How close is F1 fuel to road car fuel?
Scuderia Ferrari
Posted By: James Allen  |  03 Aug 2011   |  8:29 am GMT  |  135 comments

Ferrari and their partner Shell carried out an fascinating experiment last week, which hasn’t been tried before in the modern era. They wanted to see how the Shell V Power road car fuel you can buy on the forecourt would perform in an F1 car and how it would compare with the race fuel Ferrari use.

The FIA regulations stipulate that Formula One race fuels must be composed of compounds normally found in commercial fuels, but there are some tightly controlled areas where they can innovate with additives for more power or to control temperatures and such like. A lot of work goes into this.

The outcome was surprising, as UK viewers may have seen at the weekend in this piece Jake Humphrey did about it.

Fernando Alonso did the comparison test at Fiorano with a 2009 Ferrari F1 car (a two year old car is allowed to test under FIA rules, but not one more recent) and drove four laps using the race fuel, setting a fastest lap time of 1:03.950. He then did a similar length run on the road car fuel and was 9/10ths slower, the race fuel being notably superior in pick up and acceleration, but the road fuel amazingly was faster in top speed at the end of the straight.

“99% of the chemistry in Shell V-Power race fuel is identical to the chemistry used in the road fuel that can be bought at Shell forecourts,” said Alonso. “The Shell V-Power road fuel felt just as quick as the Formula One fuel. It’s a nice surprise.”

Check out the video below. There’s an interesting explanation from Alonso of the telemetry showing the results of the comparison test.

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This is interesting.

Over here in Sunny South Africa we’ve got 95 or 93, and because we are behind in the EU in terms of our fuel specs, AND we have a number of old clunkers on the road (Average Saffa keeps his car about 5-7 years apparently!)we also still have LRP or lead replacement petrol. This is slowly being fazed out though…

I drive a ’91 BMW520i with a few slight tweaks, nothing much, just performance exhaust and K&N air filters and i must say that i only use Shell wherever possible…

There’s a difference in power, economy as well as mecahnical noise…its as if she runs smoother and delivers more power. Whenever i get it serviced – she has about 600 000km or 100 000 miles on the clock – i make sure to have it dyno-tuned with a full tank of Shell.

Brilliant stuff…

With BP or Engen (previously Mobil before they took off what with all the sanctions in the 80’s) the car runs and smokes like a wreck, and fuel economy…what fuel economy?!!


My Team has taken part in supra f1 car race we are the first batch in our engineering college we would request you to give some technical information about f1 car like what the carburetor is used or cooling system


Er, not exactly F1 but here goes. I have been about as cynical as it’s possible to be about premium forecourt fuels. Would never pay the extra. Then, I was in an employers white van on fumes (the van, not me). Pulled onto a forecourt (a Shell, but that’s just coincidence) to put in standard diesel. It had a lock on it. Looked across to big queues on other pumps. As it was on account I thought “Fluff it! I’ll just put £20 of the premium in and fill it with normal crap later somewhere else”. As the tank was empty when I pulled up, there was only a few minutes between driving on standard to pulling away driving on premium. I have to tell you people the difference was marked (If you put £20 quid on top of half a tank of standard doubt you will notice). I felt a clearly defined difference in white van with 100K+ clocked up. Of course the extra perfomance and extra milage (if driving at same speed on either fuel) gained from premium will not offset extra cost for vast majority of people paying for fuel. Cost is always likely to define choice here. I not saying people should pay the extra but there is a difference. I discovered purely by accident. I’ll get my coat now……


I use V power with the motorbike, and the difference is not only significant, but obvious with every twist. Even on the over run, when coming off the throttle, the bike behaves as if its freefalling. This behaviour, when comparing to supermarket fuels, for me speaks for itself. So, irrespective of cost, I’m riding with shell.


There testing new fuel!


Saw the video…. Interesting, but i have a DIESEL!!

Don’t diesels do relatively well in le Mans?? Even WINNING it over Petrol engines?? Hmm, and so much more MPG.

Noise would be as loud, as Diesels are noisier by default!!! And that black smoke, like the old F4 Phantom or a chieftan tank….. lol!!!


Ferrari will use any excuse to do testing under the guise of media days.
I’m sure they took full advantage of this 10x minute interview to test parts on the car for the rest of the day
Notice Jake gets some serious lip service from Alonso and how hard he is working in the car to perspire when being interviewed – this was not a fuel test alone in my opinion


That old chestnut.


The car is 2 years old. That’s allowed under FIA rules because there’s no crossover


A modern Formula One car is a single-seat, open cockpit, open wheel racing car with substantial front and rear wings, and an engine positioned behind the driver. The regulations governing the cars are unique to the championship. The Formula One regulations specify that cars must be constructed by the racing teams themselves, though the design and manufacture can be outsourced.When a new Formula One, for engines limited to 2.5 litres, was reinstated to the world championship during 1954, Mercedes-Benz introduced the advanced W196, which featured innovations such as desmodromic valves and fuel injection as well as enclosed streamlined bodywork




Advertising and not factual advertising at that,

back to back runs on two different fuels, did they mention that the MAP would have had to be changed between the two runs. or are they implying the RON/MON is the same for both fuels.

If there was no remapping they are risking the motor,

I tend to think they likely had a A/F MAP on road fuel and run the race fuel on the same program.

More like manipulative advertising to me


it was clearly advertising (shell’s whole selling point is F1 fuel for the road – this is the sole reason they pay so much to put their stickers on the car) but there was no trickery involved with the fuel / mapping. F1 fuel is not particularly high octane and there’s no reason you couldn’t run road fuel on the race fuel map.


Totally incorrect there is a huge difference in fuels depending on octane even a few octane points can make a difference. Particularly the fact that a motor running at 18000 rpm generates heat your IAT is critical you cannot just put in any petrol without adjustment.

Most road going cars have there ECU programmed to handle this with a soft tune even the power mode is only having a few degrees more timing and firmer changes and safe default setting or limp mode for emergency

You cant compare a race bred motor doing 18000 rpm with a daily driver doing 6000 rpm my statement stays the same why would they risk a expensive motor if they weren’t going to adjust the programming.

How much power can you make from pump petrol before you detonate the motor ?

Cars like these run Shell V Power its best run on certified and tested pump fuel is over 1500 rear wheel horsepower. You have to be very careful with intake temps a turbo will increase intake temps on this by a few hundred degrees.

You need expensive inter-cooler technology to bring the IAT temps down so you don’t detonate. or run virtually no timing to compensate, which makes no power obviously

I am pretty certain the same applies to F1 motor.


John G

Who said anything about Toulene which is completely different from Octane.

By the way I dont use Toulene in my engines which is a cheap way of using so called boost enhancers you buy of the shelf.

The reality still is the same the more octane you have the more air you use the more spark you can use the more power you make.

If the octane is lower than what you have tuned the motor for the chances are in a high performance motor you will get detonation at high loads,

Hence my point that they would have had to run a different program for there fuel tests.


you said it yourself, you can’t compare a race engine doing 18000rpm with a road car engine doing 6000rpm, regardless of the BHP.

you seem to be basing your whole statement on IAT’s and denation, on a highly boosted turbo road engine.

the IAT’s on an F1 engine are just not an issue, you have the air intake above the drivers head directly feeding the airbox with the injectors sitting in there – the airbox will be around 60 degrees. and you have nowhere near the same in-cylinder pressure running non-turbo (even at high compression ratio’s) as you do when you’re boosted. knock is in large part a function of cylinder pressure, so it’s a lot more critical in a boosted engine than an F1 engine. F1 engines get their power from speed, not torque.

plus, as i said before, at 18000rpm you haven’t got time for destructive knock to occur – and for best power the engines will run in a part detonation mode as they need the fuel to combust as quickly as possible.

you fuel an F1 engine with toluene (very high octane) and it will make crap power because it won’t burn quick enough. you fuel a highly boosted turbo engine with toluene, and you’ll be able to raise the boost pressure and advance the timing, and make more power.

race engines are completely different to any road engine, *especially* a boosted road engine. when we move to the turbo V6, octane will be become much more important. for the V8’s we have now tho, they don’t have much appetite for octane.


The RON is the same (or very close). The FIA mandates the RON of F1 fuel to be between 95 and 102.


Thanks I mentioned both because depending on which country you are from they will use a different standard either RON or MON.

I can almost guarantee they would use the highest octane allowed as 1) It can make more power and 2) If the decide to run less timing its safer for the motor


Fascinating. I use VPower exclusively in my Honda … quite happy about that now!


Need to put race fuel in a street legal Ferrari.

Honestly I don’t know how that car runs without some serious engine tweaking. Very interesting.

Thanks for this type of coverage James as we in the US don’t get to see this stuff.


it makes you wonder whether on a cost basis alone, if the “race” fuel could be replaced with the road fuel in the new era of formula one which is coming along soon


Bring on the Fuel Re-Mapping !


I wonder what KIND of V-Power it was. In various countries, I’ve seen it selling as 95, 97, 98, and 100. The UK stuff may or may not be what was actually tested here.


Very intersting Thanks, also very funny “the fuel is faster than you”


I agree with a few other posters here (Nic, Richard) – since there’s so little difference between F1 and ‘normal petrol-station’ fuel, why don’t they change the regs and just to use the latter – saving hundreds of hours and millions of dollars in F1 fuel development, secrecy, FIA checks, fuel shipment, etc etc. WE are really not going to notice any difference, if all the teams are using the same fuel!


Dave, Kieran in post #35 has your answer. There is no consistent fuel availble in all countries raced.


Because then all teams would need to use one brand, or be forced to use a rival brand, if for example they found “BP” had a bit extra at Monza, Shell a little more at Spa etc….


James, I wonder how old this video is. Alonso’s cap is not the cap he wears this season, at least on race weekends.

What it is not a surprise for me — and I believe for any one used to Alonso’s interviews in Spanish, as I posted here time ago — is Alonso’s mood. It is as good as it has always been. I’m afraid the perception of Alonso’s bad temper is/was very much due to a concoction made by British media in past times, frequently taking clips and quotes taken out of context. Understandable to a point, nevertheless.


Great stuff! It would be interesting to know who the fuels differ in terms of consumption.

Alonso is a man in the right place. Cannot imagine a team in which he could be happier, and cannot imagine a driver who would be better for Ferrari. I’m sure Massa is a great driver too, just remembering how much Fisichella and Badoer struggled with the Ferrari in 2009, but all in all, he is not as good as Alonso at the moment, and I respect Massa for openly admitting it. However, I’d like to see another man in the second Ferrari – Webber or Button would be great. McLaren enjoys the best pair of drivers at the moment. Jenson is not as fast as Hamilton but he is very close and, if Hamilton makes a mistake, Button is right there to pick up where Lewis left, which we saw in Budapest. RB has the second best lineup on the grid.

Man, the summer break is sooo long and it’s just started..


Interesting, but it could have been more interesting (if not more valid results) if Alonso and the fueling engineers had been blinded to the fuel options. Thanks James, for another insightful story.

Omsk 2 (Mytram Zynom)

Slightly off-topic, sorry. Adam Parr (also known as Ecclestone Jr.) explained today on how Formula 1 works: “The fundamental challenge is that Formula 1 is a very, very expensive show. It is not two blokes with a couple of tennis racquets and a pair of plimsolls – all of which was provided free. If you go to Cirque de Soleil and you see cutting edge performers in an amazing facility, and constantly updating the show, it costs you £100 for a good ticket, or you can go to your local circus with a couple of mangy elephants and a rather droopy clown and it costs you £10. People are capable of distinguishing.”

Yeah, except F1 tickets cost a lot more than £100, Adam. Add the cost of accommodation and food and for a family of 3 people it’ll cost a small fortune. Also, thanks for opening our eyes regarding F1 being a very expensive sport – we really had no clue! We’re such a bunch of retards.

I’d like to ask a question to James (if that’s alright): is it possible to calculate how much F1 teams were spending 20 years ago in today’s money? Ecclestone Jr. claims “it costs, on average, each team let’s say £100million a year” circa 2011. Were the teams spending less in the early 1990s and is it possible to do the same now? Will the teams be willing to get rid of expensive motorhomes, VIP chefs, cut driver salaries, etc., in order to save more money or VIPs are untouchable? Thanks. I can’t attend any of the fan forums this year but I’d really love to. I feel like I’m boiling inside with questions.


I hate to be a wet blanket. But the teams make more money out of the VIP & corporate hospitality than they do out of your (and many others) GA tickets. Cutting back on VIP/Corporate services will not save teams money, but cost them as they lose massive sponsorship dollars.


Well I worked for Brabham in 1990 and 1991 and they were spending £1 million per month to be backmarkers. McLaren were spending around £25 million but didn’t have to pay for engine and Honda were mega.

Omsk 2 (Mytram Zynom)

Christ! These dudes really need to cut costs! Thanks for replying.

Guess good old Max Mosley was right when he wanted to introduce a budget cap a couple of years ago. I miss MM, never thought I’d say that. He was right all the time. I don’t get how on earth it’s possible to spend that much money on going racing. OK, inflation and this financial crisis probably altered the value of money a little bit. In any case, I’m switching to the WRC and Le Mans next year; that stuff is more user-friendly. Will keep an eye on F1 but not like before. Kinda feels weird because I’ve been a fan since early 1990s, shame I can’t afford to follow F1 full-time.


James James James.. you did it again… you made me smile big time when reading this article and watching the video. Good work James. 2 and a half weeks left.. more please!

Very interesting that top speed is better using the normal fuel.. you’d think there is some work for shell to do here.


well than thanks for putting it on your site james. Being in LA, I wouldn’t have otherwise seen this.


Well to be fair this is BBC’s work, not mine..


James, a test like this was done in Barbados about 6years ago when Shell first launched/renamed the petrol in the Caribbean V-Power with a 2004 Ferrari driven by Marc Gene. Thousands watched as he pulled up to the pump to fill up…..if what was in the pump is what it was supposed to be is another matter 😉


JH can’t help to make the stupid joke, isn’t it?.


I agree. Theguy is very fluent but that’s all. He is not very funny, and he didn’t ask a single question about his impressions on the car. Remember he was driving a renault in 2009, and that ferrari was competition. So it was quite intresting question.


yeah but it’s a demo about different fuels, he’s not there to ask him how the ’09 ferrari compares to the ’09 renault. and what do you think fernando is gonna say anyway? “Oh, the renault? much better car, easier to drive, not such a pig as this is..” no he’s just gonna give some answer about how great ferrari are etc etc.

but yes jake is starting to bug me a bit with is little jokes and the way he goes “mmhmmm, uh huh, yup, sure” whenever someone is answering one of his questions.


A lot of formulae have a regulataion saying they must use standard pump fuel. Why can’t that also apply to F1?


…then why would Shell sponsor Ferrari, if they can’t play with the fuel? Shell loves it, because they can tweak a few things here and there, and without too much cost, provide a performance benefit.

Same goes for other fuel/lubrication companies; they want to be involved as partners, not just as sponsors.


Thats just their cover story, Its really all about marketing and therefore, money.


That’s precisely the point. They want that story. If they actually used road fuel from a pump, then they wouldn’t be able to use that angle to sell more fuel.


Because to be at the Pinnacle you must be different, and very expensive.


Why doesn’t F1 just use road car fuel ? Think of the money saved ! I thought this result would have been embarrassing to Ferrari. Brave of them to do it. All that money spent and the result is as near as dammit the same. Thumbs up for Shell and their road car fuel !


They do use fuel based off of road fuel. They just tweak the allowed additives to give a bit more power and torque. That’s why the results are so close.


I’ve previously seen Shell say that the bulk of their development was actually keep the power whilst reduce the weight of the liquid.

I’m not sure how much less F1 fuel weighs, but maybe this answers your question?

Mind you, 9/10 ths is an age in a quali lap, so even if that’s all it gives, it’s worth it.


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