motoring.com.au visits the Scuderia Ferrari garage and its Shell fuel laboratory to get the good oil on what goes on behind the scenes at the F1 Grand Prix…
Shell and Ferrari have been working together for over 60 years. In fact, Ferrari considers the relationship so important that it actually refers to the fuel and lubricants Shell provide as a component of the car.
The benefits of this close relationship not only assist Ferrari’s on-track success, but that of regular motorists, too. Speaking to Shell fuel scientists at the Melbourne round of the 2012 Formula 1 Grand Prix, motoring.com.au learnt that Shell’s V-Power race fuel is quite similar to that we find at our local servo.
“Fuel regulations are very, very tight. But, as a rule of thumb the fuel [used at the Grand Prix] is 98 - 99 per cent the same as that used in road cars,” explained Shell motorsport representative, Peter Setchi.
“But when you’re talking about a few thousandths of a second [to win a race, the difference], it’s not such a small percentage. Cars carry up to 200 litres of fuel, and generally speaking cars won’t start the race with enough fuel load to finish – indeed fuel mix is one of the most important dials on the steering wheel. So economy is an important part of the equation.”
It’s an interesting point when you consider just how much marketing we’ve all heard about the efficiency benefits of high-octane fuels like Shell V-Power. Ferrari is the only team in the F1 paddock to have a dedicated fuel lab at every round and testing is almost continuous, as Shell’s technology manager, Dr Cara Tredget explains.
“We take this lab to every single race of the season and as you can see we’re right in the heart of the Ferrari garage. We do two really important things in the Track Lab. On one side we’re analysing V-Power racing fuel and checking its legality. On the other we’re analysing used samples of Shell Helix race oil,” says Tredget.
“We check 25 to 30 fuel samples over a race weekend and engine oil even more; over 40. We will sample before every session, after every session, even during avviamento (start-up). So we’re constantly getting samples, and we have tens of thousands of samples on record that teach us a lot about the products and help us prepare for the next upgrade [in 2014]. Our aim is to improve the formula and give Ferrari anything we can to add performance on the track.”
But it’s not quite that simple. Regulations surround fuel formulas are very strict, and Ferrari, like any other race team must abide by a detailed set of rules.
“When we develop a new fuel formulation we can’t just bring it to a race. We have to pre-submit a sample to the FIA and get it pre-approved to say it’s OK to race with,” explains Tredget.
“What the FIA do is take a GC (gas chromatography) trace which is like a fingerprint of the fuel - basically split it into its various components. The FIA can sample our fuel at any time over the weekend and compare that sample to the original. It’s a lot like drug testing, really.
“We’re also constantly checking the fuel to make sure it has not been contaminated in any way. For example grease from a mechanics glove, water, something like that, so we know hand-on-heart if the FIA come and sample it there will be no problems.
Moving forward the Shell team will experiment with a number of formulas throughout this season and the next in anticipation of the move to V6 turbocharged engines in 2014. The current 2.4-litre V8s will be replaced by 1.6-litre units, their higher rpm limits imposing a change to the recipe of not only fuel, but lubricants as well.
The engines will aim to deliver a 35 per cent reduction in fuel consumption and will include extensive energy management and energy recovery systems. This will see their appetite for fuel and lubricants change significantly.
“The next big change will happen in 2014 when the smaller V6 turbos arrive. We will see a radical change then, particularly in oil, actually… that’s a huge project that’s on-going at the moment,” said Setchi.
“2014 development is well underway. Shell and Ferrari are speaking almost daily on the development of that engine.
“There will be iterations of new fuel and new oil coming to the  car this year, the question is when. Shell will develop products almost of our own free will. We can suggest things to the team, we can send sample to Maranello for bench test, but [at the same time] there’s no point guessing what the team wants.
“If they like the look of it we will physically blend it and send it back to Maranello for testing. The team might want power, the team might want fuel efficiency, the team might want a more protective oil, and the team might want a more liberating oil. The majority of our work is simply understanding where Ferrari wants their engine to go.”