Not too long ago, some Formula 1 fans were bemoaning the era known as the “Tire Wars”. It was a time when multiple tire suppliers were in F1 and were working with main teams on bespoke tire compounds designed around their chassis and specifications. Perhaps the high-water mark for the tire war was the USGP in 2005 when Michelin were unable to run safely having brought too fragile of a compound for the race.
The current era of F1 is really centered on the new power unit and it has had a huge impact on the sport. Some would say positively and others negatively. Regardless, it has brought a new war of the engines—this is not without precedent as the early beginnings of F1 was all centered on the shove in the back of the car but this era is different.
These hybrid units are breeding a new war focused on fuel. With fuel restriction and much of a power unit’s performance derived from a combination of internal combustion as well as energy recovered through kinetic and heat reclamation, the fuel has become a silent weapon.
Mark Hughes has a wonderful piece that uncovers the reason for the performance shock of the Italian Grand Prix weekend when Mercedes brought their 2016 engine out to play. After a few blistering laps, the performance was dialed down but what it revealed was a bespoke fuel from Petronas that is designed to work with the new engine to unlock as much as 40bhp.
You may recall, several weeks ago, and investigation into Ferrari and fuel partner Shell over a possible fuel infraction. IF you start connecting the dots—granted, they’re not difficult to divine here—you get a bigger picture of where the focus is when trying to gain performance and how Ferrari may have made such ground on Mercedes.
Shell’s case was centered on where they may be injecting fuel into the system after the fuel flow sensor. In short, how were they providing fuel to their system and at what points? You may also recall the FIA beginning a new test even earlier over pressurization of the fuel through the entire fuel delivery system.
Mark does a nice job of unpacking the particulars of how this new Petronas fuel is designed to work with the Mercedes internal combustion engine (ICE) and even allows for a re-design of the cylinders impacting combustion timing as to when detonation occurs. In short, attempting to have a more controllable detonation event and giving more power for the same fuel-flow rate.
No doubt Ferrari and Shell have been working as diligently and it’s well-known amongst the teams and FIA. The FIA prompted an investigation into Shell’s activities and found them to be within regulations. Shell and Ferrari have just renewed their long-standing relationship as well and you can bet the Ferrari ICE development will be in complete harmony with their fuel supplier.
So you didn’t like the tire war but how are you liking the fuel war? The hybrid war?