Secrets of Ferrari’s fuel wizards

Michael Schumacher, Ferrari, Magny-Cours, 2004, 470150

I was at Silverstone yesterday as a guest of Shell Helix to produce an article for a magazine for car dealers I write for.

Along with a few other journalists I had the chance to eat lunch with Ian Albiston, Shell’s Formula One Project Manager, who works on developing the fuels Ferrari use at Grand prix weekends. And he had a very interesting tale to tell about Michael Schumacher’s famous win at Magny-Cours in 2004.

Schumacher beat Fernando Alonso that day using an aggressive, four-stop refuelling strategy. It was only possible thanks to the short pit lane at Magny-Cours that made such an approach viable.

However until talking to Ian today I hadn’t appreciated it was also made possible because Shell had created a special fuel for Ferrari specifically taiored to a four-stop refuelling strategy.

He explained they even go so far as to tailer fuels to individual tracks and race scenarios. On another occasion they tailored their race fuel to allow Ferrari to use a one-stop strategy at Montreal.

A specially-tailored fuel will typically give an improvement of 0.1s per lap, but that can be enough to swing a race. It’s attention to details like this that keep a team like Ferrari winning year-in, year-out.

I’ll post my full article on Shell Helix and Ferrari here after it is published. I’m also covering the British Grand Prix for Auto Trader this weekend and you can read some of the articles and blog posts for the site here:

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12 comments on Secrets of Ferrari’s fuel wizards

  1. varun said on 5th July 2008, 8:19

    very interesting to know that.

  2. Noel said on 5th July 2008, 8:20

    I thought the fuel in F1 was standardised and prescribed by the FIA. Lots of other things are!

    Do other teams do this too or are Ferrari the only ones gaining an advantage using this tactic?

  3. joe said on 5th July 2008, 8:40

    That was very interesting, but as far as I am aware formula 1 cars have been required to run on “pump” (ordinary) petrol since the fallout caused by incidents at Imola in 1994.

  4. Keith Collantine (@keithcollantine) said on 5th July 2008, 9:29

    Noel & Joe – according to Ian they have to use fuel that is 99% the same to what is sold in forecourts. But, to use his exact words “there’s a lot you can do with that last 1%”. For example, the banning of traction control led them to change fuel formulae for this year to help give he engines more ‘driveability’, i.e., make them deliver their power more progressively.

  5. verasaki said on 5th July 2008, 20:41

    i wonder-does the fia have anything to say about what can actually comprise the “1%”? i’m just guessing he’s talking about additives, so i wonder if the fia has come up with an approved list or anything like that.

  6. f1freak said on 7th July 2008, 8:45

    really good post keith

  7. Excellent insight…..but question for you….might be a silly one….who provides every other teams fuel?

  8. Keith Collantine (@keithcollantine) said on 7th July 2008, 15:14

    They usually have their logos on the side of the car. Off the top of my head:

    McLaren – Mobil 1
    Toyota – Esso (Exxon)
    Renault – Elf (and Red Bull I presume, also Renault engines)
    Force India and Toro Rosso – Shell (Ferrari engines)
    Williams – Petrobras
    BMW – Petronas
    Honda – Eneos

  9. Dont the other manufacturers put in the same effort as Shell then?
    I know how much R&D Shell do with Ferrari, but curious as to what the other companies do as well.

  10. Scootin159 said on 7th July 2008, 15:57

    Why is a fuel that gives you a 0.1s advantage a lap improvement only useful with a 4 stop strategy? Sounds as though they just found a .1s advantage from the fuel, and it helped swing the vote to a 4 stop strategy.

    Did they not use the ‘special fuel’ the following week for the 2 stop strategy there?

  11. Taking a wild guess here, but perhaps some of the special additives they used for that 4-stop race are less stable, and degrade with time such that some of the performance advantage is lost with longer runs between stops?

  12. KarolMcD said on 24th June 2009, 12:51

    Article sounds great. I look forward to the full version.

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