Posts Tagged ‘ F1

Inside Ferrari’s trackside F1 fuel lab

Shell Technology Manager Cara Tredget in the trackside lab

Shell Technology Manager Cara Tredget in the trackside lab

The first thing that strikes you about the liquid in the tiny jar is that it’s totally clear. Ordinary pump fuel has the faintest tinge of yellow, but Formula 1 fuel, while closely related to what you buy at the pump, is what’s known in the trade as “water white”.

At the back of the Ferrari garage at every grand prix, in the upper deck of one of the race trucks, a team of three Shell scientists regularly monitors the integrity of the V-Power race fuel and Helix lubricants that circulate within Ferrari’s type 056 V8 engines. Of the other teams, only McLaren operates a similar facility.

Besides ensuring that the fuel stays legal – sloppy handling can contaminate it enough to fail the FIA’s checks – the lab plays an important role in monitoring the health of the engine. Its equipment can detect metal fragments in tiny concentrations – equivalent to a cupful of sugar in a body of liquid the size of Loch Ness.

Various elements of the engine, particularly the piston rings, have had to evolve in the no-refuelling era. The pistons can reach temperatures over 300C, and where once they may have received an enriched blast of fuel to help cool them between combustion strokes, the oil now has to bear most of the burden. Shell’s Gareth Lowe explains how they monitor its effectiveness:

There are fewer rules and regulations governing the lubricants [than the fuel], which is great for our scientists because they have more freedom to try new components. Whenever we test an oil sample from the engine we’re looking for tiny pieces of metal. We’re not talking about huge chunks of metal here: it’s a natural process and it happens in any engine.

We can produce a report which details exactly what metals are in the oil – iron, titanium, copper, magnesium, all of which form the fabric of the engine. Because we’ve been working with Ferrari for so long we’ve been able to develop software that predicts the concentration of metal we can expect to see during all the stages of an engine’s service life. We can give them an insight into what’s happening inside the engine without them having to take it apart. It’s like doing a blood test.

Fernando Alonso at the 2011 Belgian Grand Prix

Fernando Alonso at the 2011 Belgian Grand Prix

For several decades, octane boosters were used routinely in Formula 1 to squeeze more power out of less fuel. It was the subject of both speculation (for instance the now-discredited ‘Nazi rocket fuel’ theory about the 1983 Brabham) and espionage (after Ivan Capelli almost won the 1990 French GP in the hitherto uncompetitive Leyton House, a drum of the team’s fuel was stolen). Now the rules are so tight that even leaving the cap off a drum for too long can make the fuel inside illegal.

Cara Tredget, Shell Technology Manager, explains the precautions:

Fuel can have around 200 components and some of those have low boiling points. What you can find, especially in hot countries and if the drums aren’t treated properly, is that you can lose some of your light ends [the more volatile components] and that will skew the FIA fuel test. We call it ‘weathering’ and a certain amount is allowed under the FIA regulations, because they understand that it’s very difficult to keep fuel 100 per cent the same as the original sample. But if there’s an excessive amount then you’ll be penalised. In the very hot races we’ll arrange to refrigerate the fuel.

Contaminants can enter the system very easily. There’s a lot of pipework in the fuel system and if, say, a team doesn’t flush out the fuel completely between races, that can have an effect even if it doesn’t suffer much weathering. We do have a number of slightly different fuel formulations available to Ferrari, and although the rules allow for a certain percentage of a previously approved fuel to be present in the sample, it’s not something you want to risk. External contaminants usually come from the handling – if a drum is damaged in transit, for instance. The main risk comes from the vessels that are used to store the fuel before it’s put in the car; they’re assembled at the beginning of the race weekend and one of the mechanics has to put their hand inside to do up one of the nuts. Any grease or dirt will show up on the gas chromatograph reading and could attract a penalty. That’s why the mechanics are extremely careful and – touch wood – we’ve never had a problem.

The gas chromatography test takes half an hour and the team will repeat it around 20 times during a race weekend, including every time the fuel is moved. The FIA may only come knocking once but the chemical ‘fingerprint’ of the fuel in the car must match that of the sample previously lodged with the FIA.

But Shell have more than one fuel formulation homologated for use in the car. At Spa it introduced a new performance step. Says Tredget:

You can affect the fuel performance through two different handles. You can either change the ratio of the base components of the fuel or you can use additives. We use both of those mechanisms to give increased performance, depending on what Ferrari needs – sometimes the priority may be for out-and-out power, at other times they may want a specific level of gravimetric or volumetric efficiency.

Volumetric efficiency is when a fuel, for a given volume, has more power, and gravimetric efficiency is a factor of the fuel’s weight. So if Ferrari are really trying to minimise the weight of the car then they will want a fuel with high gravimetric efficiency. If they want to keep the fuel tank as small as possible then volumetric efficiency is more important. Very subtle changes in the fuel can have quite a big impact. They’re very complex mixtures and the way that the different elements interact with one another can be quite significant.

Shell Technology Manager Cara Tredget says the next generation of F1 turbo engines will be "a fantastic opportunity to try some new ideas that will feed through and be relevant to the next generation of road car engines"

Shell Technology Manager Cara Tredget says the next generation of F1 turbo engines will be "a fantastic opportunity to try some new ideas that will feed through and be relevant to the next generation of road car engines"

While some fans bemoan the transition to turbocharged 1.6-litre V6 engines with a rev ceiling of 15,000rpm from 2014 onwards, the F1 industry recognises the need to downsize. In his keynote speech at the World Motorsport Symposium earlier this year, McLaren’s Martin Whitmarsh pointed out that the sport has to do more to engage with the priorities of the road car industry. Race fuels will also change to accommodate that vision, says Tredget:

Fuel developments tend to be iterations – step changes from one to the next. But for 2014, with the new engine regulations, the fuel will be significantly different to what’s currently being used. The 2014 engine will have a different fuel appetite and so from that point of view we’re in a very strong position because we’re starting from a blank sheet of paper. Working with Ferrari to co-develop the engine is quite a luxurious position to be in.

We like to think that the V-Power race fuel is just a couple of generations ahead of the one you can buy at the pump. In conventional road car technology there’s a trend towards downsizing and turbocharging the engines, so this is a fantastic opportunity to try some new ideas that will feed through and be relevant to the next generation of road car engines. The building blocks will be the same, and the chemistry very similar, but the ratios will change.

What next for Kimi Raikkonen?

Kimi Raikkonen before his F1 exit. Photo by Darren Heath

Kimi Raikkonen before his F1 exit. Photo by Darren Heath

To listen to the deluded blitherings of his legion of fans (and the regional media who rely on him for a living), in very short order Kimi Matias Raikkonen is going to return to Formula 1 as well as winning the Le Mans 24 Hours and the Indy 500, all the while partaking of selected outings in NASCAR. Who knows? Perhaps he’ll also cure the common cold, return the Elgin Marbles whence they rightly belong and lead the first manned expedition to Mars. On a unicycle.

Let’s get one thing straight: to have seen Kimi Raikkonen properly on it in a fast F1 car was almost worth the price of a race admission ticket alone. The trouble is that this era began in 2001 and ended at some point during the 2008 season, after which Kimi’s form plummeted along with the global economy. And as an asset, he has spectacularly underperformed ever since.

When I say “asset” I mean that in every sense of the word. Everyone knows he doesn’t “do” PR – well, when you’re winning or performing exceptionally, sometimes you don’t have to. But if you’re not delivering the results on track, in terms of sponsor exposure, then it’s time to smile for the cameras and start delivering value elsewhere. When Red Bull cushioned Kimi’s move to the World Rally Championship after Ferrari sent him packing in 2009, they soon found that they got very little of the above.

Kimi Raikkonen, Australia 2009. Photo by Darren Heath

Kimi Raikkonen, Australia 2009. Photo by Darren Heath

On paper, the prospect of Kimi – the ultimate reflexive driver – in a World Rally car seemed to be a perfect match. But only if you make the same mistake as many people with a circuit racing background, which is to assume that rallying is merely a fast-twitch sport in which you drive a quick car brutally down unfamiliar roads while the bloke in the passenger seat barks vague instructions about the road ahead. Easy left? Yes, I can see that for myself, thankyouverymuch.

As Robert Kubica also learned, considerably more to his cost, rallying is a more precise and demanding sport than most circuit racers imagine. No one could ever doubt Kimi’s commitment at the wheel – when the mood takes him – but he is temperamentally unsuited to the sport of rallying. Preparation is vital: accurate pace notes are the key to speed, and my spies within the WRC report that Kimi’s chief weakness was his lack of application to the process of getting them right.

Consider also the working day. Rallies demand stamina and focus. Drivers typically leave the service area at 7am and are at the wheel pretty much all day. Take day two of next weekend’s Rally France: after checking in at the first time control (7am) it’s an 89.36km drive just to get to the start of the first stage, with a similarly big commute of 128.45km from the end of the last stage to parc ferme, checking in after 6.30pm. In all, the day comprises 148.39km of competitive stages and 397.09km of liaison sections. Planning and punctuality reigns. Every minute is accounted for, every twist and turn of those 148,390 metres of stage has to be rigorously planned in the pace notes: which blind corners can be taken flat; which corners can be cut; and which corners can’t be cut.

Kimi Raikkonen, Rally Germany 2011. Photo courtesy of

Kimi Raikkonen, Rally Germany 2011. Photo courtesy of

This is why Kimi’s rivals regularly outpace him by between one and two seconds per kilometre; they’re not necessarily gifted with better car control, but they have better discipline and focus, and they’re better prepared. Yes, Kimi has been driving a second-string Citroen, but so is Petter Solberg – and he is a regular contender for the podium, whereas Kimi’s usual habitat is the back half of the top 10. This is not a turn-up-and-drive sport.

Kimi has dipped his toes in the NASCAR pool but made it known that he was not interested in driving there full time. NASCAR, unfortunately, has little patience for entrants who aren’t fully committed. More importantly, neither do potential sponsors. Kimi also recently made it known that he was no longer prepared to fund his WRC effort out of his own pocket, and that he would only continue in the sport if he was paid to drive. The response from WRC teams and the sport in general has been, “Bye, then…” In a final act of wilful career sabotage he announced that travelling to the Australian round of the WRC was too big a journey, and then failed to turn up. As a result, he has now been excluded from the championship.

So, bridges duly burned in F1, NASCAR and the WRC. What of these other mystical targets, Le Mans and the Indy 500? Kimi recently tested Peugeot’s 908 Le Mans car, and since the team is looking to replace the accident-prone Pedro Lamy and not-quite-quick-enough Marc Gene for next year, this is his most likely destination. But it will not be a big-money deal, and Le Mans is a harder gig than many people think. The Indy 500? It’s hard enough to get the sponsorship even if you’ve previously won the race (just ask Dan Wheldon). Turning up as a rookie and expecting to win is just asking for trouble (just ask Nelson Piquet, Nigel Mansell, et al).

Kimi has been a good earner for his management team, David and Steve Robertson, but now the udders of this particular cash cow are running dry. When you’re reduced to whispering in the ear of compliant pressmen that your charge is – hush hush! – making a visit to the Williams F1 factory, the game is nearly up. No doubt Team Willy would love to have Kimi (the Kimi of half a decade ago, that is), but they can’t afford him and he doesn’t work for free – and don’t forget that his last employer in F1 was so underwhelmed by him that they bought him out of his contract.

The Robertsons will no doubt be enduring many a sleepless night over the coming weeks as they try to find Kimi a paying berth. Nor poppy nor mandragora nor all the drowsy syrups of the world shall medicine them to that sweet sleep they owe yesterday, that’s for sure. To the motorsport industry at large, Kimi is now the unemployable in pursuit of the unlikely.

The Daily Fail strikes again

Are we in the middle of a news vacuum, or something? I ask because that paragon of journalistic virtue, the Daily Mail, has taken a brief detour from its usual obsessions – you know, burning all immigrants, dole scroungers and single mums at the stake and whatnot – to commit to print what is possibly the stupidest story of the year.

Under the headline The Italian’s job: Abu Dhabi steward’s link to Ferrari… and Fernando Alonso it engages in a thoroughly muddleheaded attempt at a syllogism. I’ll save you reading the Daily Mail’s guff by summing up the proposition here:

- Emmanuele Pirro, the third steward at this weekend’s Abu Dhabi Grand Prix, is Italian

- Italians all love Ferraris and are therefore, as well as being institutionally corrupt, all instinctively biased towards the cause of the Ferrari F1 team

- The FIA appointed Pirro even though they’re not supposed to have driver stewards who are linked by nationality to the cause of a championship contender

- Pirro is therefore biased in favour of Fernando Alonso and the FIA smell of elderberries

- Is he a dole scrounger and a single mum as well? Probably – pass the matches, Tristan…

You don’t even have to know much about F1, or motorsport in general, to see this for the codswallop it is. Emmanuele Pirro was a test driver for McLaren and a multiple Le Mans winner (and touring car winner) for Audi. I know him well from my days in sportscar racing and can testify that not only is he a true gent, he doesn’t take orders from anybody.

During his time at Benetton in Formula 1 he was royally shafted by Flavio Briatore. About nine years ago, when Benetton became Renault, I was helping to write an ensemble feature for a magazine in which we contacted all the team’s ex-drivers and invited them to sum up their memories of their time there. When I rang Emmanuele he simply wasn’t interested in doing an on-the-record denouncement of someone who had harmed his career. “It’s a long time ago now,” he said. “In many ways it was a good opportunity for me. I have only good memories.”

Unfortunately the next person I phoned was Roberto Moreno, who spent the next 75 minutes heating my ear up with a full and frank expression of his feelings on the subject. Shame I only had space for 50 words…

Anyway, needless to say, the Daily Mail’s story has been taken up and promulgated by another F1 ‘news’ source with little connection to the real world: GMM. What a surprise!

The safety dance

You can still hear the wails of anguish from Maranello this morning, but what’s done is done. The Safety Car intervention almost certainly prevented Fernando Alonso from finishing on the podium of the European Grand Prix. Alonso certainly felt that way, and having spent the balance of the race seething in his cockpit he rather petulantly suggested that the result had been deliberately “manipulated”.

Absolute bunkum, of course. Such a thing would require planning – and, above all, a motive. All we have is opportunity and effect; in any case, when two cars come together as violently as Mark Webber’s and Heikki Kovalainen’s did, the FIA’s race director has rather more important tasks to perform before he can get around to plotting Ferrari’s demise (I may be wrong, and it may be a great big conspiracy after all – sadly, my tinfoil hat is away being cleaned).

So, rather than entertaining these absurd notions or second-guessing the competence of the race director, Charlie Whiting, perhaps we should consider the role of the Safety Car itself. What should its philosophy be?

What I mean is this: should the deployment of the Safety Car be allowed to influence the outcome of the race, over and above the inevitable effect of closing up the field?

In this regard you can divide motor racing into two distinct camps. In sportscars, where multiple classes are racing at once, competitors have grown accustomed to the inadvertent distortions a Safety Car deployment can create. It comes out, it does its job, and if your car is on the wrong piece of road at the wrong time and gets caught out, tough luck. The best sportscar teams have evolved strategies to turn Safety Car deployments to their advantage – or at least to minimise the disadvantage.

On the other side of the fence – predominantly in US racing – the full-course yellow has become part of the entertainment portfolio. How often have you watched a NASCAR race and witnessed the peculiar phenomenon of a minor incident late in the race being used as an excuse to “throw a yellow” and artificially close up the field, thereby guaranteeing an exciting finish?

The most difficult and controversial aspect of any Safety Car deployment is the business of picking up the leader during the initial scramble. True to form, in Sunday’s race the leader – Sebastian Vettel – was already several seconds up the road when the Safety Car emerged. Second-placed Lewis Hamilton was passing the pit exit at the time and vacillated over whether to pass the Safety Car; by the time he’d done so the SC had crossed the white line, rendering the move illegal. Alonso and Felipe Massa were then stuck behind the Safety Car while Vettel and Hamilton were free to press on to the pitlane (‘free’ in the sense that they still had to observe a mandatory lap time, which several other competitors didn’t).

In order for the Safety Car to have as little impact as possible on the outcome of the race, one of two things then had to happen: either the race director would have had to contact McLaren and Red Bull and order them to have Hamilton and Vettel slow down and allow themselves to be passed by the Safety Car; or the car would have had to wait at the pit exit for another lap and then pick up Vettel. The former option was do-able, at a push (but if this were to become an official policy, what would happen if one of the drivers in question was out of radio contact?). The latter option just doesn’t bear thinking about.

When a serious accident occurs, racing must stop immediately. The deployment of the Safety Car cannot be put ‘on hold’ for fear that someone may lose out. Tough luck. Don’t blame the FIA, blame the dingbat who put their car in the wall. Or, better still, don’t blame anyone at all. Just get over it.

That said, I’d love to know why 12 laps elapsed before Lewis Hamilton was investigated for passing the Safety Car…