Meet Shell's motorsport maestro
In the pressure cooker that is Formula One racing − where winners are separated from the also-rans by mere fractions of a second − speed, efficiency and reliability are crucial.
“The expectation of working with Ferrari is maximum,” says Guy Lovett, Shell’s Technology Manager for Motorsports. “It’s part of the nature of Formula One.”
An automotive engineer by profession, Guy is responsible for overseeing Shell’s fuel and lubricants contribution to Shell’s motorsport technology partnerships.
This includes not only in F1 with Ferrari, but also in MotoGP with Ducati, the World Rally Championship with Hyundai, the World Endurance Championship with BMW, plus Formula E with Nissan and Mahindra.
As the howls from racing cars reverberate around the corporate marquees in the F1 Paddock in Melbourne, Australia, Guy takes a moment to talk about his role at Shell in keeping the Prancing Horses at the pointy end of the field.
“People probably underestimate how much we can do with fuel and oil, how much performance and efficiency we can realise and deliver,” he says.
Outside F1’s technical community, he says, few people know that 21 per cent of Ferrari’s power unit lap-time gain over the 2018 season came from Shell’s fuel and lubricant development.
“That’s something we’re really quite proud of. Last year doesn’t stand in isolation. We’ve been able to deliver and maintain that kind of performance level over the last three or four years,” he says.
Guy oversees the operation of Shell’s trackside fuel and engine oil laboratory, which has a team of technicians analysing samples of Shell fuel and lubricants. They take fuel and engine oil samples from Ferrari-powered racing cars for analysis trackside to ensure they comply with the sport’s strict formulation regulations. The samples are also tested for any warning signs of potential problems with the cars’ highly advanced engines.
“We use the lab solely for Formula One; it’s dedicated for Ferrari and customer teams to Ferrari that use Ferrari engines.
“We test fuel and oil from those engines all the way through the weekend. We’re looking to ensure and protect quality, legality and engine health,” he says.
Beyond analysing the fluid samples at each race, Shell also aims to make fuel and engine oil formulation improvements through the season, and have them approved for use by the sport’s governing body, the FIA.
“If we finish the season with the same fuel and oil we started it with, we’ve done a bad job. We always target to start the season with new products and we will target at least one performance iteration of fuel and engine oil in the year. At least one,” Guy says.
“Fuel and oil in Formula One are heavily regulated. The reason behind that is to ensure the fluids people are using in Formula One have a relevance to road-going fuels and oils. That linkage is incredibly important to us, because it means a lot of the innovations and technology we are using in Formula One can be applicable to our road-going fuel and oil, like Shell V-Power and Shell Helix Ultra.
“It’s incredibly important that we have that conduit for technology transfer. We work very closely with the FIA to set those relevant regulations to make sure they are close to road-going fuels but also that we have the space, the scope and the ability to innovate and differentiate ourselves.
“Shell V-Power contains 99 per cent of the same types of compounds as our racing fuel, but there is still scope for us to trial next generation, the latest and greatest new technology. It’s the perfect proving ground for our fuels and oils.”
Guy points out that at full tilt a Formula One engine rotates at 15,000 revs per minute (that’s almost three times faster than a normal car engine can manage), produces more than 800 or 900 horsepower, and is a hostile environment for fluids, particularly for the engine oil.
“Inevitably there’s going to be a bit of metal-on-metal contact. Small particles of the metal come away from the working surfaces and will accumulate in the oil, that’s perfectly normal. We want to track that. We want to try to understand if there are any abnormal or elevated levels of wear metals, which are, essentially, an early warning sign of a potential problem in the engine.”
And engine life is a big issue in Formula One, with each driver restricted to the use of just three engines for the whole season.
“The engine is a consumable item,” says Guy, using a term more commonly associated with things like printer ink or photocopier toner.
The engines are designed to last about 7000 to 8000 kilometres of practice, qualifying and racing.
“When it’s new it will have box-fresh performance, but inevitably the performance will tail off in the latter stages of that engine’s useful lifetime. We try to maximise the performance for that whole envelope,” Guy says.
Guy’s role sees him travelling weekly from his family base, Hamburg, Ferrari’s base in Maranello and following the Formula One carnival across the globe supervising Shell’s mobile fuel and lubricants laboratory.
It’s the culmination of a journey that began in childhood in the UK, helping his father restore cars from a bygone era.
“My dad is a classic car geek. It’s all his fault we’re mechanically minded; my brother is a car mechanic and my younger brother raced motorbikes for a while quite seriously. My father has an Austin Healey 3-litre. He had an MG for a while.”
Guy’s climb to the pinnacle class of motorsport began even before he set his sights on automotive engineering at university.
The key was to gain as much relevant experience as he could, as early as he could.
“I went for an internship with Shell between high school and university when I was 18. It was a fantastic experience: I got to work on engine and vehicle testing, do all sorts of different projects, understanding that I really wanted to work as an engineer, and I was made aware of the Ferrari partnership and I really wanted to work in motorsport.
“So, I went away and studied at university, got sponsored by Shell, which was great, and they were kind enough to ask me back to do more work placements and get more experience. I joined Shell and had some amazing assignments around the world: I’ve worked in the US, Germany, and landed this one.”