How to keep F1 engines healthy as they do their 3rd race of the season
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Posted By: James Allen  |  26 Sep 2011   |  10:29 pm GMT  |  75 comments

Each driver has just eight engines to see him through the F1 season. All drivers took a new engine for both Spa and Monza, the two great power circuits, but Singapore not being a power circuit, most drivers used a high mileage engine to do this weekend’s qualifying and race.

One of the Ferraris was running an engine that had already done one race weekend and the other had a two race old engine, according to Luigi Fraboni, who is head of Ferrari’s engine operations side and formerly the engine engineer for Schumacher and Raikkonen.

At this late stage of the season, keeping the engines healthy is therefore pretty important – a bit like keeping the driver healthy. Singapore presents other challenges, like the heat and humidity, which make cooling a challenge. Fraboni said that 5% of the engine power is lost due to the sweltering conditions. This is one of the worst power loss figures of the season, after Nurburgring and Interlagos which are at altitude.

A few of us were invited behind the scenes over the weekend by Shell and Ferrari to see how they manage the engine health process at this key stage in the season.


Out on track the engine’s health is analysed in real time by telemetry engineers when the car is running, but after each session the Shell technicians take a sample of the oil and test for a range of 15 different metals, to see what the wear rate is like.

We were invited to try this machine out for ourselves and found, as expected, that wear is highest in higher mileage engines, but to our surprise we also found that the wear rate of brand new engines is high, as the new parts rub against each other and ‘bed in’. You find higher levels of Aluminium in the oil on a new engine, for example, but this should reduce as the engine beds in.

The particles of metal get into the oil when the engine runs and then by firing electric currents through the oil sample, the Shell engineers can pick out the amounts of each metal and see if an engine is about to fail.


They set the measured amount against the predicted amount and any anomalies are studied carefully. The value of the track lab comes in comparing what you see with what you know about the engine.

At this stage of the season, with a high mileage engine such as they used in Singapore, this is really important because it’s a big call to tell Ferrari that they need to change a drivers’ engine after qualifying, meaning he’ll take a 10 place grid drop. But better to do that than have it fail in the race.

Of course this year’s championship is one sided and Ferrari aren’t in it, so the pressure is less. But at this stage last season, with Alonso in a position to win races and challenge for the title, tests like the ones we did on the Singapore oil carry great significance and responsibility.

Another key point is that when you are trying to get three Grand Prix distances and three qualifying sessions out of an engine, as Ferrari did this weekend, plus some Friday practice sessions in later races, you want to lose as little power in the later stages of its life as possible.


We saw the difference it makes using fuels with cleaning and friction reduction components blended in, both of which are in the Shell V Power fuels used by Ferrari. Any build up on deposits on the valves, for example, will reduce performance and take away power, as you can see quite graphically from a valve which has been running V Power and one which hasn’t. This technology has been around for a few years now to the extent they’ve taken it across to their road car fuels.

An interesting point I had not realised was that the F1 fuel blenders can adjust the fuel to give better fuel consumption and this is something that they had done with the fuel for Singapore. Singapore is one of the heaviest fuel consumption races of the season, so any help that can be given there will lighten the fuel load that the car has to carry at the start. It’s only a small difference, but every little helps.

Of course the fuel always has to match the sample given by the fuel company to the FIA, but again what I had not realised was that they can keep changing that sample all the time, as long as they provide a sample of a new blend to the FIA ahead of the race weekend and it is passed for use.

But again they have to be careful – fuel can get contaminated by things like the grease on a glove and that is enough to fail the FIA test. So Shell have a space in their Track Lab to analyse it before and after each track session to make sure it complies. Getting disqualified for having the wrong fuel fingerprint would be a really soft way to lose a race weekend.

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75 Comments
  1. Phil R says:

    Fantastic article James. Do you know what the process is for the manufacturers regarding running in their engines as I assume they do?

    1. James Allen says:

      No. I guess they do a shakedown on a dyno then run them Saturday am

    2. wayne says:

      Thanks for the article, James. It just doesn’t seem to be a factor anymore does it. The engine allocations seems just right. Additionally what can and can’t they replace on the engines, I bet there are several components that they replace between races which does not count as an egnine change? Are the engines sealed units, are only ‘consumables’ allowed to be replaced?

      1. James Allen says:

        No it’s a sealed unit, only a few pumps etc. It’s pretty draconian. Will be interesting to see what they decide for the 2014 engines, which will be experimental for 1st year at least. engine will once again become a performance differentiator

      2. brendan says:

        how during the engine freeze did renault go from being the favoured engine and most reliable…..to losing it by quite some margin to mercedes?

      3. James Allen says:

        Did they? they are about to with the World Championship for the second year in a row…

  2. Segedunum says:

    Now we know why we’ve never seen the real pace of the Red Bull in many races – they’ve done just enough to keep their heads above water and little more to protect the engines and components they need to use at other races.

    1. Tony Swales says:

      As Eddie always says it is best to win a race in the slowest time possible.

      1. Carlos Ribeiro says:

        It believe this quote is from Fangio*, from a long time ago, but still true.

        * unless he quoted someone else…

  3. Tom in adelaide says:

    Is the general lack of engine issues this year a result of the “endurance” racing brought on by Pirelli tyres?

    1. James Allen says:

      More likely the V8 s have been around a long time and development frozen, no experimental parts

  4. rvd says:

    Of great interest, thanks James

  5. andrew ratcliffe says:

    another reason to love f1! shaving time/weight to prove to the world f1 is the leading sport which technology transfers to road cars. ps keep it free to air in the UK please!

  6. Adrian Newey Jnr says:

    James – perhaps Ferrari were running an engine for a third time at a race where they thought they wouldn’t perform well. That would save an engine for a race where they had a better chance of finishing well.

    Was there any hint from the engineers as to the percentage engine power loss over time?

    1. James Allen says:

      On the contrary, they expected to challenge here and were sorely disappointed. Think back to Monaco on sane tyres

  7. Nando says:

    How does the tie-in within the resources restriction agreement? Seems like Shell are doing alot of work at Ferrari, would this be done by the fuel supplier for all teams?

    1. James Allen says:

      That’s a great question. No idea but I’ll find out

  8. Grabyrdy says:

    Absolutely fascinating stuff. Especially as it’s Ferrari. I remember back in (I think) 2004, just as Ferrari seemed to have found something, Jean Todt suddenly became all effusive about what a wonderful job Shell was doing. In my innocence, I’d imagined all the fuel for all the teams came from the same bowser (well, not bowser, but you know what I mean). So it was a bit of an eye-opener. And now you’ve opened it even more.

    I wonder what they found in 2004 …

  9. Mike84 says:

    Hey I think that valve was messed up by more than the lack of V-power :)

    1. terryshep says:

      I think the miserable-looking one is an exhaust valve, which would naturally have a harder life than the inlet.

      1. john g says:

        no they are both inlet valves – on any engine that is not direct injection (i.e. all current F1 engines and most road cars) vaporised fuel sprays onto the back of the inlet valve – without detergents in teh fuel you will get this build up of deposit.

        the exhaust valve get very little deposit as the stuff that passes over it is much higher temp (hence the valve is also at a higher temp) and exhaust gas is CO, CO2, H2O and NOx and just a tiny bit of unburnt hydrocarbons, whereas the stuff that passes over the inlet valve is all HC’s and these cause the deposits.

      2. Mike84 says:

        … so remind your car to brush its valves before it goes to sleep.

  10. Grayzee (Australia) says:

    Facinating, James. Absolutely brilliant.
    Articles like this are why I keep reading this website. Great stuff!
    BTW – I heard that F1 engines have to be externally warmed up before they can be started. Is this true? and would the temperature of the fuel make much difference to it’s performance?

    1. James Allen says:

      Yes, they are all hooked up to heaters before bing started otherwise they would blow up when started apparently. I’ll do something on that maybe

      1. Jonathan Lodge says:

        I believe they are heated to 80c before they can be started. Obviously not a problem on a Friday and Saturday practices but I would like to know a bit more about what happens when in “park Ferme”. Presumably allowing cars to be back in their garages and covered by CCTV on Saturday nights is partly to allow the engines to be kept warm overnight.

        I would love to know a bit more about what happens when a car crashes or stops on circuit – or at the end of a race if the engine is needed again. If the engines will not turn over at room temperature they have the potential to come to a lot of harm if they are just stopped and left – first heating still further and then cooling too much.

    2. Wild Man says:

      Richard Hammond did an excellent episode of his Engineering Connections series on Formula 1 very recently. It covers this very topic. He calls it Windage. He shows how much more effective a cannon is by reducing the clearance between the projectile & the bore. Less clearance means less Windage losses (through leakage past the projectile), meaning the cannon fires further. Translate this to a engine & you get more horsepower.

    3. Alex W says:

      Icy fuel would help but the rules do not allow for cooling of the fuel, and the engines are siezed at room tempreature, they are assembled and used at running temp, that is the only way they can get the clearences perfect, because the different shapes and materials expand and contract at different amounts.

  11. Liam in Sydney says:

    Outstanding post. These are the details that true fans love to read about. It would be intriguing to know what Ferrari does different to McLaren and Red Bull. Simply intriguing. :)

  12. Phil says:

    Great article James. Well done. This year has been your best year by far with the articles presented on this blog.

    Oh topic slightly, James are you going back to England between the races or will you stay in the East for the fly away rounds? I ask because of the timing of the articles posted. They seem more East than European.

  13. Neil Ford says:

    Hi James,

    I regularly read your web page with interest as the articles are always engaging, however I am seeing more and more promotion of Team Lotus. When you click on the story “Renault slots another piece of the jigsaw in place with Team Lotus” the entire page follows the corporate colours and appears designed solely to promote the team, plus you have the Team Lotus link constantly showing. I think the best journalists manage to raise issues that the fans are interesting in, whilst at the same time remain relatively impartial. Can I ask why you appear to be promoting Team Lotus so much?

    1. James Allen says:

      Not promoting Team Lotus, expanding out the site into Team Pages, first Ferrari, then the Team Lotus page. We will add more shortly.

  14. Nadeem says:

    Love this stuff keep it coming.

  15. Geoff says:

    When was the last time someone was penalised for fuel irregularities?

    1. Remco says:

      I believe it was Buemi at this year’s German GP. He was excluded from the qualifying results because fuel irregularities. I think the fuel was contaminated when STR replaced a part on his car.

  16. CGM says:

    Certainly another interesting aspect of the work that needs to be done to keep the engines ticking at full potential.

    Q. Is there any particular, discernible difference between the fuel that Shell provides to Ferrari as compared to whatever it is that the other Teams use ? Is that difference “quantifiable” in terms of engine life or lap times ?

    And please pass-on my congrats to the PR people at Shell : they certainly do a better job of regularly getting their name mentioned than any other F1-related fuel company !

    1. James Allen says:

      Good question, no idea. I’ll find out

    2. john g says:

      yes there is a difference in the shell fuel compared to the exxon mobil fuel that goes in the merc engine or the fuel for the cosworth or total fuel for renault, because each fuel company work with a manufacturer to develop a fuel for that particular engine. therefore it’s not ‘quantifiable’ the improvement shell fuel would make over any other fuel as it is specific to each engine, and difficult to say if it’s any better or worse in any respect.

  17. Tony says:

    A world away from one lap qualification engines and BMW curing engine blocks by dumping them outside the works and weeing on them, never did find out why you couldn’t have used warm water.

  18. Aljo says:

    Interesting article James. In this instance F1 has adopted this technology rather than developed it.

    For many years operators of complex, expensive, critical machinery (almost the definition of F1), including the huge machines used in quarrying etc. have used this technique to schedule servicing and preventative maintenace.

    Presumably a simplified onboard version of this system is used on those road cars with variable sevice intervals.

    1. From what I understand about the “maintenance minders” in cars which schedule services, it’s more a case of the car estimating the amount of wear and tear based on things like how much the car is driven in a month, how much is relatively gentle motorway cruising and how much is in heavy traffic or at high revs.

      My Honda has one and the original dealer forgot to activate it. I took the car in for its annual service and reminded them and they said that Honda had since instructed them to deactivate all the maintenance minders at the first service, as they were calling cars in too frequently. I’m back on the standard 12,500 mile/annual service interval now, so I guess the software isn’t quite there yet!

  19. Just says:

    Is there any difference in engine wear rates from one driver to another? When comparing the “measured amount against the predicted amount” of metal particles in the oil, and deciding whether or not to take a 10 spot penalty, does the driver become a factor?

    1. Andrew Carter says:

      I would be surprised if it wasnt taken into acount. I remember back in 2000 that BMW gave the difference in driving style as the reason why Button suffered more engine failures than Ralf Schumacher, though the BMW engine was pretty fragile back then.

    2. Alex W says:

      I know Repco tested their F1 engines on a vibrating mount so could determine the “ripple strip effect” – that was in the 60′s so I expect they still have this info, up and down forces on the crank with all the inertia of spinning at 15000rpm is a factor, greedy cornering and hitting kerbs increases the forces.

  20. Tony Swales says:

    Great to see Ferrari opening up (ok, via shell) The seam to be the team that are most closed and restrictive with their info, (Hence why we have heard nothing of Rob Smedly this year)

  21. PeteH says:

    Other fuel companies and F1 manufacturers are available…

    1. James Allen says:

      Sure and if they would give people like ‘me these opportunities we would take them..,

  22. George.C says:

    I read somewhere that F1 engines nowadays lose significantly less power during service than it was couple years ago, and this occurs in time of ‘frozen’ regulation. It’s all due to lubricant technologies breakthrough. And this is not only Shell but Exxon Mobil, Total either, for Merc and Renault

  23. Rob Newman says:

    Great article James. I know we didn’t see many engine blow-ups this season. However, with five more races to go, do you know if any team will run out of the allocated eight engines this season? I think in Monza, most of the front runners were using their sixth engine.

    1. James Allen says:

      There have been very few failures this year, as the technology has been around a while.

  24. Phil R says:

    Hi James

    Do the ferrari’s in the back of the Sauber’s and Torro Rosso’s also use Shell, or do they have their own suppliers of fuel? It seems strange that they wouldn’t, but then back in the Sauber Petronas days inconceivable that they would….

    1. James Allen says:

      No idea. I would have thought so, but I’ll check

    2. john g says:

      the ferrari engines will all use shell, and mercedes all use exxon mobil.

  25. CJM says:

    Good article, thank you James.

    Made me re-think some of JB’s post race comments – could the ‘secret’ qualifying setup he referred to relate to a compensative, higher horsepower, less efficient engine map (which, under the modified rules McLaren would then have to use in the race)? It would explain his relative lack of pace until the last few laps (and LH’s apparent impatience maybe). Pure speculation, I know, but it does seem to fit.

    1. James Allen says:

      I think for quali they max everything. Then turn it down gradually more and more as the race goes on.

      1. CJM says:

        Agreed. What I’m leaning towards though is the recently introduced parc ferme ban on engine map adjustments. If they (McLaren) had gone the ‘quali’ route they’d have been stuck with it for the whole race (and have to run as lean as possible to get to the end).

  26. Ben says:

    Great article!

    James – If the engineers advise a team to change engines mid weekend, do you know if the team carry out any further testing on that engine behind the scenes to verify if it would have failed at the race? Or is it down to such an exact science that such tests would not be considered worthwhile?

    1. James Allen says:

      Yes definitely. I remember that happened at the start of last year with the Ferraris, which were having some problems

      1. SteveH says:

        My recollection is that the teams can use such things as borescopes to visually inspect the cylinder walls, valves, etc. while the car is in parc ferme. Also, doesn’t the FIA allow some engine repairs in parc ferme? I seem to recall that the seals can be broken under the supervision of the FIA and some parts can be replaced.

        Are the new engine regulations as strict as the current rules in defining c.g., V angle, bore spacing, etc? I am hooping there is a bit more scope for the designers this time.

  27. Richard says:

    Is there any information to what extent making engines last through multiple races has contributed to costs savings? In many respects it has got to be good that engines seem so much more reliable these days as we don’t have so many blow-ups. However, it takes away some of the excitement of engines performance changing during a race. Another factor regarding engine endurance that I wonder about is the effect of DRS; presumably the engine has to go to higher revs to take advantage of the reduced drag?

    1. James Allen says:

      Don’t know the exact figure but its hundreds of millions. As I said in reply to another post engines aren’t really performance differentiators now. But they will be again in 2014 hence the Red Bull commitment to Renault is significant

  28. Tom in adelaide says:

    These technical articles definitely attract some very good comments. Interesting to read during a quiet day at work
    !

  29. Rudy says:

    Great article James. Congrats!
    Is it possible to know how many fresh engines each team has?
    Between teams, do they know what each other is using?
    I have always wondered how teams manage that information. Maybe they aren’t obliged to provide it and from that comes speculation.

    1. Aaron James says:

      The amount of engines used by each team is in the Technical Bulletins issued. Used to be a comprehensive one on the FIA F1 media centre but it seems to be a lot smaller now.

  30. Eric Weinraub says:

    Great stuff. I could see based on the fuel analysis you could start lightening components to get them to a point just beyond the failure point

  31. Andy C says:

    James,

    Two questions for you, neither of which about shells fuel ;-)

    1.) I’m hearing Rory is going back to Ferrari to work with Pat Fry? Anything solid in that do you think?

    2.) When is the McLaren team site due on JAonF1? Really looking forward to that, as is Jo Torrent. ;-)

    Thanks
    Andy

    1. James Allen says:

      1. Not heard that. Will look into it
      2. Soon, all being well

  32. B2B MAN says:

    Somehow you have to feel a bit sad that F1 had to do cost cutting, i think I enjoyed Formula 1 at the tense battle between Schumacher and Hakkinen, i remember turning up for Autosport at a local bookshop every thursday morning and you would read about the latest complicated engine updates from Ferrari and McLaren and I also remember how Jordan used to run special qualifying Honda engines from Mugen and Frentzen would give Ferrari and McLaren a run for their money and at times you had the McLarens lapping the entire field, if i can point out my excitement for Formula 1, it was at that time, it would really make the hair at your back stand up.

    I understand that economic times are hard but like Formula 1 began where Alfa Romeo, Mercedes and various other manufactures, their mission was clear, to showcase their supreme power of their technology and the pride of the country they come from. Formula 1 is supposed to be about challenge, creating ideas and unleashing things that were the worlds first in automotive industry, things that living humans could never think of, if such creativity today existed, it would make the show better, im sure there would have been technology that could have been used from Formula 1 to road cars that could play a big part in safety and better cars. I also think that engine bosses do lack motivation as this was an area where they excelled by who is going to have the best power.

  33. Jonathan Lodge says:

    It would be very interesting to hear more about this scenario with other engine manufacturers.

    Let’s not forget that Jenson won 3 races on the same engine in his championship year – the first time that has happened.

    1. devilsadvocate says:

      I would imagine Seb has done this at least once this year, just going on the number of races he has won making it a very likely scenario. Renault really upped their game after they effectively lost him his shot at the championship in 2009.

  34. Adrian Newey Jnr says:

    James – given that the paddock are tying up engine supply deals for the new rules, does that mean the supposed Volkswagen (or any other manufacturer) entry has no chance?

    1. James Allen says:

      Not heard that mentioned for a while. There are still plenty of teams without deals for 2014 onwards

  35. Conor says:

    What’s the compromise for using the more economical fuel? Otherwise surely this is something you use at every race. Guess power seeing as this isn’t a big engine track?

    1. James Allen says:

      It’s power, exactly. You can play around with the fuel blend for more power, for cooler running and many other priorities. I had no idea until I saw this behind the scenes myself

  36. FORCE INDIAN says:

    Great Articles James,BTW i want to ask u something different.These days Renault engines being considered as bench mark,will it really help Williams to be up on the grid next year.leave aside aerodynamics but will Williams-Renault be better than Williams-cosworth based on pure engine performance?

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