Formula 1: Against The Odds

Ferrari, Fuel and Friday Practice

with 3 comments

On the Friday of the British Grand Prix at Silverstone, I was fortunate enough to spend the day as a guest of Shell to discuss their technical partnership with the Ferrari Formula 1 team. I was keen to understand the difference that Shell made to the performance of the two Ferrari cars and to see whether I could gain any insight that would be useful in forecasting their future performance.

Throughout the day I was able to witness the Shell Track Lab, where detailed testing of the composition of all fuel takes place to ensure adherence to the strict F1 regulations, the Ferrari mechanics working on the cars between free practice sessions, an overview of the refuelling process. There were also several opportunities to talk with key people in the Shell/Ferrari technical partnership.

The main theme of the day was the technology and people behind Shell V-Power, but that didn’t stop me asking questions about the sporting implications of their development. As you may expect, any quantification of performance advantage was difficult to ascertain, with much deemed commercially sensitive. Naturally whilst I was looking for an edge over the bookmakers, Ferrari weren’t keen to reveal details of any edge over the other teams.

My question as to whether there was a difference in the fuel economy achieved between Felipe Massa and Kimi Raikkonen – perhaps as a result of their driving styles – and whether this had any effect on strategy, was greeted with nothing more than a smile!

I asked Lisa Lilley (Shell Technology Manager) whether Shell designed fuels specifically for different conditions to maximise Ferrari’s performance. Her reply was fascinating. Yes, they certainly were able to design fuels and liquids that best performed for example, in high temperatures or for the characteristics of specific tracks. Indeed they had done in the past – when Ferrari would hand them a set of requirements in advance of races which they would then supply to. However for the last eighteen months, Ferrari’s requirements have been static: an ongoing desire for more horsepower.

Lisa also emphasised that these performance improvements did not just come from the fuel, but from all of the liquids and lubricants that Shell custom-design for Ferrari . Shell currently employ more than fifty technical staff on the Ferrari F1 programme and feel confident that this gives them a performance edge over teams who simply procure fuel from a retailer. With the Formula 1 regulations dictating that the fuel used is so close to that which is pumped in to regular road cars, the trickle-down benefits of this development are clear.

The similarity in their race and road fuel was a message that was reinforced throughout the day, not just by the marketing team, but by the technology staff themselves. Specific developments such as Friction Modification Technology – which was developed for the race fuel – are now present on the forecourt. I offered to test the similarity by using a tank of race fuel in my road car for the long journey home. The Shell team seemed comfortable enough with their achievements to forego the need for my test.

Whilst there is a constant programme of development, logistics dictate that new products are not introduced at every race. For example, Formula One Management shipping requirements meant that the fuel used for the first four races was identical. Shell revealed that they are currently aiming for two or three performance steps throughout the season. Unfortunately – although unsurprisingly – I wasn’t able to determine precisely when these would be, although Lisa confirmed that they are likely to occur at natural points in the season, e.g. the return to Europe from fly-away races.

Over lunch I asked Shell to quantify their own value to the Ferrari team and to compare themselves with the fuel suppliers to other teams. Perhaps unwilling to deal in specifics, I was directed to events after the final round of the 2008 season. Despite the obvious disappointment being felt within the team due to Felipe missing out on the drivers’ championship by a single point, both he and Kimi took the opportunity to thank Shell for their contribution to the team’s success. The pride of recognition was immediately obvious in voices of the Shell employees.

Overall it was a fascinating day, with an incredible amount of detail offered by the Shell team. In terms of looking at where fuel will give Ferrari an edge in races, I think that I can only go as far as to say: watch out for relative performance improvements from the bigger teams – with dedicated fuel partnerships – at the natural opportunities within the season to bring new developments to the car. In this respect, fuel is no different to any of the components which teams introduce throughout the campaign in their quest to move further up the grid.


Written by f1punter

June 26, 2009 at 5:58 pm

3 Responses

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  1. […] When Shell invited us to join them for Friday Free Practice at Silverstone, we were glad to find we weren’t the only bloggers/podcasters in attendance. We had a good chat with F1 Punter, who in turn made the most of his day and has now done a sterling job of writing up his fuel findings. […]

  2. Some more thoughts about Shell and Ferrari from the blogosphere:

    Sidepodcast: On their sidepodtour, Rob Smedley and a promise of more to come.

    Brits On Pole: On the people that you don’t normally see.

    F1 Fanatic: On testing people for their suitability for corporate hospitality!


    June 27, 2009 at 12:08 pm

  3. hi really informative and interesting post. keep blogging. thanks


    June 30, 2009 at 3:30 pm

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