How improved reliability is fuelling F1’s latest development drive

Fuel and lubricants have become a key part of F1’s development war again, say JONATHAN NOBLE and STUART CODLING, as manufacturers chase performance outside the boundaries of the budget cap

How improved reliability is fuelling F1’s latest development drive

That Red Bull is on a roll at the moment is obvious – we can measure its advantage not just in terms of lap times and race results, but also in the quantity of innuendo directed at it by rivals.

Mercedes might have landed a couple of blows by lobbying for new wing flexibility tests and pitstop timing rules, but the fact remains that Red Bull’s RB16B can still outpace Merc’s W12 on pretty much any circuit – by a quarter of a second or more per lap.

Part of that margin comes from the engine bay but isn’t a factor of horsepower alone.

In Azerbaijan ExxonMobil, Red Bull’s fuel and lubricants partner, introduced what it described as a “revolutionary” new oil which incorporates components not traditionally used in lubricants. For the French Grand Prix Honda brought a greatly revised specification of the all-new power unit it introduced at the start of the season. These developments are not unrelated.

Trick fuel ‘n’ lubes are nothing new in F1. Until pump fuel became mandatory, additives to boost power and/or improve resistance to pre-ignition (or ‘knock’) were in common use. Advanced lubricants then went hand-in-hand with exotic metallurgy in the 1990s as engine manufacturers chased ever higher revs.

But as data analytics improved and the FIA clamped down on development in the 2000s, other opportunities emerged: if, for instance, a lubricant could massively reduce friction while maintaining reliability, the engine would require less cooling and therefore the sidepod apertures could be narrowed, reducing aerodynamic drag.

Max Verstappen, Red Bull Racing RB16B

Max Verstappen, Red Bull Racing RB16B

Photo by: Motorsport Images

In the era of homologated engines from 2007 onwards, fuel and lubricants became a development focus since mechanical changes could only be justified on reliability grounds (although this didn’t stop cunning manufacturers sneaking performance upgrades through).

So while Honda insists its new PU spec isn’t more powerful than the one rolled out at the start of the season, perfectly legal changes made in the name of reliability are believed to be enabling Red Bull to run it in more aggressive modes than before. The exclusive arrangement with ExxonMobil complements and facilitates this.

One of Red Bull’s bugbears during the latter seasons of its relationship with Renault was that it was unable to secure dyno time with its lubricants supplier because Renault was focusing on optimising its engines to work with its own fuel and lubes partner, Castrol. Since both Red Bull-backed teams have been working solely with Honda – Toro Rosso/AlphaTauri since 2018, Red Bull Racing since 2019 – innovations have been able to flow in this area.

"If it ups the efficiency of the engine a little bit because we have less pumping losses through it, we bring the friction down a little bit, then those are all small steps that simply contribute to an overall gain in the car’s performance" Tomek Young

Straightline speed, previously not a Red Bull strong suit, has demonstrably improved – and the difference was especially noticeable at Paul Ricard, when the latest Honda engine came on stream. Red Bull naturally dismissed suggestions from the Mercedes camp that the new engine begat this increased speed, putting it down to improved energy management and running slimmer-profile wings than Mercedes.

But the ability to run the engine more aggressively than before is undoubtedly a contributor to Red Bull’s current pre-eminence. ExxonMobil won’t reveal specifics about the chemicals used in its new-generation Mobil 1 lubricant, but will admit it has looked to elements normally found in products from the cosmetics industry. The key to the success of any high-performance lubricant is to deposit a protective film on the internal surfaces to reduce wear and friction – while at the same time being low-viscosity to avoid drag on moving components.

ExxonMobil Global Motorsport Technology Manager Tomek Young told GP Racing’s sister website Motorsport.com: “The cosmetics industry offers many unique naturally derived components and we had to evaluate a range of similar products before selecting the best.

 

“These new components were incorporated as they were found to offer many benefits, including stronger interactions with metal surfaces and lower friction, helping deliver maximum power while offering protection and fuel efficiency.

“These benefits translate into an ability to run the engine across a wider range of conditions.”

Young says the initial idea to use such chemicals came up around eight years ago, and they have been tested in ExxonMobil’s laboratories since then. But it’s only relatively recently, during Red Bull’s partnership with Honda, that it’s been able to evaluate it while running on the dyno.

Young adds: “Some elements of the chemical composition of our new engine oil are a departure from what we would normally formulate a product with. What was a long shot a few years ago – a vision of a low-ash, high-temperature, low-friction engine oil that incorporates bio-based components became a reality this year, thanks to the efforts of our whole team, in collaboration with Honda and Red Bull. We believe this will offer us opportunities into the future.”

“If it’s improved the engine reliability a little bit,” says Red Bull chief engineer Paul Monaghan, “then it makes it easier for us to observe the three power units per year regulation. And it also gives us the ability to run it more free with the miles in its most performant mode.

“We can also learn more about the car through a race weekend rather than having potentially a restriction. In terms of outright performance, if it ups the efficiency of the engine a little bit because we have less pumping losses through it, we bring the friction down a little bit, then those are all small steps that simply contribute to an overall gain in the car’s performance.”

Max Verstappen, Red Bull Racing RB16B

Max Verstappen, Red Bull Racing RB16B

Photo by: Red Bull Content Pool

It’s vanishingly rare for a single component to yield a lap time improvement in the order of what Red Bull has achieved this season, but what it can do is open possibilities which lead to a virtuous cycle. In this case, fuel and lubes working in tandem with power unit supplier and chassis designers to find aerodynamic gains as well as power and reliability.

“We’re still working with Red Bull and Honda to accumulate more performance data,” says Young when asked if it’s possible to quantify the new oil formulation’s contribution to Red Bull’s lap time gains. “The team is constantly refining every aspect that can result in a benefit, so there are always multiple changes in play.

“We made this oil so unusual that the engine can run even harder down the road, so further optimisations to the aerodynamics and to the operating conditions will be possible” Tomek Young

“In the end it may be difficult to separate out at-the-track oil contribution with the contributions from fuel, engine operation parameters, and vehicle aerodynamics. But we had tested multiple formulations with Red Bull and Honda in a laboratory, before selecting the one we race with.”

What should cause Mercedes to worry is the likelihood of Honda finding further ways to exploit the new formulation before it bows out of Formula 1 at the end of the season and hands the engine over to Red Bull.

“We made this oil so unusual that the engine can run even harder down the road,” says Young. “So further optimisations to the aerodynamics and to the operating conditions will be possible.”

Max Verstappen, Red Bull Racing RB16B

Max Verstappen, Red Bull Racing RB16B

Photo by: Charles Coates / Motorsport Images

shares
comments
Ricciardo wants to be in "prime spot" with McLaren for 2024 F1 title challenge
Previous article

Ricciardo wants to be in "prime spot" with McLaren for 2024 F1 title challenge

Next article

Perez: Marko's honesty on the bad days is still a good thing

Perez: Marko's honesty on the bad days is still a good thing
Load comments
How getting sacked gave Mercedes F1’s tech wizard lasting benefits Plus

How getting sacked gave Mercedes F1’s tech wizard lasting benefits

He’s had a hand in world championship-winning Formula 1 cars for Benetton, Renault and Mercedes, and was also a cog in the Schumacher-Ferrari axis. Having recently ‘moved upstairs’ as Mercedes chief technical officer, James Allison tells STUART CODLING about his career path and why being axed by Benetton was one of the best things that ever happened to him

The remarkable qualities that propelled Kubica’s F1 comeback Plus

The remarkable qualities that propelled Kubica’s F1 comeback

It’s easy to look at
 Robert Kubica’s second Formula 1 career and feel a sense of sadness that he didn’t reach the heights for which he seemed destined. But as BEN ANDERSON discovered, performance and results are almost meaningless in this context – something more fundamental and incredible happened…

The humbling changes Ricciardo made to deliver the goods for McLaren  Plus

The humbling changes Ricciardo made to deliver the goods for McLaren 

From being lapped by his own team-mate in Monaco to winning at Monza, it’s been a tumultuous first season at McLaren for Daniel Ricciardo. But, as he tells STUART CODLING, there’s more to the story of his turnaround than having a lovely summer holiday during Formula 1's summer break...

Formula 1
Nov 26, 2021
The potential benefits of losing the F1 constructors' title Plus

The potential benefits of losing the F1 constructors' title

As the battle continues to rage over the F1 2021 drivers' championship, teams up and down the grid are turning their attentions to the prize money attributed to each position in the constructors' standings. But F1's sliding scale rules governing windtunnel and CFD use will soften the blow for those who miss out on the top places

Formula 1
Nov 25, 2021
The invisible enemy that’s made Hamilton’s title charge tougher Plus

The invisible enemy that’s made Hamilton’s title charge tougher

After winning his past few Formula 1 titles at a canter, Lewis Hamilton currently trails Max Verstappen by eight points heading into the final double-header of 2021. Although Red Bull has been his biggest on-track challenge, Hamilton feels that he has just as much to grapple with away from the circuit

Formula 1
Nov 24, 2021
Why F1’s inconvenient penalties have to stay Plus

Why F1’s inconvenient penalties have to stay

OPINION: Quibbles over the length of time taken by Formula 1's stewards over decisions are entirely valid. But however inconvenient it is, there can be no questioning the importance of having clearly defined rules that everyone understands and can stick to. Recent events have shown that ambiguity could have big consequences

Formula 1
Nov 23, 2021
The mistakes Red Bull cannot afford to repeat in F1 2021’s title fight climax Plus

The mistakes Red Bull cannot afford to repeat in F1 2021’s title fight climax

OPINION: Red Bull has had Formula 1’s fastest package for most of 2021, but in several of the title run-in events it has wasted the RB16B’s potential. It cannot afford to do so again with Lewis Hamilton motoring back towards Max Verstappen in the drivers’ standings with two rounds remaining

Formula 1
Nov 23, 2021
Qatar Grand Prix Driver Ratings Plus

Qatar Grand Prix Driver Ratings

Qatar was a virtual unknown for most as Formula 1 made its inaugural visit to the Gulf state, and tyre management quickly emerged as an even more critical factor than normal. Perhaps then it should come as no surprise that two of the championship's elder statesmen produced standout drives

Formula 1
Nov 22, 2021