Wednesday, June 24, was an important day for Formula 1, for it was on that day that FOTA made a deal with Max Mosley which should see him stand down as president, and also served notice that it is not to be pushed around – on anything – in the future. Bernie Ecclestone remains pivotal to F1, but it is unlikely that his power base will ever be quite the same again.
Even before this palace revolution, though, we had some firm details about Grand Prix racing in 2010. Some time before FOTA opted decisively not to bend the knee to Mosley, its members had anyway decided that, whatever else, they would not continue with the farce of KERS next season, and quite right, too.
KERS (Kinetic Energy Recovery System) became one of Max’s hobby-horses some time ago, his argument essentially being that F1 needed to exhibit a degree of social responsibility if it were to defend itself – at some future point – against those clamouring for its banning in a ‘green’ age.
Mosley’s fundamental thinking may not have been without some merit, but quickly the boffins of F1 derided KERS per se, saying that already it was outdated and clumsy technology. If Max were serious about introducing into racing energy-saving devices that might one day benefit the everyday motorist, this was not it.
In typical Mosley fashion, he would hear none of it: KERS was to be introduced in 2009, and that was the end of it. His only concession was that, for the first year, its use was optional, becoming compulsory the following year.
The teams, therefore, reluctantly got to it, and it wasn’t long before all manner of pitfalls were revealed, one of them being safety-related. It was strange, some thought, that a governing body otherwise preoccupied with safety should seek to introduce an extra potential hazard.
The designers and engineers loathed, too, the fact that the system was so heavy – 30kgs – and cumbersome, and inevitably had a negative effect on their cars’ handling and braking. In terms of lap time, was it going to be worth compromising nimbleness for an extra 80 horsepower for a few seconds a lap?
We’ve had our answer this season: ‘KERS cars’ have hardly figured. Very well, you can say that the teams using KERS – McLaren, Ferrari, BMW and occasionally Renault – have all built untypically poor cars in 2009, but thus far, even with that extra power they have been nowhere, leaving Brawn and Red Bull to clear off into the distance. At Silverstone only Ferrari used KERS, and BMW declared it had put it away for good.
It was evident even before the first race of the season that the F1 teams, save perhaps BMW, had no enthusiasm for KERS, and Flavio Briatore told me he was confident that it would shortly disappear. In June came the FOTA vote to get rid of it, and perhaps surprisingly there was no outraged response from the FIA – perhaps because, in this time of obsessive cost-cutting, it has been hugely expensive. Ferrari’s Stefano Domenicali spoke for everyone in F1 when he described the KERS adventure as a very costly waste of time.
Costly it has certainly been, with a team like McLaren spending around $20 million on developing it. A curious thing to introduce at a time of obsessive cost-cutting, was it not? Perhaps it went down well with the EU…