Shell rises to refueling ban challenge

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For the first time since 1993, refueling during pit stops has been banned in Formula One, meaning that every race car will have to run on the same tank of fuel for the entire race distance. This new rule change has had a variety of implications for all Formula One teams, impacting upon car design, race strategy, and, significantly for Shell which supplies the race fuel Shell V-Power for Ferrari.

What does a ban on fuel mean to a company that specializes in fuel for one of F1’s top teams? We knew it would have an impact on the fuel situation and most likely a negative one. We were wrong.

Lisa Lilley, Shell Technology Manager for Ferrari, describes the task the Shell V-Power team have faced:

“The 2010 refuelling ban is by far the biggest challenge we have seen in fuel development in 15 years, but it is also a really positive one for Shell. Over the last year we have put a lot of work into the formulation of the Shell V-Power race fuel for the new season, and our main objective has been to optimize the power and performance benefit of the Shell V-Power race fuel for Ferrari.”

“We have to make sure the Shell product development program is fully aligned with the Ferrari hardware development program,” said Lilley. “To achieve this, we have to work as one team throughout the year. We consider Shell V-Power and Shell Helix lubricant as components of the engine, and as such they are not designed in isolation from the engine but hand in hand with it,”

In a world of temperature controlled fuel, it’s no surprise then that Shell had some work to do as the fuel would be held inside a steaming hot F1 car for the entirety of the race. Shell scientists have reformulated the Shell V-Power race fuel so it can operate at higher temperatures, as the fuel in the race car needs to last for the whole race. That is no easy task but equally difficult and perhaps most pressing is fuel mileage.

Normally, the fuel in the car would stay cool by refueling two or three times during the race, each time with cooled fuel that was 10 degrees below ambient. Lilley said,

“Without this cooling effect, and in addition to having the larger fuel tank sitting next to very hot engines, the fuel itself will be getting hotter while it is in the car this year.” Lilley continued, “At Shell, our fuel experts have been working since last year to meet these challenges, and provide Ferrari’s Formula One team with a custom-made Shell V-Power race fuel that can provide optimum performance even at high temperatures.”

Fuel efficiency has also become an increasingly important factor this season and Shell has had to strike the right balance between optimizing power and performance and maximizing fuel conservation when formulating the race fuel. Mike Evans, Shell Formula One Fuels Development Project Leader explains:

“Engines, performance-wise, are tuned to run a rich, heavy type of fuel but you can then run them on a slightly leaner formulation, which will give you a small drop in performance but it will also give you better fuel efficiency. It’s getting that balance right. We can alter the mix of components in the fuel to enable the engines to run leaner but still give optimum performance, and that’s an area we’ve been working hard on for the last nine months leading up to the 2010 season, given the latest FIA rule changes.”

Shell has enjoyed a relationship with Ferrari for over 60 years and this technical alliance has allowed Shell to innovate for the track and road. Ferrari Team Principal Stefano Domenicali reflects on the partnership:

“The technical partnership we share with Shell is key to our understanding of fuel development. Shell has unrivaled expertise and knowledge in fuel technology, and our close-working relationship means we can constantly push the fuel to its boundaries to achieve both power and performance. The fuel is a crucial element that has always been very important to Ferrari and the refueling ban in 2010 means the partnership will be absolutely fundamental this season.”

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