By Marcus George on Sep 9, 2020
Formula 1 may be best known for its glitz, celebrities and high-octane racing, but the COVID-19 pandemic stopped it in its tracks. The first 10 races of the 2020 season were postponed or cancelled, delaying the start until July and transforming the calendar.
But Scuderia Ferrari was able to celebrate a milestone in September. It was the team’s 1000th grand prix, which took place at the race circuit in Mugello, set in the hills of Italy’s northern Tuscany region. It was also the first time Mugello (owned by Ferrari) hosted a Formula 1 grand prix event.
Solar panels cover the grandstand at Mugello, providing 20% of the circuit’s energy needs, and its management has developed programmes to recycle increasing amount of refuse generated at racing events.
The question of Formula 1 and its environmental impact is more relevant than ever. As countries battle to emerge from the pandemic and “build back greener”, the sport faces a major challenge: how to match the relentless quest for more engine power with the need to drastically cut carbon emissions?
Formula 1 has said the sport will become carbon neutral by 2030 as part of its strategy to become sustainable. This covers the Formula 1 cars and on-track activity and the rest of the operations as a sport. To achieve this the offices, facilities and factories involved will be powered by renewable energy, while transport logistics and travel associated with it will be “ultra-efficient”. Formula 1 says these operations, combined with the race events, generate some 99% of its carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions.
Just 0.7% of its CO2 emissions are tailpipe emissions from the cars on the track. To tackle these emissions, the sport aims to create the world’s first hybrid engine that runs on advanced sustainable fuels, such as 100% biofuel made from food waste, or non-food biomass.
“In launching F1’s first-ever sustainability strategy, we recognise the critical role that all organisations must play in tackling this global issue,” said Chase Carey, CEO of Formula One Group, when announcing the move in late 2019.
Efficiency equals performance
The relationship dates back to the 1920s when Shell provided fuel to a flamboyant young racing driver called Enzo Ferrari. It followed him when he quit racing to run Alfa Romeo cars in 1929. Shell has partnered with Scuderia Ferrari since the Formula 1 series was created in 1950.
Today, Sebastian Vettel and Charles Leclerc are at the wheels of the Scuderia Ferrari cars, which can reach speeds of more than 300 kilometres an hour.
At every F1 race, a team of Shell analysts closely monitor the performance of the fuels and oils used by the Scuderia Ferrari team and can check for early warning signs of wear.
The Scuderia Ferrari cars run on unique formulations of Shell’s V-Power fuel and its Helix Ultra engine oil which are developed in close co-operation with Maranello. In 2018, Shell’s fuels and oils generated 21% of Scuderia Ferrari’s power unit lap time gain.
For five years Guy Lovett led the team that develops the new fuel and oils formulations at Shell’s Technology Centre in Hamburg.
“Efficiency equals performance,” says Guy, Shell’s former motorsport technology manager who moved roles earlier this year.
“With the downsized engines and the fuel limit, all the teams, including Scuderia Ferrari, have to work to increase efficiency. That could be through aero-dynamics or increased engine efficiency.”
“Our job is to increase efficiency by reducing friction through the oils used or increasing combustion efficiency from the fuels we develop.”
For fuels and oils producers, more durable engines and ultra-precision technology have increased Formula 1’s value as an extreme environment to test their products. And those products need to be more reliable than ever before.
While Scuderia Ferrari benefits on the track, the fuel formulations Shell develops play a critical role in the development of more efficient fuels and oils for customers around the world at its 45,000 service stations. Shell V-power petrol was first developed for Scuderia Ferrari cars. Ferrari’s racing fuels contain 99% of the same types of compounds as Shell V-Power road fuels available to customers worldwide.
In Hamburg, technological advances have sped up fuel development testing. Until 2018 the team was limited to around 200 blends of fuel a season. But new software now enables digital simulation of up to 1 million fuel formulations every season, significantly cutting the number of laboratory fuel tests and helping Scuderia Ferrari reduce the number of engine tests.
“The team works incredibly closely with Scuderia Ferrari,” says Guy. “Our digital fuel formulations are integrated with Scuderia Ferrari’s digital tools so they can simulate them on their engines, rank them for performance and choose the best ones.”
In Formula 1, every new season brings new regulations and new challenges and the sport’s owners have set out a bold ambition to keep pace with environmental demands.
Guy Lovett has no doubt it is the right move: “The aspiration F1 has set to go carbon neutral by 2030 is fantastic. Shell is currently working with Formula 1, the FIA and competitor teams on how we can make the race fuels more sustainable.”
It is an ambitious step, but one that follows the direction the sport has been taking in recent years. In 2014, Formula 1 adopted a 1.6 litre V6 engine that is turbo-charged and works alongside energy recovery systems. These allow the power unit to recover kinetic energy under braking and thermal energy otherwise wasted from the exhaust, turning it into electrical energy to generate more power.
This thermal efficiency – a common standard of measuring how efficient engines are – has reached 50% in Formula 1 engines compared with around 29% efficiency of the V8 engines used in 2013. Road cars running on petrol can reach 35% efficiency; diesel-powered cars, 45%.
“Today’s F1 engines are the most efficient in the history of the auto industry,” says Marc Gene, an F1 driver for five years until 2004 and now an ambassador for Scuderia Ferrari.
“Hardcore fans may miss the growl of the previous engines but the teams have managed to maintain the same power while boosting engine efficiency. When I was racing, I would never have imagined that was possible.”
Other changes have also increased efficiency. Each driver is limited to three engines a season and no refuelling is allowed during the race.
And then there is the fuel. Current technical regulations, set by the sport’s governing body the Federation Internationale de l’Automobile (FIA), specify that a 5.75% biofuel mix must be used. In 2022 this will increase to a 10% mix of bioethanol – which is made from food waste or non-food biomass. Further increases in the biofuel component are expected in the following years.
Over the last 15 years engineering teams have managed to maintain the same power, while increasing engine efficiency by a third and engine endurance by over 10 times.
For Scuderia Ferrari, the impressive gains in efficiency stem from engineering innovation at its Maranello headquarters in northern Italy, a little over 100 kilometres from Mugello. The fuels and lubricants – also known as engine and gearbox oils – the team uses, developed by Shell, play an important role in helping to improve efficiency and performance.
“The Ferrari-Shell partnership is the longest and most successful in the sport,” says Marc Gene. “For us, Shell isn’t just a sponsor, it is an innovation partner and our engineers and their engineers work together as a team.”
A snug laboratory
During race weekends, Guy and two analysts in his team must continually make sure the fuel and oils in Scuderia Ferrari cars are compliant. That requires them to test around 100 samples during the race weekend, keeping them intensely busy.
All fuels and oils used in Formula 1 are strictly regulated by the FIA. Their workspace is the trackside lab, a snug trailer within the Scuderia Ferrari garage, hemmed in by a wall of tyres, a fuel dispenser and other equipment.
Outside the lab, the garage fizzes with activity as engineers and mechanics cool down the engines from peaks of 1,000 degrees Celsius, check components and settings and analyse data. Inside the lab, there is an air of quiet concentration.
The lab comprises two benches with specialised instruments to test the samples and very little room to manoeuvre.
“We think of it as a submarine,” says analyst Paul Johnson. “When the lab arrives on location, there is often something out of place. So we have to be able to fix problems with the instruments and ensure we can meet Scuderia Ferrari’s needs 100% of the time. It can be pretty intense.”
As if on cue, the door opens and a small oil sample container is passed through. Paul opens it and carefully extracts a few drops with a pipette. One of his key tasks is to test the engine oil for trace metals after every track session, to guard against excess engine wear. The oil is essential in protecting the hundreds of components making up the sport’s current 1.6 litre V6 hybrid engine.
Such tests can be vital. At the Monaco Grand Prix in 2017, the Shell track lab team identified a potential wear issue that could have disrupted engine performance on the track. Scuderia Ferrari went on to take first and second place.