned between team mates, Sebastian Vettel and Mark Webber. Vettel’s Australian team mate Webber, ended the German’s four consecutive pole position run yesterday. Vettel lost out on the top spot by two tenths of a second, and his KERS had let him down, in the final two sessions of qualifying as well. While he refused to lay the blame on this factor, he did suggest that KERS was not running so smoothly on his car.
“I think we will be on top of KERS for the race, the guys are pushing hard and we have proved our car has become quicker, so big compliments to the aero guys in the factory and everyone here. We are working hard on KERS. I didn’t have it in Q2 or Q3 today, but I’m sure we will have it tomorrow for the race,” explained Vettel.
Before the race had got underway earlier on, there was uncertainty as to whether or not Vettel had KERS working on his car. He explained that they had changed the battery and charged the KERS, so he was hoping it would work in the race. With this being a possible disadvantage, in the long run down to the first corner, Vettel also had the added pressure of starting from the dirty side of the track.
Where the drivers in the midfield were concerned, it was interesting to see who was also running with KERS and who was not. Heikki Kovalainen for Team Lotus did not have KERS for the race but still managed to race well into the field, and keep his rivals on their toes. Sadly, the Finnish driver did not reach the end of the race when he crashed out on lap 48, as he lost control of his car into Turn four.
Paul Di Resta is another driver who is not quite near the front-runners, but he started the race with the use of KERS. The Force India driver gained four places after making his way from 16th place, and finished just ahead of his team mate Adrian Sutil.
Nevertheless, once the lights went out to mark the start of the race, Webber in the sister Red Bull dropped from pole to third place. Vettel remained in second place but failed to challenge Fernando Alonso, who stormed through to take the lead on his home soil in Barcelona. At the start of the race it looked like Vettel was running without KERS, and he could not keep up with the Ferrari driver in front.
After a pit stop for fresh option tyres on lap 11, the situation was looking more hopeful for Vettel just three laps later. It was reported via the team radio to him “Remember to use all of the KERS every lap, remember to use all of the KERS every lap”. This indicated that Vettel might have had the use of KERS from that point. Just a little further into that particular lap, and he was scrapping for position with McLaren’s Lewis Hamilton. Vettel was holding onto second place, whilst Hamilton was attempting to snatch it from him. During this battle between the World Champions, both drivers put their KERS to use against each other.
As the competition between the front-runners began to heat up, both Webber and Vettel were advised by their team, to use half of their KERS on the straight. At the time the Ferrari duo of Alonso and Felipe Massa, appeared to be setting a faster pace, and Red Bull needed to keep up with them.
On lap 20 the fortune seemed to change and favour Hamilton, who remained out on track on older tyres, which allowed him to set a few quick laps, ahead of his Championship rivals who were in the pits. In the middle stage of the race it looked like Webber was not using KERS, but this did not appear to affect his speed on the track. Unlike his team mate Vettel who was losing a bit of time lap by lap, Webber was making good progress on lap 32. He fought with Alonso at the time, who was in third position, and Webber in fourth place. The pair did swap places temporarily, but they soon reversed when Alonso snatched it back.
KERS was on and off, which meant I was playing around with the brake distribution a lot.
As well as battling for position with Alonso, Webber also lost out to McLaren’s Jenson Button who gained fourth place. Button activated his KERS to slip passed Webber and then Alonso. Both drivers failed to stop the 2009 Champion coming through.
Although it was reported to Vettel on lap 45, that his KERS seemed to be out of action, this did not hinder his progress as the team reported later on “KERS two, two clicks forwards, use KERS”. At this stage of the race, Vettel was leading the field from Hamilton who was not far behind him.
Sadly, on lap 53 it was Webber’s turn to suffer KERS issues, and he did not seem to have the use of it from then on. Meanwhile, on lap 58 as the race was getting to the closing stages, the McLaren team reported to Hamilton “Lewis, it might be an idea to save your KERS until the start/finish line”. This indicated that maybe he was hoping to catch Vettel and snatch the race win. Unfortunately, this was not the case for the 2008 World Champion. As a result of Vettel’s victory he has set a record, and become the first driver in 11 years, to win the Spanish Grand Prix without starting from pole position.
Over the weekend Vettel had mixed results, but achieved a positive outcome in the end. He described the issues he had with KERS, and on picking up another race victory for 2011.
“KERS was on and off, which meant I was playing around with the brake distribution a lot. McLaren and Lewis especially gave us a hard time today. It’s quite a release when you cross the line and you know that you made it, so I’m very, very happy,” commented Vettel.
Even though the racing action in Spain is over, there is only one week to wait until the drivers head to Monte Carlo. The Monaco Grand Prix is famous for the challenge that the street circuit poses on the drivers. With the new elements on the cars in play, like KERS, it will be interesting to see how these are put into action, on a track where overtaking in particular is near impossible.