FIA race director Charlie Whiting is adamant that Kinetic Energy Recovery Systems will be used safely when the teams run the devices in anger for the first time in March.
The innovative but controversial devices, which store waste energy under braking for the driver to use as an additional boost, will make their competitive debut at the season-opening Australian Grand Prix.
All the teams, with the exception of BMW Sauber, have tried to delay the introduction of KERS on the grounds of safety. The push came after two high profile incidents: a fire at Red Bull’s Milton Keynes factory, and the electrocution of a BMW Sauber mechanic.
Ferrari, who are believed to be behind schedule with their development programme, have been particularly vocal about KERS with team president Luca di Montezemolo brandishing the technology as a “mistake” and ruling out an application to road cars.
However, Charlie Whiting is adamant that every possible precaution has been taken to ensure that the devices are used safely during grand prix weekends.
“Through the Technical Working Group, we set up a KERS Safety Working Group chaired by BMW,” he said. “They’ve met quite a few times and they’ve come up with a long list of suggestions, parts of which have already become regulations, and some of which will form the basis of a comprehensive document we’ll circulate to all circuits and tracks hosting a grand prix.
“The teams are taking this very responsibly for their own safety, of course. They’re also looking at how the marshals will respond to broken-down cars. There will be things like the KERS status warning light that will be on all cars. Marshals are going to be educated by the documentation we’ll provide.
“Also, the systems themselves should be safe. If there’s a risk, it should be clear to a marshal who walks up to the car. He should approach the vehicle, look at the KERS status light and, if it is in the wrong state, he shouldn’t touch the car.
“Also, people working on the track are being briefed about how to pick up parts, which will be clearly identified by colour coding. If they potentially contain high voltage, they have to know how to move them. They will also wear gloves, which are good for a thousand volts.”
There have been fears that KERS, and its related costs, will damage the racing spectacle by promoting a gap between teams that can afford to develop the technology and tailor it to their own cars, and the smaller teams who will have to become customers of the system.
There is also a concern that some teams may not be able to afford to run their cars with the technology at all which would compromise their drivers in the race and lead to a greater field spread.
However, Whiting believes that because KERS hands control to the driver, the technology will actually increase interest in the sport.
“I think KERS will add significant interest to Formula One,” he said. “It’s going to be very interesting to see how the drivers deploy it, because the rules state that the release of the power has to be under the complete control of the driver – that’s the important part.”