The buzz of the lab
F1 is all about adrenalin. It’s everywhere. Including the laboratory. More specifically the Shell Track Lab - a mobile, trackside lab that houses the Shell analysts during each Grand Prix. It’s here they work tirelessly with the Scuderia Ferrari engineers, developing the world class fuels and engine oils that power Ferrari’s F1 cars.
They’re integral to the Scuderia Ferrari team. So we caught up with them to find out how they deal with the pressure.
“To be in this team you have to be passionate. If you’re not, the demands combined with the expectations and workload will catch up with you.” That’s Guy Lovett, Trackside and Logistics Manager, who (along with his team) is responsible for testing the fuels and engine oils for each race.
A good fuel will give the car’s engine the power it needs to compete, while the oils (or lubes as they’re known) help keep the engine clean and efficient. The Track Lab team takes samples of the fuel and oil throughout race weekend and tests them to provide reports for the Ferrari engineers. As a result of this testing the Ferrari engineers can tell from the metallurgic samples in the oil what part of the car needs attention. That’s what makes the Shell samples and analysis so invaluable.
Dan Jamieson explains the sheer intensity of the task at hand. “On any given race weekend the team can conduct up to 40 tests for the Ferrari engineers. If there’s a problem trackside, the knock on effect will impact the Ferrari engineers which, of course, then impacts Ferrari’s overall performance. That’s where the pressure comes in. We don’t want to let the team down.”
The line between success and failure is incredibly fine in F1. That’s why the Shell Fuel Development team works all year round to refine its products. As Drew explains:
“The improvements we’re looking to make are minimal - but hugely significant. With each blend we’re looking for better results, however small. The difference between 1 or 2 horsepower could be as much as 12 metres. That gain could make all the difference by the end of the race.”
But before the team can work on the fuel they have to make sure the kit arrives at the track in full working order. “That’s not as easy as it sounds,” Dan laughs.
At this, Alan Wardle and Louise Coppack (fellow trackside analysts) smile. “At Spa we had a set up that, instead of the usual 4 hours, took 12 hours. Certain pieces of kit failed, we had power supply problems – even the spare kit didn’t work. Whatever could go wrong…did. You have to think on your feet, come up with solutions, have contingency plans – it’s a pressure but it’s part of the job.”
“Failure is not an option,” says Dan, causing the whole team to nod in agreement. “The pressure is intense – especially when it comes to fly-aways (races outside of Europe). We don’t know what we’re going to find on the other side sometimes. We’ve learnt to expect the unexpected.”
But the whole team is adamant that’s a small price to pay for being part of motorsport’s most iconic institution.
Ian Albiston is the trackside and logistics manager. “We’re made to feel a massive part of the Ferrari family. I’ll never forget Japan 2003 when Schumacher won the title - I didn’t sleep night before. There was so much apprehension. The race itself was torture. We got there in the end but it was a really tough race. But then what a night!”
Mark Wakem (Project leader Lubes) and Mike Evans (Project leader Fuels) are responsible for product development in the build up to each race. It’s a demanding job but when they get it right, there’s no better feeling.
“Ferrari’s Team Principal,” Mark reveals, “personally thanked Shell for the process and delivery of the new fuel in Spain. Even the drivers thanked us. It’s great just being part of the team and having our work acknowledged. We know that a team is only as strong as its weakest link. That’s why we strive to develop better products all year round.”
Mike agrees and says that it’s not uncommon to hear analysis of the fuel mix in the media nowadays. “The 2014 regulations have put greater emphasis on our work. We heard David Coulthard talk about the Shell oil analysis recently. It shows how integral we are to the process. It’s such a rewarding job.”
With the recent change in regulations, the fuel and oil mix has never been a bigger part of the equation. It’s just as well that this team is up to the challenge.