Focusing mainly on F1, every year Shell Lubricants supplies Ferrari with 250,000 L (66,000 gal) of fuel and 40 t (44 ton) of lubricants, plus bespoke hydraulic fluid and greases for racing, testing, practice sessions, and factory use.
“We are always trying to find a little more efficiency from our R&D program, always trying to make products better – and it’s a program that never stops,” said Dr. Lisa Lilley, Shell Lubricants’ Technology Manager for Ferrari.
“For 2009, we also supplied KERS (kinetic energy recovery system) fluid mainly to cool the system,” explained Lilley. “We are committed to using motorsport for technical innovations, ensuring that what we learn from our involvement with Formula One transfers to our commercial products. So it is relevant to customers buying Shell Helix lubricants and Shell V-Power fuels, allowing them to benefit from the latest technological advances. We call this technology transfer ‘Track to Road,’ and that’s exactly what it is.” The engine of every new Ferrari road car leaving the factory is filled with Helix Ultra engine lubricant and V-Power fuel.
Some 50 scientists and engineers are involved in Shell’s technical program for Ferrari. They also develop Shell’s commercial products, thus enabling efficient transfer of knowledge between programs, said Lilley.
The company’s R&D work continues at F1 races. A mobile laboratory is present at every F1 race weekend to provide an analytical service, with Lilley and two scientists able to offer support to the Ferrari team: “We monitor fuel quality and use results from lubricant analysis as a predictive tool to check the condition of the engine and gearbox.”
The 2009 involvement with KERS lubricant was not core to Shell’s business, but it proved an example of its R&D flexibility, with the ability to apply its expertise in a new area. “When there is a regulation change or the opportunity for a new technology, we can quickly modify the direction of our R&D program to meet fresh criteria,” stated Lilley.
Protection of every racecar’s powertrain is a key goal. But achieving maximum protection and maximum performance are really conflicting requirements, explained Lilley: “By providing more protection to an engine revving to 18,000 rpm, intuitively you might expect less performance. But that is not really acceptable to a championship-winning Formula One team, so the challenge for us is to find the right balance. To achieve optimum performance, the oil is designed for the race engine as a component. In 2009 for the first time, Shell Helix Ultra racing oil was given a component number by Ferrari; that is how significant it is as part of the engine.”
While engine life for a road car is now routinely measured in figures upward of 160,000 km (100,000 mi), an F1 engine’s life is currently about 2500 km (1550 mi). This allows Shell Lubricants to optimize on performance because it knows what level of protection it needs to achieve over a specific maximum mileage.
Although FIA (Federation Internationale de L'Automobile) regulations are applicable to fuel, there are none for lubricants, which eases the R&D challenge. But rules are often changed with regard to some systems and components, which may have a knock-on effect on others. So doubling the required life of an F1 engine to four races, did increase the challenge for Shell specialists.
Fuel requirements include the need to incorporate a 5.75% biological component and this has to be a bio-oxygenate. “For the 2010 race season, the fuel properties will broaden and we get more formulation space,” said Lilley. “But we will still have to operate within very tight FIA regulations based on European gasoline specifications.”
Shell’s V-Power racing fuel for Ferrari is produced at the oil company’s U.K. plant at Thornton, Chester, UK, where there is a small-scale blending plant that accepts components from the nearby Shell refinery. Although it is optimized for Ferrari’s F1 engine with a changed volatility profile for faster burning characteristics, the fuel produced at Thornton would be perfectly suitable for any road car, having an octane rating between 95 and 102 RON (research octane number).
Transmission lubricants, though, come from Shell’s Hamburg, Germany, laboratories and are dedicated for racing.
Engine oil for a Ferrari F1 car is changed after every practice session and following each 300-km (186-mi) race. Overall, Shell supplies sufficient oil for the Ferrari team to make 10,000 oil changes a year in races and testing.
There are particularly tough challenges for engine oil in an F1 car because it experiences conditions far more hostile than in any road car. The oil has to operate equally well over a wide range of temperatures—up to about 300°C (572°F)—and pressures. It needs outstanding shearing and thermal properties as it moves from the sump to the top of the crankcase. It also has to meet the tough performance criteria set by Ferrari.
Says Lilley: "Ferrari is asking a lot of the engine oil and may suddenly say, 'We need a few more kW of power.' Ideally, then, we might want to see the maximum temperature of the oil reduced a little, but this may not be possible—so all this really keeps us on our toes!"
Shell models all lubricated parts of a Ferrari F1 engine to achieve optimum properties for its oil in each area.
Lilley stressed that the company regards its F1 involvement as the ultimate laboratory for technical innovation, enabling transfer of knowledge to production road cars. An example is the development of Friction Modification Technology, designed to reduce friction around the top of the piston.
“This advanced component, used in the Formula One fuel, is also used in the V-Power fuels that Shell’s regular customers can buy in many markets,” said Lilley. “So, although Formula One engines are highly sophisticated and technologically advanced, the experience and knowledge we gain from fueling and lubricating them, and analyzing the performance of our products at every race, is benefiting motorists across the world. For us, ‘Track to Road’ is a meaningful, responsible, and highly effective program.”