HHonors Race Reporter: McLaren & ExxonMobil – The Ultimate Proving Ground

With their partnership now in their 18th year, McLaren and ExxonMobil have a long history in developing fuels and lubricants to extract the most performance from the car.  ExxonMobil provides McLaren with their race fuel, engine oil, gearbox oil, hydraulic fluid and greases.  It comes as no surprise that in Formula1 the fuel and engine oil are developed as bespoke products for McLaren, but the other lubricants are standard industrial products available off the shelf!

Fuel and lubricants are critical in F1; their development not only makes the car go faster, even with the current engine specification freeze.  But they also provide early warning of problems to predict problems with wear or reliability.

The relationship between the two companies is very close.  The typical McLaren attention to detail extends to a Mobile Laboratory along with a Lubricant Scientist being sent to every race.  For the entire length of this partnership, this has been Dr Tony Harlow.  We spoke to Tony at the Singapore GP about the work that ExxonMobil conduct at each race weekend.

 

How long have You, McLaren and ExxonMobil been working together?

ExxonMobil has been a Technology partner as Supplier of fuel and lubricants to McLaren racing since 1995.  I’ve been with the team since that time, so I’ve experienced some of that success.

Our partnership is a full on technology partnership, we use it to develop our products and technology.  We supply technology, as well provide direct support the race team.  What you see here is a full mobile laboratory, where we can analyse the lubricants and race fuel that we provide to the race team.

How does the race fuel get developed and approved?

Development starts with working with the team and Mercedes, the engine partner, to develop the race fuel to provide maximum performance.  It is blended to provide optimum performance for the race car.  That doesn’t just mean maximum power; it actually means the envelope of the formulation is to have the quickest way to get the car to the end of the race.  So it’s about the density of the fuel, the fuel economy and it’s also about power.

The lubricants are blended in the \us and we store them in the UK.  Having developed that formulation of which we’ll do 2 or 3 formulations in the year, we submit it for approval to the FIA in their official labs.  They’ll run a whole range of tests against the specification.  Then from McLaren we get a piece of paper that says that formulation ‘X’ is approved for all of the races that are in the 2012 GP season. We then can go racing with that fuel.

The formulation that we use at the event has to match the original approved reference to within 1 drop in a thousand.  If we were drop a single grain of salt into it, that’s enough to get you excluded!

We manufacture a large batch of fuel, which we get approved and that is then the batch that is accepted for racing.  Every batch we manufacture we get approved.  We bring some 2200l of race fuel to each event.

How is the race fuel tested against the specification?

We use a Gas Chromatograph, which is exactly the same as the FIA use.  GC is a type of instrument used in forensic and drug testing.  We inject a 5 microlitre sample into the instrument and effectively we produce a finger print.  It is so precise it will pick up one drop in a million and we only need one drop a thousand.  That’s all about ensuring legality.

How are the Oils tested?

We have an atomic emissions spectrometer, the AES measures up to eighteen elements in tenths of a part of a million and it does that in something like thirty seconds!

I’ll run a sample to show you, this is engine oil after free practice 3 from Lewis’s car; I just put the sample into the AES.  It raises up so that a wheel rotates in the oil and carries it up into a gap   where you get a high intensity spark.

If you remember your science, when put a lot of energy into an electron that goes around an atom its goes up to a higher energy state.  When you take the energy away, it comes back down to its normal state and gives off light.  The wavelength of that light is characteristic of a particular element.  We can identify the material of the component, so we can link that to the oil sample.  Occasionally when we have a failure, more often on the dyno rather than the track, we can link back to what you see from the oil analysis.  This provides confirmation of what you are seeing is real, so the learning process can be further improved.

How does this information get used?

We are able to measure very rapidly the levels of wear from the engine, the gearbox and from the hydraulics.  On their own those numbers don’t mean a lot, but we build up a pattern of the way we would expect the wear to occur over time.  We can then effectively look inside the engine, inside the gearbox.  That’s the primary purpose of what we are doing because they are sealed.  Each driver can only use 8 engines over the course of a season, the gearbox must be used for five successive races and they are sealed by the FIA.  Through this technology we can actually assess the health of the engine or the gearbox, to provide additional information to the race engineers in addition to what they have from the telemetry.

This information goes back, not only to engineers, but also to our chemists.  Where there’s wear there’s friction, so as part of the development process we looking to improve the technology and the products.  So we’ll have a new engine oil for next year and a further development of gearbox oil.  It’s part of making the car go faster, gains measured are in the thousands of second per lap.

Do fuels and lubricants offer much opportunity in improving lap times?

There are advantages still to be made in these areas, we develop new concepts with McLaren and Mercedes.  These need to measurable in milliseconds per lap, but they are measurable and quantifiable.

Does F1 engine oil compare to the grades used for road cars?

The best way I can describe is it is optimised for F1, we have an advantage here in that we have the opportunity to make a bespoke product for the specific application.  So the characteristics that are generally used to describe a road oil are rarely appropriate to describe what we are doing.  Although many of the components are exactly the same components that are used in the road car oil.

The used engine oil sample is darker than I’d expect for a low mileage engine?

The oil already starts off fairly dark.  When it’s done a few miles much of the darkening comes from the combustion process although there is also some from wear.

When Engine oil changed?

They change the oil in the engine, when they change the engine.

What other lubricants are used on the F1 car?

The gearbox oil is a fluid with the lowest friction that we’ve been able to find.  It’s unique, it minimises the losses and the wear of the gearbox. It also has fluorescent dye in it, so we can we can distinguish it from the engine oils.  The other main product we use is the hydraulic oil, it is a standard industrial grade Mobil SHC526.  We put a red dye in this so we can distinguish very rapidly if there is a leak.

Then there are standard industrial greases from the Synthetic range, SHC1500 for the driveshaft joints and SHC220 for the wheel bearings, they are low friction products with good durability.

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