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Shell trackside lab at a Formula One race

Travelling with Scuderia Ferrari from race to race, Shell’s Trackside Laboratory team is delivering innovation on the move to the Formula OneTM team.

Shell trackside laboratory logo on an wall

The Shell trackside laboratory

Shell’s Technical Partnership with Scuderia Ferrari has seen nearly 70 years of pioneering fuels and lubricants development bring unrivalled success to the team. But the team of Shell scientists and engineers who work to deliver those innovative products don’t stop when the season starts. Utilising Shell’s bespoke trackside lab, the team accompanies Scuderia Ferrari to every Grand Prix on the Formula One calendar to ensure that the best products are always available.

Guy Lovett, Shell’s Technology Manager for Ferrari, leads the development activity and the trackside team, which at any given race consists of three people – one fuels analyst, one lubricant analyst and one technical lead.

“We’re there to test and analyse the fuels to make sure they haven’t become degraded or contaminated in any way and remain legal,” says Guy. Formula One’s governing body, the FIA, sets stringent regulations to govern fuel composition. “The FIA can come and take a sample of the fuel at any point to check that it’s legal,” explains Guy. It’s a procedure that he likens to drug testing in athletics. 

Given the hostile environments and the strain that the engines come under during the races, regularly checking the level of wear metals accumulating within the engine oil is a crucial part of tracking and ensuring reliability.

“Regulations in Formula One prevent the team from taking apart and inspecting an engine once it has been run, therefore the analysis we conduct trackside to monitor wear metal concentrations within the oil is vital,” Guy continues. This process is particularly significant now due to the new 2014 regulations that have limited drivers to five engines per season (previously eight). “Our work trackside is an essential component of Ferrari’s competitiveness, but it is also a critical source of understanding how our products are performing and how we can improve them in the future.”

High-pressure development process

Fernando Alonso and Guy Lovett in the trackside lab

Fernando Alonso and Guy Lovett in the trackside lab

The analysis and testing that the Shell trackside team carries out is an important part of the development of innovative fuel and lubricant solutions throughout the season.

Mark Wakem, who manages Shell’s engine lubricant development for Ferrari, calls it a continuous, high-pressure development process. He knows this data supplied by the trackside team is critical due to the limited amount of time available to develop new products. It is a crucial tool in delivering competitive innovations on the move. “If something turned up that looked like it could be used – figuratively speaking – the day after tomorrow, then we would do that,” he says. “Basically, as soon as something works and it’s been proven, we start using it.”

Practical constraints

The practical constraints, however, mean that new products are rarely introduced at the speed at which they’re developed.

Guy explains: “The lead times to get the products from the blending facility in Hamburg can be quite extensive so we need to work with our logistics partners to try and minimise those as far as possible. A week saved in logistics means a week longer in development time. We can achieve a lot in just a week.”

Mike Evans, who is in charge of Shell’s fuel development for Ferrari, says that the team has already created over 70 development fuels for 2014. By the end of the season he predicts that number will be over 100. It’s a lot to do in a very short amount of time, but the team know it’s worth it for the results they can deliver.

It might only be the trackside team that travels to each race but the results and the sense of accomplishment are rewards the whole team shares. Mike says: “When you’re watching the race on Sunday afternoon and you see the improvements on the track after we’ve introduced a new fuel, you see the end result of all the work we do. Those are very proud moments.”

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