Hybrid automotive engineering finally made its way to the forefront of the world's most important motorsport series on the weekend when cars running the “hybrid” Kinetic Energy Recovery System finished first and second at the Hungarian F1 Grand Prix. The winning McLaren Mercedes MP4/24 of reigning world champion Lewis Hamilton and second-placed Ferrari of Kimi Raikkonen both used KERS systems, increasing the likelihood that both manufacturers will introduce high performance hybrid sports cars in the near future. Wired recently reported that McLaren was preparing a hybrid supercar, and Car and Driver is also speculating that the expected F430 successor includes a KERS system directly descendent from the F1 car. Ironically, the KERS system is likely to be dumped from F1 in 2010 as part of radical cost-cutting measures.
The pre-race speculation that the only remaining KERS-equipped cars on the grid, those of McLaren and Ferrari, would be able to exploit the roughly 60-80 bhp advantage they have off the line at Hungary proved correct with Hamilton twice using the temporary power boost to get by Red Bull's Mark Webber in the first five laps, and Raikkonen improving several places into the first corner.
The KERS system used on board the McLaren MP4/24 driven by Hamilton was developed by Mercedes-Benz HPE in Brixworth, England, while Ferrari developed the KERS system used on Raikkonen's F2009 car in conjunction with Magnetti Marelli. Both systems store their power electronically, as did all other systems under consideration by F1 teams this year other than the mechanical flywheel-based methodology for storing the recovered energy which was being developed by Williams Hybrid Power (formerly Automotive Hybrid Power) for Williams F1.
Though that system will likely never see an F1 grid, it is still regarded as a technology with a future in roadgoing automobiles.
The recent superhuman team effort of McLaren and Mercedes in turning a non-competitive car into a competitive one under new Chief Executive Officer Martin Whitmarsh once again underlines that Formula One is “about the car, stupid.” While last year's wunderkind and champion Lewis Hamilton has had a lean year in 2009, his profile has remained high, partly due to the pit row presence of new girlfriend Nicole Scherzinger, lead singer of the Pussycat Dolls.
Footnote: everyone at Gizmag, and no doubt we speak for our entire readership, wishes Felipe Massa a speedy and full recovery from his freak accident during qualifying.