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by Matt Brogan

In what can only be described as extraordinarily privileged access, CarAdvice was today been allowed an exclusive behind the scenes look at Ferrari’s pit garage at the Australian Formula One Grand Prix in Melbourne.

Now before we start, I must begin with an apology, for although we were allowed to take cameras in to the garage, we were forbidden explicitly from publishing the images captured – and yes they were brilliant! It kills me that I can’t share them with you but unfortunately we must make do with those supplied to us from Shell.

However, I digress…

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As guests of Shell, our tour focuses particularly on Shell’s involvement with Ferrari and how the two teams have worked together to not only increase engine performance and reduce lap times, but to develop fuel and lubricant technology that has greatly assisted in extending engine durability, a topic that is certain to become even more vital this year with F1 rules now dictating a strict eight engines per driver/season.

While the relevance of Formula One fuel and lubricant technology may seem isolated from the commercial applications you and I employ, our day with Shell has shown that there is indeed a flow on effect from trackside labs to the very same fuels and oils we put in our own cars.

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Our tour of the garage, predominantly highlighting Shell’s mobile track lab, was hosted by Dr Lisa Lilley, Shell’s Technology Manager to Ferrari.

So valued by Ferrari are Dr Lilley’s services that she is employed on a permanent basis at the Gestione Sportiva offices at Ferrari headquarters in Maranello, Italy, to coordinate and develop the fuel and lubrication requirements of the team, in conjunction with Ferrari engineers, to blend precise fuel, oil and coolant formulas that will in turn be used during the Formula One race season.

In fact, Ferrari value Shell’s fuel and lubricants so much that these precious liquids are considered as components of the engine and in turn Shell devotes a 50 person research and development team, based in both Britain and Germany, to the cause to continually develop these components in conjunction with the Prancing Horse over some 18,000 person-hours each off-season.

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In addition to the European team, and a permanent laboratory in the Britain, Shell also provide Ferrari with a mobile Track Laboratory. This transportable analytical facility is staffed by three scientists from Shell – one for fuel, one for lubricants, and of course, Dr Lilley.

Technical formulation with Ferrari extends back six decades but began in earnest in 1996 with fuel specifically optimised and changed to meet the needs of strict new regulations such as the banning of sulphur and more recently, the 5.75 per cent (by weight) level of bio-oxygenate blend introduced in 1998.

The Track Lab travels with Ferrari to all race meetings outside the European Union with the sole purpose being to ensure the team’s fuel and lubrication needs are not only met, but enhanced and developed along the way so that as much information as possible is extracted and stored to again improve the recipe in the next off-season.

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The best thing is that with so much history, and over 11,000 samples on file, the team has an amazing database from which to draw reference. Analysis is therefore almost continuous, ensuring not only that these samples are there for any future reference, but that they continue to meet strict FIA guidelines.

Fuels and lubricants are both bench and track tested during this time to allow for the precise blend of elements to be realised prior to the season’s start. Each fuel, oil and coolant typically meets between 2200 and 2500 kilometres of in engine operational testing prior to the season’s start. At this time a reference sample, which must conform to FAI guidelines, is submitted to the governing body as a datum point.

Once the season is underway track testing is strictly forbidden by the FIA and although bench testing may still be carried out, all fuel and lubricants must match the original sample supplied to the FIA prior to the season opening. The FIA can analyse the fuel anywhere up to 30 times during the course of a single race meeting, meaning any change to the fuel’s blend is certain to be noticed.

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As far as Ferrari is concerned of course, this constant analysis also provides engineers with an early warning system of sorts. As Shell’s technical team can determine precisely how the engine and gearbox are wearing by studying the types of metal particles found, a natural occurrence in any vehicle’s lubrication system, any abnormality is very quickly noticed meaning the relative component can be checked before failure occurs.

To do this a sample of oil is placed in to the test equipment where a thin film of the lubricant is heated on a electrode to 4000-degrees Celsius instantly converting it to vapour. This vapour is then studied for any metal traces to determine which, of the fifteen different metals used in the engine, they could be, and indeed if their size and quantity is of any concern as to the health of the car.

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Shell supplies Ferrari with 200,000-litres of fuel annually for F1 development and racing. This fuel is produced in batches ranging between 20,000 and 50,000-litres and is transported to the race in sealed 50-litre drums. It takes two of these drums to fill the tank on each car.

Notwithstanding the huge logistical challenge faced in preparing and transporting this fuel from Shell’s British base to 18 track venues, the FIA also has a hand in proceedings with all fuel and lubricants having to meet strict guidelines.

So precise is this analysis that should old and new fuel be mixed together, ie: from separate batches, the FIA could then have cause to further question Ferrari with further checking carried out to see that the fuel is indeed within the allowable spectrum.

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Dr Lilley from Shell joked that when supplying the initial samples to the FIA this allowable spectrum is one boundary the team indeed likes to push with the fuel submitted often being marginal in terms of its relation to the edge of the allowable spectrum.

“If we don’t get at least one warning from the FIA, we’re not on the right track,” she said.

As she sees it being well ahead or way under specific values means Shell is pushing the limits of its technical innovation and better allows the fuel technicians and blenders to understand how different components and elements within the fuel compliment one another within the allowed range.

Of course if a batch of fuel is outside these guidelines, scope exists to “trim” the batch to meet FIA requirements, though once the season is underway, this procedure becomes much tighter with any fuel blend alteration made mid-season having to match, within allowable tolerances, the original pre-season sample.

Once the season is underway no further track testing is permitted, with bench testing only allowed, and although this doesn’t mean the formula can’t and isn’t changed throughout the season, the scope allowed for change is really quite restrictive.

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When we think of fuel, the first element that springs to mind is usually the octane level, though as Dr Lilley points out, F1 engines rev particularly high, up to 18,000rpm, meaning they are less sensitive to octane levels than the cars you and I drive. In fact, an F1 engine will operate on a range between 95RON and 102RON.

Other elements of the fuel’s chemistry are however key to the performance of the engine and it is this make up that must be spot on, especially when you consider again the logistics of the situation.

As an example, the same batch of fuel that is used in Melbourne will also be used at the Malaysian race and despite drastically differing atmospheric conditions, the car must operate equally as effectively on this same batch of fuel with its same specific weight, volatility and density.

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This means, that in races such as these, a faster burning fuel is more important. One that can operate in hot-conditions, develop maximum power and reliability. Counter this then to a race such as Monaco where the fuel will be trimmed to make it slightly more responsive. Yet, in both situations fuel economy is of course a strong consideration.

To balance this volume consumption, as opposed to mass consumption, is of considerable importance, and will become even more so next year with the FIA proposing a “no fill” race. Think of this meaning the fuel is lighter, so it atomises better, effectively meaning more fuel, lighter mass.

Weight is also a key to this recipe and if 50-litres of fuel can be made to weigh say for example 47kgs, then this considerable weight saving will not only improve on track performance, but re-fuelling time as well with an average F1 car fuelled at a rate of 12-litres per second.

Freight is also an issue here when you consider that this weekend in Melbourne, the Ferrari team will consume 2000-litres of race fuel, that’s a lot of 50-litre drums!

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Shelf life, something critical in commercial fuels, is surprisingly not as sensitive in race fuels. Typically the natural turn over of a particular batch is three months during race season, though in some instances Ferrari have used fuels up to six months old during a race.

Shell has bench tested race fuel up to 24 months old and has found it to be incredibly robust, still holding the same properties as when it was produced.

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The fuel used in Ferrari’s Formula One cars is absolutely bespoke, 100 per cent optimised to the specific requirements of that engine, yet should you and I be lucky enough to get our hands on a drum, it would run in our own road going cars beautifully.

Unfortunately reversing the scenario. ie: putting commercially purchased fuel in an F1 car, would not have quite the same result, and although an F1 car could certainly run, and run rather well on commercially available fuel, it would not perform at its peak.

That’s because commercially available fuels must meet a broader range of requirements, whereas the fuel used in the Ferraris this weekend can be tailored to one specific engine.

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The fuels you and I buy need to be used in all manner of different engine types, engine ages, atmospheric conditions and altitude, which all playing their part in a fuel’s performance, and it is each of these factors that Shell engineers must account for in formulating road going fuels.

It’s this formula that we as consumers can thank teams like Shell for developing, for without the years of racing expertise gained in Formula One, our day-to-day fuels would not have progressed to offer us the power, economy and clean burning properties that they do today – something worth remembering the next time you fill up.

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CarAdvice would like to take this opportunity to extend a very sincere thank you to Shell and Ferrari for their generous hospitality.

The 2009 Melbourne Formula One will commence at 5pm (EDST) tomorrow, Sunday March 29.






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