Have we replaced the ‘Tire War’ with the ‘Fuel War’?

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?

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Love the fuel war. Companies being allowed to develop their products in new and innovative ways to best their competitors is what all this should be about. For those that cry, “That’s not the way racing was in [insert random Golden Era here],” I say go watch vintage racing. Formula 1 claims to be the pinnacle of motorsport. If they’re to live up to that moniker, then engineering competition such as we’re seeing between Mercedes/Petronas and Ferrari/Shell is exactly what they need.

Heidi Wolff

I love the fuel war too. I wish there was a tire war though. I think that it’s going to be Ferrari/Shell that win the war with Mercedes/Petronas because Ferrari’s willing to put whatever resources are needed in the F1 team. Asia is about to experience some economic issues that might effect/slow Petronas’s progress in the fuel war.


Any war is a good war.

Paul KieferJr

World War 2 is calling. ;-)


Yeah, you know what I mean.

Paul KieferJr

Heck, I want a fuel war, tire war, engine war, chassis war, driver war, everything but the kitchen sink war!

charlie white

What was old is new again: the return of “witches’ brew fuel” There were a similar time in F1 during the past turbo era when sponsoring petrol companies were mixing specialized formulations for their customer teams. So we have it again in 2015. Everyone should be careful or the FIA will mandate regular unleaded gasoline.


They pretty much do already. The fuel has to be something like 99% what you can get at the pump but my what a difference that last 1% makes.

Negative Camber

Having worked with Shell very closely over the past couple years, I know it isn’t anywhere close to those radical fuel days. I spoke with the person who does Guy Lovett’s job back in that day. Very interesting stories but both he and Guy say that the fuel regulations and restrictions are very tight. In fact, they were making more progress with their lubricants than fuel because they had less restrictions. :)


They are designing their engine and fuel to resist detonation not control it. I think you mixed up detonation and ignition.

Michael in Seattle

The big problem with a so-called fuel war is: engine customers who are sponsored by alternative energy companies will not reap the benefits of the fuel company and engine manufacturers association. If the new MBZ engine is reaping its performance benefit due to its relationship with Petronas, this only benefits MBZ cars/team; the other MBZ engine clients use alternative fuels. Poor Williams must rely on Petrobras fuel and pray that they get the formulation gnats-ass close to the Petronas mixture, or, no extra 40 bhp for you Williams – let alone FI1 and Lotus. If Red Bull adopts Ferrari engines,… Read more »


Much like the tyre war it has reduced the field to two competitive teams. Everyone else is at a disadvantage.