New technical regulations see the arrival of adjustable rear wings and the return of KERS in 2011, but what exactly will it mean for Formula 1 and will it help improve the spectacle?
Adjustable Rear Wings
Of all the changes introduced by the 2011 technical regulations, perhaps the most exciting is the arrival of the adjustable rear wing, also known as a 'Drag Reduction System' or DRS, a device designed to generate better racing and improve the show for the fans. It's an interesting concept that presents the teams with a significant technical challenge and is likely to be one of the major talking points of the season.
Drivers are now able to adjust the rear wing from the cockpit under new moveable bodywork regulations designed to improve overtaking. The system is electronically governed and can be used at any time during practice and qualifying but can only be activated during the race when the driver is one second or less behind another car at specific points on the track. The adjustable rear wing is automatically disabled if the driver uses the brakes. The rules allow the flap to rotate away from the main plane up to a maximum distance of 50mm.
The front wing flap can no longer be adjusted by the driver from the cockpit and remains at a fixed angle while the car is on track. If adjustable front wings didn't help overtaking, why will adjustable rear wings fare any better? Well, it all comes down to the different way that changing the angle of the front and rear wings affects the overall drag of the car. If you change the angle of the front wing, you change the car balance, but the overall drag of the car remains about the same and hence straight-line speed is largely unaffected. However, changing the rear wing angle changes the drag of the car, and therefore the straight-line speed dramatically.
First introduced in 2009, KERS (Kinetic Energy Recovery System) returns to the sport in 2011 after the teams mutually agreed to suspend its use in 2010. KERS uses the energy generated under braking and makes it available to the driver through a boost button on the steering wheel.
The button, which provides up to 60kW for around 6.6 seconds, can be used in one go or at different points around the lap. The minimum weight of the car including driver has now increased to 640kg to avoid penalising heavier drivers.
The ban on refuelling has made it much more difficult to gain positions using pit strategy, which places a higher premium on qualifying performance. And it's during qualifying that the gains from KERS are greatest because cars can run with fully charged systems and get the maximum benefit on a flying lap. Then, at the start of the race (the best opportunity to gain positions), KERS offers another significant performance gain of 10 to 20 metres by the braking point for the first corner. While it comes with penalties in terms of complexity and packaging constraints, these headline gains are difficult to ignore.
In order for KERS to be reintroduced at a moderate cost level for 2011, there was little choice but to base it on the 2009 systems, which also meant inheriting the energy and power requirements of those systems. Also, with new engine regulations on the horizon for 2013, it makes sense for any significant KERS developments to coincide with the introduction of new engines.
Although the basis of the 2011 system comes from 2009, it has been completely re-engineered to ensure a much more competitive device. So every aspect has been optimised, including its integration with the vehicle. That has meant removing weight and significant repackaging to ensure it can be easily installed and removed from the car. This year's system represents a weight saving of more than 10kg compared to 2009.