I wrote a piece last week that considered Ferrari’s power advantage at the Belgium Grand Prix and how they, and Mercedes, had brought their final version or spec 3 engine to the race. The thought that crossed my mind was how this power advantage was clearly seen on the long power circuits and if that advantage could pay dividends this weekend for the Italian Grand Prix as well as the rest of the season.
If this is the final iteration of the 2018 power unit, then it’s down to the teams to try and find development on the chassis and in aerodynamic work to make their car very slippery through the air.
One element that I left out of the development equation but is critical to continued performance advantages in the power unit, is our friends over at Shell. We’ve worked with Shell to discover how they approach racing fuel and lubricants and to be honest, they set the bar by which all other Formula 1 fuel suppliers are measured.
I’ve met Guy Lovett many times and he’s one of my favorite people in the paddock. He Is Shell’s motorsport technology manager and runs the track-side lab for Shell. That lab is in Ferrari’s garage at each race. Guy would be at the forefront of fuel development and the iteration they brought to Belgium that saw Ferrari’s resurgence in power.
“This circuit will exaggerate the difference because it’s longer and power-demanding, which is a good thing,” Guy Lovett told Autosport.
“Over the past three seasons, through our fuel and lubricants development work, we’ve contributed to over 20% of Ferrari’s power unit gain in performance.
“You always expect to make big gains at the start and then for development progress to taper off. We’ve not found the taper yet.
“That’s enabling us to make significant performance contributions to Ferrari, in that ‘over 20%’ bracket.
“It surprised us a few years ago that the fuel could make so much difference to the new V6 engine but we’ve been able to continue that.”
You can search our site for Shell and you will find many articles about how their relationship works and you can listen to interviews I have done with Guy and the folks at Shell. IF you are a long-time fan of the site/podcast, you’ll know how Shell achieves those gains and you’ve heard about my exploits trying to create my own racing fuel in their lab.
Shell’s impact was immediately felt by Sebastian Vettel when he joined Ferrari and he told me that he could feel the power increase from fuel iteration improvements.
While Shell has led the way, Petronas and others have seriously increased their efforts to replicate the kind of fuel development that Shell has done. In an article over at Autosport, Petronas is now looking at universities for help with innovation for fuel and lubricant development.
Petronas’ head of group research and technology, Andy Holmes, said that most of the standard methods of development have all been done and that he believed new and innovative methods need to be discovered and applied.
“For us, what is critical at the moment is a pipeline of new ideas, new chemistries, and tuning the fuel properties to meet the challenges that are coming,” he told Autosport.
“So, the pressure is on us. That increasingly takes us in the direction of new chemistries.
“We are increasing our investment and innovation, looking to develop new components and new fluids that can keep giving us incremental gains.
“We think it is tough, but the reason we are in it is because we think those gains can be made.”
Autosport had an exclusive interview with Andy and Eric Holthusen at Petronas and asked them about their plans to find that innovation. Petronas’ chief technology officer, Eric Holthusen, said:
“If you look into universities, a lot of research is done without the pressure that industries put on their own development teams.
“Andy and I are constantly under pressure and whatever we do we are asked: ‘What is the value to the business?’ – if you are at university you have a lot more freedom and you can play with new chemistries.
“We need to make sure we understand what is happening in universities. And if we see something that is promising, ensure that we are part of the gang.”
Now this is interesting as most fuel suppliers have tried to replicate what Shell does in the F1 paddock and but now they are looking to universities for innovation. Unfortunately for them, Shell has been doing this for years now through their Eco-Challenge program which I’ve attended.
Shell sponsors the Eco-challenge and work with university teams around the world on real innovative ways to get more from fuel. I appreciate Petronas’ desire to explain their strategy but it’s a bit like an old Top Gear episode in which the lads have a race and just when Jeremy Clarkson gets to the finish, he finds James May already sitting there enjoying a beer. Shell is already sitting at a university table enjoying a multi-year relationship with some of the top college innovation teams from around the world.
Can the Petronas model help them claw back performance in Monza? Or will Shell continue to deliver new fuel and lubricant iterations to retain their power advantage until the end of the season?