Posts Tagged ‘ Ferrari

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.

Spa 1966: John Surtees reflects on an epic race

John Surtees visits the Ferrari garage at Spa in 2011. Photo by Getty Images

John Surtees visits the Ferrari garage at Spa in 2011. Photo by Getty Images

45 years ago – though not to the very weekend, for in 1966 the Belgian Grand Prix was held in early June – John Surtees took his last win for Ferrari in the most dramatic circumstances. A sudden storm on the first lap eliminated eight cars and left Jackie Stewart nursing serious chemical burns; that, and the fact that no marshals were present at the scene of Stewart’s accident, proved to be a catalyst for major change in the sport.

But for Surtees it was not only his last win for Ferrari – it was his very last race for Enzo’s team. Two weeks later his fractious relationship with team manager Eugenio Dragoni reached a tipping point and he walked out, though he eventually reached a rapprochement with Enzo shortly before Enzo’s death in 1988. Last year I interviewed ‘Big John’ for my book Real Racers and, thanks to Shell, I spoke to him again at Spa this weekend in their suite overlooking Eau Rouge – a corner synonymous with bravery then and now.

Drivers' briefing, Spa 1966. Photo by Klemantaski Collection, featured in Real Racers

Drivers' briefing, Spa 1966. Photo by Klemantaski Collection, featured in Real Racers

In 1966 a lap of Spa-Francorchamps lasted for 14km, swerving left at Les Combes – where now there is a chicane followed by a sweep to the right – and a plunge down towards the village of Burnenville. Taken at around 150mph even then, on skinny tyres (Surtees describes it as a corner that you would take “at about nine tenths”), the ensuing right-hand bend spat you out in a westerly direction along the N62. It is here where Stirling Moss broke his back when a wheel came off his Lotus in 1960. After the infamous Masta Kink, where the road jinked left and right to pass between two farmhouses, the round turned before the village of Malmedy to strike north. It is shortly after here that the modern circuit intersects with the old route, at Blanchimont.

Surtees had already locked horns with Dragoni in his very first race for Ferrari, the 1963 Sebring 12-Hour sportscar enduro. Having tested the first models off the line and helped trace a design flaw that had caused exhaust gases to enter the cockpit, Surtees found himself racing a brand new chassis that had had no testing, and which had not received the extra sealing necessary to prevent the ingress of exhaust gases. Although he and his co-driver Ludovico Scarfiotti were made ill by the fumes Surtees won, only for the result to be protested… by Dragoni. Surtees won the Formula 1 World Championship in 1964 but he and Dragoni still did not see eye to eye, as Surtees relates:

Enzo liked to set people against one another – it was how he motivated people. But the problem was that he didn’t attend grands prix and people often told him what he wanted to hear. Dragoni thought that because Ferrari’s flagship road cars were V12s, the F1 cars should be as well. In those days, because Enzo had to juggle the money around, very little development was done on the F1 cars until after Le Mans. The V12 engine for 1966 was based on the road car unit, but with a shorter stroke to bring it down to three litres. It was just too heavy and around Monaco the car didn’t work. I wanted to use the 2.4-litre V6. He didn’t. I said, “Do you actually want to win this race?”

At Spa, Surtees made good use of the V12’s power to put his Ferrari on pole, while team-mate Lorenzo Bandini used the V6 car. As Surtees took the lead from the start ahead of Jochen Rindt in the Cooper-Maserati, he had no premonitions about the mayhem that was about to ensue:

The lap was so long that you could have three different types of weather as you went round. In those days the grid was on the hill, with Eau Rouge as the first corner, so that was really your focus at the start. I remember the relief that I was leading on that first lap – then as we turned left at Les Combes I saw the first rain on my goggles. Within a few seconds the heavens just opened.

Although cameras were filming some of the action there was no live TV broadcast. Fans elsewhere in Europe would have to wait days to digest the reports of writers who were almost equally in the dark. Peter Garnier, writing in Autocar, captured the confusion that followed in the moments after the field was flagged off:

There followed the usual long pause that occurs on such circuits as Spa and the Nürburgring, while the crowds sat with fingers crossed, praying that the appalling conditions would not take their toll of the drivers.

Suddenly, with his exhausts drowned by the din of the helicopters that flew in flocks round the pits area, Surtees’ head and shoulders, with an occasional glimpse of the red car, came into sight as he sped along towards the La Source hairpin before turning round the 30mph corner to pass the pits.

Round he came, through the pits area, followed after a gap by Brabham and Bandini, close together. Then, well spaced out, came Ginther, Rindt, and Ligier – then a very long gap and Gurney. We sat and waited… for cars and for news, but neither came.

To the chagrin of sub-editors everywhere (except, clearly, those working on his own publication), Garnier described the elimination of eight of the 15 starters as “decimation”. The events of lap one could only be pieced together later: Jim Clark was first out when his engine dropped a valve on the way up the hill; at Burnenville Jo Bonnier spun on the wet surface and was hit by Mike Spence. In taking evasive action Jo Siffert swerved into Denny Hulme.

Surtees leads in the rain, Spa 1966. Photo by Klemantaski Collection, featured in Real Racers

Surtees leads in the rain, Spa 1966. Photo by Klemantaski Collection, featured in Real Racers

Five drivers down. Then, at the Masta Kink, Stewart hit a stream of water and aquaplaned off, bulldozing a telegraph pole before coming to rest well off the road, trapped in his car and unconscious, with fuel from the ruptured tank leaking over him. Serendipitously, the slow-starting Graham Hill hit the same patch of water but his car spun around without leaving the track. He was about to drive off again when he noticed the wreckage of Stewart’s car. Together with Bob Bondurant, who also crashed his car at the same spot, he came to Stewart’s aid.

As he relates in Real Racers, Stewart regained consciousness on the floor of the “so-called Medical Centre”, which was dirty and strewn with cigarette ends. He was transferred to Verviers, where Clark and BRM team spokesman Louis Stanley had to help wash the fuel off his body, strap his shoulder up and position the X-ray apparatus. Stanley was moved to write a letter to AUTOSPORT denouncing the inadequate marshalling at grands prix in general and the woeful aftermath of this Belgian GP in particular:

The doctor [at Verviers] was efficient, but there appeared to be a nursing shortage. The drive to Liege was in a vintage ambulance. The driver lost his way three times. The stretcher provided for the flight was hopeless. Had it been used Stewart’s spine would have been corrugated. Instead, we had to commandeer the ambulance equipment.

Although some of Stanley’s sentiments were a touch Daily Mail – he was dismissive of what he calls “these small foreign hospitals” – his conclusion was prescient:

At the moment every driver is vulnerable. In the event of a crash causing injury the emergency services and general standard of organisation leaves much to be desired. It seems pointless to wait for further crashes, maybe deaths, before the system is streamlined.

In spite of the chaos the rain continued and Rindt was the man on the move, as Surtees relates:

We didn’t have a specific rain tyre – you just had to make do with what you had – so I let Jochen past, figuring that if I went in his wheeltracks there would be less water for my tyres to displace. I realised that if I wanted to win this race I’d have to do it at the slowest possible speed.

Rindt led for 20 of the 28 laps with Surtees and Bandini in pursuit, though Bandini eventually dropped a lap. As the track dried Surtees saw his opportunity and moved past, building a clear lead as Rindt fell back with gear selection problems.

With three laps to go Surtees had a scare when his engine cut out on the run to La Source. He coasted around the hairpin and down the hill past the pits, selected second gear, let the clutch back out… and the engine burst into life. There had been an air lock in the fuel system. He crossed the line 42 seconds before Rindt.

Dragoni was the only person in the team who didn’t congratulate me. The next race was Le Mans. Ford were turning up with all these American drivers and after the test day [where Surtees had set the fastest time, but only just] we knew that we couldn’t afford to let them settle down into a rhythm. One of our cars would have to be the ‘hare’ [to lure the Fords into a car-breaking pursuit]. But then, at the 24 Hours, Dragoni told me I wouldn’t be starting the car – [Fiat boss] Mr Agnelli’s son would, because Mr Agnelli wasn’t going to be staying long. We had the same conversation again: “Do you actually want to win this race?”

So Surtees walked, and the story put about in the aftermath was that he wasn’t fit enough to drive the car as a legacy of his CanAm shunt in Canada the previous year.

That was rubbish. When I was injured, Enzo was tremendously supportive. My body was basically shorter on one side than it was at the other. I had all the therapy and then had a couple of convalescent tests in the car – they even laid on a crane so I could be lifted into the car.

After Le Mans [’66] I drove to Maranello. I won’t tell anyone about the conversation I had with Enzo – that’s between me and him. But we met again shortly before he passed away and he said to me, “John, you must remember all the good times and forget about the mistakes.”

Surtees recently visited Maranello again to see a modern Ferrari F1 car and to share his experiences of Spa with Fernando Alonso. Courtesy of Shell V-Power, I have a four-minute video edit of that interview here, along with some fascinating contemporary footage of Spa in 1966.

John Surtees meets Felipe Massa and Fernando Alonso, Spa 2011. Photo by Getty Images

John Surtees meets Felipe Massa and Fernando Alonso, Spa 2011. Photo by Getty Images

Ferrari joins the Sierra club

When Ferrari announced that its new Formula 1 car was to be called the F150, many car-savvy folk commented on the fact that Ford has a long-lived US-market model of the same name, give or take a strategically placed hyphen. Today’s news that Ford is taking legal action against Ferrari – citing trademark infringement and claiming punitive damages under anti-cybersquatting legislation – was therefore almost inevitable.

This situation is not without precedent in F1 and the car industry as a whole. 20 years ago Porsche got uppity when Leyton House gave its new Ilmor-engined chassis the designation CG911.

Looking further back, Ford itself ended up at the wrong end of a lawsuit when it launched the Sierra in 1982. A kit car manufacturer called Dutton had been marketing an incredibly ugly soft-roader (ironically enough, based on Ford Escort mechanicals) called the Sierra for three years.

It would have been a classic David vs Goliath victory, save for the fact that neither side quite got what they wanted, although Dutton was awarded costs. Neither managed to prevent the other from using the name, on the basis – said the judge in the case – that kit cars occupied an entirely different automotive category to production cars. Perhaps there will be a similar outcome in the Ford vs Ferrari tangle?

Edit: Ferrari has acted quickly to defuse the issue and tweaked the nomenclature of its car. It also issued a statement which said:

On the subject of the name of the new Ferrari Formula 1 car, the Maranello company wishes to point out that it has sent a letter of reply to Ford, underlining the fact that the F150 designation (used as the abbreviated version of the complete name, which is Ferrari F150th Italia) never has, nor ever will be used as the name of a commercially available product – indeed there will definitely not be a production run of single-seaters.