Femail ferrari scientist working in a lab

The buzz of the lab

F1 is all about adrenalin. It’s everywhere. Including the laboratory. More specifically the Shell Track Lab - a mobile, trackside lab that houses the Shell analysts during each Grand Prix. It’s here they work tirelessly with the Scuderia Ferrari engineers, developing the world class fuels and engine oils that power Ferrari’s F1 cars.

They’re integral to the Scuderia Ferrari team. So we caught up with them to find out how they deal with the pressure.

To be in this team you have to be passionate. If you’re not, the demands combined with the expectations and workload will catch up with you.” That’s Guy Lovett, Trackside and Logistics Manager, who (along with his team) is responsible for testing the fuels and engine oils for each race.

A good fuel will give the car’s engine the power it needs to compete, while the oils (or lubes as they’re known) help keep the engine clean and efficient. The Track Lab team takes samples of the fuel and oil throughout race weekend and tests them to provide reports for the Ferrari engineers. As a result of this testing the Ferrari engineers can tell from the metallurgic samples in the oil what part of the car needs attention. That’s what makes the Shell samples and analysis so invaluable.

Dan Jamieson explains the sheer intensity of the task at hand. “On any given race weekend the team can conduct up to 40 tests for the Ferrari engineers. If there’s a problem trackside, the knock on effect will impact the Ferrari engineers which, of course, then impacts Ferrari’s overall performance. That’s where the pressure comes in. We don’t want to let the team down.

The line between success and failure is incredibly fine in F1. That’s why the Shell Fuel Development team works all year round to refine its products. As Drew explains:

The improvements we’re looking to make are minimal - but hugely significant. With each blend we’re looking for better results, however small. The difference between 1 or 2 horsepower could be as much as 12 metres. That gain could make all the difference by the end of the race.

But before the team can work on the fuel they have to make sure the kit arrives at the track in full working order. “That’s not as easy as it sounds,” Dan laughs.

At this, Alan Wardle and Louise Coppack (fellow trackside analysts) smile. “At Spa we had a set up that, instead of the usual 4 hours, took 12 hours. Certain pieces of kit failed, we had power supply problems – even the spare kit didn’t work. Whatever could go wrong…did. You have to think on your feet, come up with solutions, have contingency plans – it’s a pressure but it’s part of the job.

Failure is not an option,” says Dan, causing the whole team to nod in agreement. “The pressure is intense – especially when it comes to fly-aways (races outside of Europe). We don’t know what we’re going to find on the other side sometimes. We’ve learnt to expect the unexpected.

But the whole team is adamant that’s a small price to pay for being part of motorsport’s most iconic institution. 

Ian Albiston is the trackside and logistics manager. “We’re made to feel a massive part of the Ferrari family. I’ll never forget Japan 2003 when Schumacher won the title - I didn’t sleep night before. There was so much apprehension. The race itself was torture. We got there in the end but it was a really tough race. But then what a night!

Mark Wakem (Project leader Lubes) and Mike Evans (Project leader Fuels) are responsible for product development in the build up to each race. It’s a demanding job but when they get it right, there’s no better feeling. 

Ferrari’s Team Principal,” Mark reveals, “personally thanked Shell for the process and delivery of the new fuel in Spain. Even the drivers thanked us. It’s great just being part of the team and having our work acknowledged. We know that a team is only as strong as its weakest link. That’s why we strive to develop better products all year round.”  

Mike agrees and says that it’s not uncommon to hear analysis of the fuel mix in the media nowadays. “The 2014 regulations have put greater emphasis on our work. We heard David Coulthard talk about the Shell oil analysis recently. It shows how integral we are to the process. It’s such a rewarding job.” 

With the recent change in regulations, the fuel and oil mix has never been a bigger part of the equation. It’s just as well that this team is up to the challenge.

Guy Lovett and Kimi Raikkonen promoting shell-v-power

Shell Track Lab: On the front line with Scuderia Ferrari

Tasked with providing technical support to Scuderia Ferrari throughout a Formula 1® season, at least two members of the Shell Track Lab team are on hand at every race on the calendar to assist with fuel and oil analysis, ensuring the legality of the former while monitoring for signs of engine wear in the latter.

This is, undoubtedly, a position of great privilege – the front line of Shell’s Innovation Partnership with Scuderia Ferrari – which also makes it the perfect vantage point from which to evaluate the work the two companies are doing to try and power the most successful team in the sport to yet more glory.

“To work in Formula 1 is a great thrill, but the developments Shell is making with Scuderia Ferrari at the top of the sport are genuinely exciting, whether you are one of the millions of fans who tunes in around the world or a customer on any Shell forecourt,” said Guy Lovett, Shell Motorsport Innovation Manager.

“In 2015, we were able to make great strides as a result of our close collaboration with everyone at Maranello, but it’s not all about performance on the track. Shell works with all of its motorsports partners because they provide the ideal test bed in which to develop and showcase the products we offer our customers on the road. The work we do with Scuderia Ferrari is a crucial factor in this.”

Few could dispute Formula 1’s role as an ideal platform upon which to showcase Shell products and their technical excellence. This is especially true, when you consider that Shell V-Power race fuel and Shell Helix Ultra with PurePlus Technology race lubricant delivered an unparalleled 25% of total performance gain to the SF15-T Formula 1 power unit in 2015, giving almost half a second per lap, which equated to an average of 30 seconds over a race distance.

Quite a feat, and one that would not have been possible without the 21,000 hours that over 50 Shell scientists dedicate to the Innovation Partnership every year. It is this commitment that helped Sebastian Vettel notch up three wins in 2015 en route to third in the FIA Formula One World Drivers’ Championship, a feat that Shell will hope the team can build upon this season.

“When the team has success you can’t help but be proud of the role you have played in it, which is one of the great benefits of the work we do,” explains Alan Wardle, Shell Trackside Analyst.

Sentiments echoed by Ian Albiston, Shell Formula 1 Trackside Delivery Manager, who is well placed to comment having been an integral part of Shell’s association with Scuderia Ferrari for more than 15 years.

He said: “We really do feel like part of the team when we are at races, as well as when we are on-site at the factory in Maranello, and there can be few greater thrills professionally for any of us than when we see the prancing horse crossing that finish line first.”

Evocative words, but when put in this context, completely understandable. To work at the top of your field can be thrilling enough in itself, and that is certainly true of the work that the Shell Track Lab team are doing day-to-day. However, when you throw in the inherently exciting world of Formula 1 and an iconic institution such as Scuderia Ferrari, few could blame anyone involved for experiencing a little extra frisson.

This will undoubtedly be true for the latest recruit to the Shell Track Lab team, Jennifer Plückhahn, who embarks on her first season. For someone so young – a mere 22 years old – this could be considered a daunting environment to enter, but having grown up as a trainee within Shell, she is ready to contribute to the extensive technical service the team offer Scuderia Ferrari at every race.

She said: “I’m really excited to join the team. I’ve gained experience at testing and am excited to get to some races. I’ve also spent time at the Scuderia Ferrari factory in Maranello, where I have worked on the new fly-away lab. It’s just really cool to be putting my training with Shell to such exciting use.”

Speaking of which, that particular lab that is flown to every race situated outside of Europe, has been completely redesigned with the goal of making it lighter and therefore more efficient to transport. With the Formula 1 calendar visiting every corner of the globe, such savings will be critical in lowering the carbon footprint of this particular Shell programme.

“Formula 1 is known for its pursuit of innovative technology and space age materials, and the fly-away lab will be no different – we’ve put carbon fibre everywhere!” says Trackside Analyst, Drew Stinton, who has been responsible for managing much of this transformation, which has seen the lab’s weight reduced by some 20%.

“The work we do at races is critical to the performance of Scuderia Ferrari, testing upwards of 40 fuel and 30 oil samples respectively over the course of a weekend. However, the work we have done on the lab, while less tangible or indeed visible to many, is crucial to Shell in its quest for optimum efficiency in the Formula 1 programme.”

Exciting times then for all of those involved in Shell’s Innovation Partnership with Scuderia Ferrari, but especially the Track Lab Team, as they look to power the team to an 11th FIA Formula One World Constructors’ Championship™ together.

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