Hidden advantages of fuel and oil

The chassis, the engine, the tyres are all well known components of the F1 package, but there are other less obvious elements that play a vital role and they are the fuel and lubricants, which in the case of Scuderia Ferrari, are provided by its...

The chassis, the engine, the tyres are all well known components of the F1 package, but there are other less obvious elements that play a vital role and they are the fuel and lubricants, which in the case of Scuderia Ferrari, are provided by its partner, Shell.

Every race track makes different demands on these items, but here in Monaco, lubricants play a more important part than at some other circuits, particularly for the transmission. "In the case of both engine and gearbox, there is always a trade off between the efficiency of the oil and it's protection performance," says Shell Formula 1 technical manager, Mike Copson.

"We are always looking at how to reduce friction (between moving parts) because friction is the enemy of power. The shift pattern on an F1 gearbox is very harsh as it takes around 20 milliseconds to change gear, so the driver gets through the gears incredibly quickly and over 2000 times at Monaco. The gear oil therefore gets a very hard time, not only through being churned around by the gears but also because it is very hard to lubricate two surfaces rubbing against one another which is more demanding than the type of lubrication required in an engine."

"Added to that, the cars are travelling relatively slowly at Monaco so there is less cooling and that creates the worst possible environment for an oil, aggravated by the many changes of direction through all the corners. So, for this race more than others, wear protection becomes a major priority when producing the oil. If added to that the ambient temperature is high it makes life even more difficult."

Shell is not just implicated in producing fuel and lubricants. "We put a major effort into developing hydraulic fluids which activate the throttles on the engine and the gear shifts," continues Copson. "The fluid has to provide a 'solid rod' between the control and what is actuated. When a driver puts his foot on the throttle or changes gear, it requires an instantaneous response. So compressibility is very important as is cleanliness. It is a very stern test of our handling of the fluid to retain that cleanliness. Even grease is specially made for the car, designed to reduce friction to a minimum in parts like the constant velocity joints on the drive shafts to reduce rolling resistance on the road."

Although the concept that a good fuel can be a source of power from an engine is easy to understand the whole fuel scenario is far more complicated, affecting not only power, but torque, driveability (of key importance at Monaco,) fuel economy and therefore even race strategy. The chemistry of producing the fuel is very complex, because these elements often work against one another, as in simple terms, a powerful fuel is not always an economical one.

"We can improve driveability out of corners by using fuel components that are more volatile and make it burn quicker. In terms of a fuel's density, this is controlled by the FIA. At the 'light' end of the density scale if you have two cars of the same weight, but you are running a lighter fuel, then that car can have more fuel, allowing it to go further on the race track. It is about maximising the pit stop window, which then helps the Ferrari strategists."

"As far as fuel economy is concerned, even if you have power and driveability, these advantages are lost if economy is bad. You also have to consider that these fuels have to work at much higher temperatures than in a road car. The fuel is also moved about a lot, from the original supply in drums, to the refuelling rigs in the pit lane and finally to the car. It makes our life very difficult to ensure it stays in conformity with the FIA sample. This is a team effort as the condition of the fuel depends on the way Ferrari handles and stores it."

At every race, the fuels and lubricants programme is run from the Shell Trackside Laboratory which is incorporated into one of the Ferrari trucks. "On the fuel side we take about 40 samples in the course of a weekend," reveals Copson. "The main reason is to check it always conforms to the sample previously approved by the FIA and that it is always performing to its maximum. A fuel is made up of between 200 and 250 different chemical and each one has a maximum and a minimum reading. The sample is heated in a gas chromatography machine and that creates a line graph. The FIA has an identical machine so it is simply a case of overlaying the two graphs to ensure they match."

"The fuel could change if it is contaminated or it could be affected by weather. The better the analysis, the closer you can get to the FIA limits, which gives you a better fuel, in the same way that the most accurate method of weighing the car ensures you can run closer to the minimum weight limit."

The oil monitoring side is slightly different. Samples are taken from the cars throughout the weekend, even though there are very few FIA restrictions on lubricants. While the fuel is broadly similar to pump fuel you buy for your road car, the lubricants are much more bespoke. "We look at the level of metal found in the oil when taken from the gearbox or engine for example," says Copson.

"That is compared to the levels found at other points in the weekend and even to those from past years at a certain track and Shell uses this data to give Ferrari a picture of the condition of its engine, in much the same way as a doctor can get information from a blood test." Scuderia Ferrari's engines reliability is excellent with only two race engine failures in the past four years, which is exceptional in this sport. Part of that reliability is down to the excellent partnership with Shell.


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Series Formula 1
Teams Ferrari