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New Straits Times (Malaysia): Shell’s mobile F1 lab

Published: Oct 08, 2006

SHELL is the only fuel supplier in Formula One that has a mobile lab providing full fuel and oil analytical services for the Ferrari team at every F1 race around the world.

Manned by three Shell personnel, including Mike Copson (the Shell technical manager for Ferrari), a fuel scientist, and a lubricant scientist, the lab is housed in a 3m x 3m x 2m container next to the Ferrari garage.

It is set up at least four days before race day, and forms an important part of the Ferrari paddock support complex at every F1 race.

Inside the lab is state-of-the-art technical equipment to ensure the top quality and consistency of the fuels and lubricants used by the Ferrari team.

“Thirty to forty fuel and lubricant samples are analysed per weekend and in varying track temperature levels to determine how fuels behave,” said Copson at the Shanghai F1 circuit last week.

The analyses ensure that the drivers will be able to get peak performance from the fuel and oil while on the track.

To find the optimum fuel, Shell blends its fuels as close to the limits as possible, but as the FIA can take a random sample of fuel at any time during a race weekend, Shell and Ferrari have to ensure that the fuel remains in legal and prime condition.

The track lab has two gas chromatography instruments that heat the fuel samples until evaporation, and analyse the level of over 200 components in the fuel.

This provides the fuel’s unique fingerprint. If a sample taken by the FIA does not match the pre-approved profile, the team can be disqualified.

The X-Ray spectrometer is used to analyse an oil sample. Within five minutes, it can detect any unusual wear metal patterns held in suspension in the oil. Shell scientists are therefore able to identify any unusual mechanical wear pattern after each run, giving Ferrari a snapshot of the conditions of the engine and gearbox. “Knowing the results of the oil analyses and the conditions of the cars is important as it provides the team with an indication of how hard it can push the engines and gearboxes during the race.

“With the one engine per two races weekend rule, the role of fuel and oil analysis in the Shell track lab is ever more critical,” said Copson.

For safety purposes, all fuel and oil samples are stored in a special fume cupboard to avoid spillage or inhalation risk. The Shell track lab is also equipped with wireless technology for real-time data sharing and instant communication.

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