McLaren-Mercedes’ newly-promoted technical director Paddy Lowe has warned rivals electing not to run with KERS (Kinetic Energy Recovery Systems) in F1 2011 that they will be unable to ‘produce a competitive car’ and as such will be left languishing at the rear of the field and merely ‘making up the numbers’.
The controversial KERS technology – one that is being developed to become road-relevant in the near future, with F1 as a sort of proving-ground – first entered the top flight two years ago, but it was not a universal success, with fewer than half of the teams using it due to its excessive weight and cost, and some of those that did abandoning it before season’s end.
McLaren, indeed, was the only competitor to persevere with the ‘power boost’ system all the way to the conclusion of the campaign, with the Mercedes-developed device widely-recognised as the best on the grid – and Lowe insists the team would not be without it now, going on to warn the likes of KERS sceptics Team Lotus, Virgin Racing and Hispania Racing (HRT) that they are fighting a losing battle.
“It wasn’t a difficult decision to re-introduce KERS,” he reflected. “We know there is real performance there and some real lap time. Also, as we found out in 2009, it’s very powerful to use at the race start. Teams would admit they had lost position relative to us before the race had even begun...
“If you were going to compete this year without the KERS hybrid, we believe you would simply be making up the numbers as you would not be able to produce a competitive car. We believe the re-introduction of a hybrid system will play to our strengths. We’re very positive about what we can get out of it in terms of extra gains.
“The re-introduction of KERS has been a big project, but we’ve learned some lessons from the previous occasion. We are using a common system developed by Mercedes, so we had to find a package that would accommodate the needs of both teams – and we’re really happy with what we’ve got.
“One of the problems with an F1 car is trying to find extra volume, which is pretty scarce these days. By putting KERS back in we had to displace fuel, so we had to grow the dimensions some other how and make the tank a little bit longer in order to allow the KERS to sit at the front of the engine.”
Revealing that the KERS of 2011 is ‘a much more integrated system’ than it was back in 2009, Lowe explained that it is ‘better for weight distribution and easier to manage’ – and a unanimous accord amongst competitors last year played no small part in facilitating its re-introduction, he admits.
“In the middle of last year, the teams all agreed we would fix the weight distribution on cars to a very narrow range,” he recounted. “As the [Pirelli] tyres had not yet been developed and the specification was not clear, what we didn’t want was to have to take a gamble, because it would be a very expensive gamble for a team to get wrong. In 2009, the ballast of the car reduced with KERS, so the ability to play with weight distribution was eliminated. The key for 2011 was reaching this agreement for a fixed weight distribution range.”
One key change for F1 2011 is that the so-called ‘double-decker’ diffusers – so contentious in the early stages of 2009 – have been outlawed, causing teams to look for alternative solutions to regain the lost downforce at the rear of the car. McLaren has opted for a pullrod suspension à la defending double world champions Red Bull Racing, and Lowe hints at far more shrewd innovations beneath the MP4-26’s surface, invisible to the naked eye.
“Aerodynamics is always the big area we need to keep pushing,” the 48-year-old mused. It’s the area that has historically delivered the most lap time, particularly in an era of frozen engine rules. The loss of the double-diffuser has taken a lot of downforce from the rear of the car, but we think we’ve come up with some good ideas about how to recover it.
“The sidepod solution is quite unique, and has given us a new envelope to try to drive performance to the rear of the car. We need to keep thinking out-of-the-box. Compared to ten or 20 years ago, it’s really quite staggering what can be delivered given the restrictions we have now – it’s a tribute to imaginative thinking.”