At the 2009 Hungarian GP, Lewis Hamilton debuted the Mercedes-AMG Hybrid F1 car, featuring the all-new Kinetic Energy Recovery System hybrid power source. Check out this video below to see how the technology has evolved over the last ten years to help Mercedes become the premier manufacturer of performance hybrid vehicles.
The Original Hybrid Drive
In 2008 the KERS system was in prototype mode, being tested in-house in the form of a 220-lb unit that operated at about 39% thermal efficiency. It was an unwieldy, water-cooled, bolt-on modification consisting of separate power and control units. For the race debut in 2009, the system had been vastly improved, weighing in at a mere 55 lbs and running at 70% thermal efficiency. This was the evolution of the KERS that propelled Hamilton to victory in Hungary.
The heart of the KERS lies in the regenerative braking system that captures the kinetic waste energy from the race car and transmits it electrically to the power unit, or battery. The power unit then stored the energy until it was needed, in this case in the exit of turn two, where Lewis could use the energy store to power a 60 kW electric motor for push-to-pass speed at just the right instant.
Develop or Die
One win is never enough, and anybody in racing can tell you, you’re only as good as your last race. In motorsports, the mantra is Develop or Die. The next evolution of the KERS came in 2012 when the weight was reduced by another kilogram and the efficiency increased by 10%. As of today, the 2019 evolution of the hybrid system tips the scales at the FIA minimum 20 kg, all the power and processing functions are housed in a single unit, and it operates at an astounding 96% efficiency. Perhaps the most impressive statistic about the development of KERS is that the power density, the amount of electrical energy that can be stored in a cell, has been increased twelve-fold over the years, giving the power unit a whopping 200 kW capacity.
Andy Cowell, Managing Director of Mercedes-AMG High Performance Powertrains, gives the technical explanation as to how the high level of efficiency in the KERS has been achieved. Essentially, using higher voltage levels has allowed Mercedes to lower current draw for the same power output. Lower current results in less power loss in the system. The 2019 evolution of the hybrid drive operates at just under 1,000 volts in the F1 car.
Bringing it Home
By far the most exciting part of all this technology is the fact that we, as non-superhuman race car drivers, get to reap the many benefits of AMG’s wildly expensive development. It’s one thing to watch F1 cars whipping around the track at 15,000 rpm, but it takes on a whole other dimension when you know that the tech in those screaming machines is making its way down to your local Mercedes dealer.
Andy Cowell reports that the electric drive system developed in 2009 for the Hungary GP did more than secure a victory for Hamilton, it paved the way for the technology necessary to make the 2013 AMG SLS electric drive possible. While not your typical Mercedes grocery-getter, the electric SLS was a bona fide road car, with four independently-driven electric motors capable of 738 lb-ft of torque each, resulting in a 0-60 time of just 3.9 seconds.
Hybrid isn’t just for supercars, though, as Mercedes now offers the GLC 350e SUV hybrid, with 315 hp and 413 lb-ft of torque with the help of an 85 kW electric motor. When real-life racing development gets filtered down the ranks into real-life road car applications, everybody comes out a winner. F1 hybrid technology has come a long way in the last decade, and the best is yet to come.