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.
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.