As every Formula One fan knows, the difference between the steps on the podium can be down to fractions of a second in performance of the car and that F1 is a sport where a few tenths can be declared as a life-time, bonkers but true.

These few tenths can be gained and lost through car setup, ride-height adjustment, tyre usage, aerodynamics and a whole plethora of other variables.  Get them spot on and you’re cooking on gas – which sounds great, but what if all the other rival teams are in a similar position and you need an additional few tenths, well of course there’s always more you can do, whether it be wind-tunnel work, improving weight distribution and so on.

One team in the pit lane that has a trick up it’s sleeve is Ferrari, with their unrivaled technical partnership with a particular fuel provider, namely Shell.

For 80 years now, Shell have had a strong partnership with Ferrari, right from when Enzo Ferrari was around and Shell produced a fuel called “Super Shell” which Enzo swore by for his beautiful red creations.

Now, in 2010 Shell is still the preferred fuel of Ferrari and their V-Power is carted around the world, following the grand prix circus, powering the Italian squad to victory as recently as Monza, just over a week ago.  So you may rightly ask why this is so special – for starters, fuel, rather obviously is an integral part of any engine, whether it be a grand prix car or your Fiat Punto, but did you know that the fuel used in F1 varies from race to race?  It sure does, Shell have such a close partnership with Ferrari that the fuel is developed alongside the car to ensure it’s as best as it possibly can be and who knows, it could produce that magic tenth of a second advantage that makes the difference between being tasting the Champagne or sipping some fizzy water on a Sunday afternoon.

What’s more, Ferrari are the only team to have a lab at every grand prix where the Shell engineers work to ensure the fuel is of prime quality after transportation, that it meets the strict FIA regulations and of course testing the fuel in the cars regularly because the FIA can come and test any car’s fuel at any point over a grand prix weekend, if it’s found to not match the initial sample presented prior to any track action there can be severe consequences.  Overall the track lab’s role is to ensure the fuel and lubricants are the best they possibly can be at all times.

BADGER’S SCIENCE LESSON

The saying goes that “every day is a school day” – in that case Saturday morning at Vairano over the Italian GP weekend was the Carlsberg version of a school day.  Yes we drove around in fast cars quickly and had fun doing it (read more here) but we also had a science lesson or two – and not the sort where you’d sit at the back drawing on your pencil case, these were proper science lessons, i.e. interesting and involved setting fire to things – oh and it all had a meaning too, in that it’s all applicable to everyday life as well as F1.

V-Power is a premium fuel, therefore it’s it’s priced slightly higher at your local Shell forecourt, but there’s very good reason for that because this fuel looks after your engine and enhances performance through looking after your car’s engine through use of some very clever additives.  These additives actively clean your engine and it’s logical that a clean engine, free from any build up of carbon will run better and deliver peak performance as well as improving fuel economy – ’nuff said.

Here’s John Lambert, a senior scientist at Shell, where he’s been working longer than your correspondent has been on the planet, so he knows a thing or two about engines and the importance of fuel and lubricants.  Here, he’s not setting fire to fuel for the fun of it (well, not entirely) – but demonstrating the difference between fuel injectors out of different car engines – one where V-Power has been used and the other where it hasn’t.  The latter has a build of carbon, making it appear dirty and much older than it’s V-Power equivalent.  It’s not just appearance though, as this experiment visually proved – the dirtier of the two remained alight far longer than the good clean one – you really don’t want this going on in your engine.

Further, the build of carbon on the non-V-Power injector affects the delivery of fuel to the engine, i.e. when the fuel is injected into the combustion chamber area, it should be regular, even and balanced – the build up of carbon on an injector can lead to one of the injector holes becoming partially or fully blocked, again not a good thing.  Using V-Power fuel can prevent this build of carbon and therefore keep your engine singing and performing as it should, regardless of whether you’re my neighbour Derek in a Metro or Felipe Massa in his F1 car.

Did you know?

The fuel put into F1 cars is cooled?  The FIA stipulates that it must not be more than 10 degrees less below the ambient temperature, but any cooling helps because engines work better with cooler fuel by delivering more power and when cooled, fuel takes up less space – therefore when filling up your own car, it’s fair better for you to fill up on the forecourt early in the morning, or on a cooler day.

In reality

In case this still isn’t making sense, here’s a colourful diagram of an engine cycle

  • Stage one (when the chamber is a bright blue colour) is where the fuel and air mixture is thrown in through the brown injector – it’s these vital components that V-Power helps keep clean and clear of any harmful deposits.
  • Stage two (darker blue) is where the air and gas mixture is compressed and ignited
  • Stage three (red) is the combustion time, i.e. where the mixture of air and fuel burns – again this is where V-Power’s impressive cleaning properties come into force, ensuring that the flame doesn’t last any longer than it should (the build up carbon deposits will burn for longer as John Scientist proved in the photo
  • Stage four (brown) is the final stage where the left over gases are sent to the exhaust

Hopefully that’s as clear as petrol to you now and when you imagine the above happening tens of thousands times per minute in the back of an F1, you’ll begin to understand why Shell is so massively passionate about it’s fuel research and development and how their findings are transferred from the race track to the road through V-Power.

If you’re a taxi driver, or chose to buy a diesel powered motor, you aren’t left out either, because there’s also V-Power diesel, which like the unleaded has been proven on the race track through success with Audi where for the first time a diesel powered race car won the Le Mans 24hr and did so for three consecutive years, rather impressive we’re sure you’ll agree.

Finally, considering this is a science lesson, there’s been a huge lack of acronyms, so to make up for that here’s one: FMT – which stands for Friction Modification Technology – sounds fancy and it is rather fancy and it’s found within V-Power.  This addition to the formula helps the fuel act as a lubricant, looking after the engine by clinging to metal parts and reducing resistance, which in turn means your engine runs smoothly and will again continue to deliver it’s best performance.

It’s not just fuel either

Yep, you read that correctly, Shell don’t just make the superb V-Power petrol and diesel, they also produce the lubricants to the Ferrari team and of course, not wanting to miss a trick; offer the same lubricant technology to you and me in the form of the Helix Ultra range.  Engines are pretty complicated beasts with thousands of moving parts and vitally important components, so it’s important that all these are looked after as best as possible, which is the job of these clever Shell Helix products.

Did you know?

Lubricants in Formula One are not regulated, unlike fuel which is checked every weekend and then checked again at random, the FIA aren’t interested in the lubricants used, in that no checks are made and there are no particular requirements it must meet to keep them happy.

Also, Ferrari had a new lubricant at the Italian GP, which could have given up to a tenth extra in terms of lap time so it could have been this that helped Alonso beat Button out of the pits and to the top step of the podium…

The formulation of these lubricants helps reduce friction, heat, wear and keep the engine clean and running well and delivering it’s maximum power output – essential for Ferrari Formula One and it would most likely help out your own car too – Badger can personally verify this – your correspondent may not drive, but he does ride a old Vespa scooter and for it’s age it’s running very well with V-Power and Helix oil.

Caught on camera

Here’s a video, looking more at how Shell work with Ferrari and the effort involved in ensuring the team have a supply of fuel and lubricants from Shell at every race in the F1 calendar.

What does ‘V’ stand for?

It’s somewhat a mystery, so the headline may not be correct, but at Monza it may as well as stood for victory with Fernando Alonso sending the Italian crowd wild – in reality it can stand for “vroom” or similar.. any other ideas folks?

Engine graphic used thanks to http://www.queenslandcafebikes.com.au

Thanks to Shell and their PR for a wonderful weekend and for the great insight into another side of Formula One, Badger’s very grateful