Step inside Shell's F1 trackside lab
At a Formula One race, find out how Ferrari's critical fuel and engine oil analysis happens.
Stepping inside the Shell Formula One mobile fuel testing laboratory is like stepping inside an airlock of space station from a sci-fi film.
It’s a gloss red and white cocoon within the Ferrari pit garage, set up behind the racing cars.
This is where the critical fuel and engine oil analysis takes place. Samples of fluids taken from the Ferrari engines are put through sensitive machines detect trace chemical compounds.
“This is an FIA sample,” says Shell trackside analyst Drew Stinton, holding a small tin the size of a paint sample pot.
“This contains fuel from an F1 car, Kevin Magnussen’s (a Ferrari-engined Haas), this morning,” he says.
Drew points to laptop screen showing two overlapping wiggly lines, with sharp peaks, like a heart-beat printout.
“On the screen we have two lines: the red line is the approved reference sample which is perfectly legal and that is our reference, and the blue line is the results of the fuel sample, and as you can see, it’s a complete perfect match.
“After Magnussen’s car was scrutineered, we run the fuel on two gas chromatographs which breaks the fuel down into its individual components, so we get a digital fingerprint of the fuel.
“At any time the FIA can take a sample to ensure the fuel complies with the very strict regulations they enforce. And the same goes for the oil,” he says.
If the FIA reference fuel sample and the sample from the car don’t match, something has become contaminated in the way the teams are handling the fuel.
“That would mean there is a new component in the fuel. And you would ask, where does this extra contamination come from? Just the grease on your hands alone changes the properties enough to make it illegal.”
As fuels are being analysed for compliance with FIA regulations, they are also being studied for performance, with data fed from the track back to Shell’s research and development centre in Hamburg.
“Right now, it’s coming into the early hours of the morning in our technology centre in Hamburg,” Drew says.
“Globally we have over 50 scientists that are working hard, investing 21,000 hours a year trying to introduce new products to the circuit. So we’re in constant communication – technology transfer, information transfer – so later on this evening I will have a teleconference with our head fuels specialist.
“It’s a lengthy development process. When we are at the early development stages, we send small batches of candidate fuel over to Maranello.
“It will be tested on a single-cylinder engine to see if there are advantages gained from it, in power or efficiency, and if it passes that initial screening, a larger quantity will go and do what they call ‘long runs’.
“It has to perform across the whole engine’s life. Ferrari collect a huge amount of data, feed that back to us, and if it’s still good, we’ll the send a sample to the FIA to see whether it's legal and get it certified to go racing,” he says.
The fuel and oil development that occurs at the track makes its way to road cars.
“We’re very proud that the Dynaflex technology, which is a special friction modifier, was first trialled in F1 and now it’s rolled out to all the Shell V-Power that you buy from the service stations,”