The road from early Kinetic Energy Recovery System development to a historic maiden KERS-equipped win at the Hungarian Grand Prix has been a difficult one for the McLaren Mercedes team. Such is the opinion of Martin Whitmarsh as he shared his thoughts on the matter during a phone-in
conference on Wednesday.
"KERS turned out probably to be a bigger technical challenge than anyone realised at the outset," the Team Principal said. "I think what has been achieved is technically truly phenomenal.
"To be able to harvest the energy and redeploy it is challenging enough, but then to put all of the equipment necessary to achieve that within a Formula One car environment has been a real challenge," Whitmarsh explained, pointing out that the team was able to develop a 30-kilo system, probably the lightest KERS of the entire field.
Part of the difficulty for teams was building a car light enough, yet spacious enough to accommodate the weight of KERS: "Given the amount of energy that we're allowed to store and amount of power we are able to deploy, the theoretical benefit is never any more than 0.3 or 0.4 of a second [per lap], so clearly you've got to build a car below the weight limit first and foremost."
However, at the beginning of the season McLaren were dealing with several issues requiring serious attention.
"We had the weight distribution wrong for the tyres that were new this season," Whitmarsh explained. "It was difficult given the KERS installation and consequent lack of ballast, so I didn't think it helped us. Aerodynamically, the packaging has a negative influence on the car.
Our problems at the beginning of the year were various, stemming from the fact that (...) we put a lot of effort into developing last year's car."
With the sweeping major changes to the aerodynamic regulations coming into effect this year, the late development of the McLaren MP4-24 was further hampered by several technical and engineering matters coming into play at once.
"Consequently we weren't as well prepared for this year," Whitmarsh said. "I don't think we did a good enough job, we went down a technical blind alley, so we made a number of mistakes and that cost us dearly at the beginning of the year. KERS was just one of the challenges that we had which may have contributed to it."
Despite all the initial development and implementation troubles, the McLaren boss firmly believes that KERS is a definite asset, the Hungarian Grand Prix victory having proven the system's potential.
"Now there's no doubt that KERS is an advantage," he insisted. "We have potentially a small lap time advantage, we have a potential overtake or defend advantage, and certainly if we can get near the front of the grid then we have a launch advantage.
"It's been a real interesting technical challenge for everyone in the team," Whitmarsh said.