In Europe, where Green is the state religion, everyone is expected to bow before that altar — even Formula One, the world’s premier auto sport where multi-million dollar missiles-on-wheels gulp fuel at 3 mpg at 18,000 RPM while attracting hundreds of thousands of RV-borne fans to tracks across five continents.
So in 2009, F1 came up with the green gesture of KERS — the Kinetic Energy Recovery System — whereby race teams were required to install electric, regenerative-braking “hybrid” systems that would store energy that drivers could use for quick bursts of instant power to pass opponents.
With this year’s F1 season not even half over, KERS is widely viewed as a bomb. Why? Because it is expensive and returns little bang for the buck (a familiar complaint of hybrid drivers everywhere).
In fact, the top teams this year are notable for not using the system (despite its being mandated by F1 authorities), while teams like Ferrari and McLaren that have installed KERS have reported repeated glitches and have been off the pace.
Now, under pressure from the international recession to keep costs down, the Formula One Teams’ Association is lobbying to ditch the mandate altogether in 2010.
“F1 has to demonstrate that it has some green credentials,” says McLaren chief Martin Whitmarsh, “but at the same time, in this economic climate everybody is looking to save costs. We have to be realistic.”
In the hyper-competitive world of F1, in other words, green expense matters. It’s a lesson for those in Washington who want to force hybrid technology on America’s hurting automakers.