How Formula 1 reacted to fuel trickery

Last year proved to be a difficult chapter in Ferrari's story, as the Scuderia had numerous accusations thrown at it with regards to its straightline speed advantage.

How Formula 1 reacted to fuel trickery

The FIA was pushed for numerous clarifications and Ferrari had to vigorously defend its position, as fellow competitors questioned the legality of its power unit throughout the season.

The situation is still not over as rival teams remaining unhappy about a secret agreement reached between Ferrari and the FIA over what it is up to.

With rivals unable to understand how Ferrari was able to achieve this boost, numerous theories were thrown out there: ranging from questions over whether it was using a controlled leak of oil from the intercooler to improve combustion, to suggestions it had found a way around the fuel flow limit.

Here we look at both those theories, how they could be applied and also take a look at how changes in the regulations have been made to ensure teams are not cleverly exploiting these areas in the future.

Read Also:

Oil burning

Oil burning practices have been a staple of the hybrid era, as the various fuel and lubricants manufacturers have worked closely with their engine partners to get more performance from their products.

The 100kg/h fuel flow limit puts an onus on getting as much performance as is possible from the fuel. Plus, with the regulations surrounding the chemical composition of fuel being far more restrictive than oil, it is obvious that other avenues have been looked at to boost performance.

Burning oil as fuel became a natural playground, as the regulations surrounding the quantities and delivery methods were relatively weak. The FIA set about reining in the team's efforts to use these processes over the years, controlling the specific quantity and methods for how oil can be burnt.

But, that's not to say that there were not other ways of doing it.

Ferrari SF70H 2017 engine

Ferrari SF70H 2017 engine

Photo by: Giorgio Piola

The use of fuel additives within the oil clearly raised questions amongst the engineers about how you could continue to add combustion boosting elements into the fuel mixture without being reliant on oil vapour as a delivery mechanism.

As such, theories surfaced among the non-Ferrari powered teams that its liquid-to-air cooler was utilising an oil based lubricant as the cooling medium, rather than using a more conventional water based solution.

It was then surmised that this additive rich lubricant could be leaked into the boost tract and provide the necessary combustion improvement that was leading to the Scuderia's straight line boost.

In full flow

 Fuel flow meter

Fuel flow meter

Photo by: Matthew Somerfield

Learning from F1's turbocharged past, the FIA needed a way to contain the boost levels at which the power units could be run. Rather than meter the boost pressure, as was done during the last turbocharged era, the FIA opted to meter fuel delivery.

Housed, within the fuel tank, the meter had to be more accurate than anything that was already available in the marketplace. It had to tolerate the range of conditions it would be placed under, provide the necessary accuracy and offer result repeatability over all devices in use.

The current meter, supplied by Senstronics since 2018, uses the time-of-flight principle, whereby transducers at either end of the meter fire short bursts of ultrasound in opposing directions. These values are measured and scaled according to the known dimensions of the flow tube to give the volumetric flow rate.

To get the necessary accuracy the meter measures the flow rate over 2200 times per second and is manufactured from a single metallic material to eliminate the need for any further calibration for different thermal expansion rates.

How does one defeat a flow meter then?

Whilst the meter takes measurements at up to 2200 times per second, this is filtered and the FIA works with a much smaller sample, as it must remove some of the noise created by various external variables.

This is supposed to give a more accurate reading of the flow rate, but it has been proposed that it could also be used as a way of defeating the process.

The introduction of noise (or resonance) at a certain frequency or even one similar to the metal that the meter is made from could, for example, create a dissonance.

This was the basis for Red Bull's most recent probe into Ferrari's straight line speed advantage and 'signal filtering', as it asked the FIA for clarification on the matter.

The FIA responded with a technical directive, making clear that the three scenarios offered by Red Bull would be in breach of articles 5.10.3 and 5.10.5 of the technical regulations.

Reading between the lines…

Shell oil and fuel testing unit

Shell oil and fuel testing unit

Photo by: XPB Images

A good way of spotting where the FIA have had problems in a previous year is amendments made to the wording of the technical regulations.

For 2020, several lines have been added to Article 19.8 - Sampling and testing at an Event. All of these changes relate to the fuel samples given to the FIA for analysis purposes, their relationship with the fuel in use.

For the sake of clarity, teams can approve five fuel formulations per season but are only allowed to use two per event.

Perhaps the most pertinent article is the final paragraph of 19.8.4:

If the deviations observed (above) by GC [gas chromatography] indicate that they are due to incidental mixing with another Formula One fuel to the one declared, but which has been approved by the FIA for use by the team, the fuel sample will be deemed to comply, provided that the adulterant fuel is present at no more than 10% in the sample. Any systematic abuse of mixed fuels will be deemed not to comply.

Of course there's always some room for cross contamination when changing between fuels, and that's why the FIA have allowed some wiggle room. But, these alterations suggest that a team, not necessarily Ferrari, was intentionally gaming the sampling system and mixing the two fuels that they were allowed to use at a given event.

Having the foresight to intentionally use two different fuel formulations raises some important questions about the composition and interaction of both fuel formulations.

Whilst there are heavy restrictions on what can be added to the fuel, which requires the suppliers to carefully balance their formulations, heavily weighting one of these with combustion boosting elements would not only have an interesting impact on combustion, but also in terms of how that might create a dissonance with the fuel flow meter readings...

Are two better than one?

It's clear that the FIA has made several attempts to cover off numerous aspects of the regulations that might have allowed for enhanced combustion or permitted the fuel flow limit to be exceeded, if only temporarily.

However, a technical directive (TD/042-19) issued toward the end of the season will be an important factor in policing fuel flow going forwards.

Up until this point the information gathered by the fuel flow meter has been sent to the SECU (Standard ECU) and has been accessible by both the teams and FIA.

To help police the fuel flow restrictions, the FIA has instructed teams that a secondary meter must be installed in series. This meter incorporates new, more robust anti-aliasing techniques, randomizing when the measurements are taken to prevent external feedback being able to match the measurement frequency.

This data is also sent via a separate encrypted data connection to the FIA SDR (Security Data Recorder), making it inaccessible to the teams.

To further randomise the process the FIA will be handed a pool of flow meters by each team and they will allocate a meter to each car at the start of an event and retrieve it at the end.

Dennis donates £1 million to feed UK health workers
Previous article

Dennis donates £1 million to feed UK health workers

Next article

Brown warns four F1 teams could disappear amid crisis

Brown warns four F1 teams could disappear amid crisis
Load comments
The key aspects of Porsche and Audi's planned F1 entries Prime

The key aspects of Porsche and Audi's planned F1 entries

The VW Group’s German superpowers of sportscar racing have all but confirmed they are coming to F1 when the next set of engine rules come into force in 2026. Here's why both manufacturers are all set to take the plunge, and crucially how it might work

How Vegas went from byword for F1 indifference to grand Liberty coup Prime

How Vegas went from byword for F1 indifference to grand Liberty coup

Holding a race in Las Vegas – party central, a city of dreams and decadence and, yes, more than a smattering of tackiness – has been on Liberty Media’s most-wanted list since it acquired Formula 1’s commercial rights. But, as LUKE SMITH explains, F1 has been here before and the relationship didn’t work out

Formula 1
May 18, 2022
Why de Vries' FP1 outing could add a new path to his current crossroads Prime

Why de Vries' FP1 outing could add a new path to his current crossroads

A Formula 2 and Formula E champion, Nyck de Vries is currently considering where his future in motorsport lies. Continuing in WEC and Formula E is possible and he's also courted glances Stateside after impressing in an IndyCar test. But ahead of his Formula 1 FP1 debut with Williams, he could have another option if he impresses...

Formula 1
May 18, 2022
Why Leclerc's crash shouldn't put off F1 drivers tasting history Prime

Why Leclerc's crash shouldn't put off F1 drivers tasting history

OPINION: For a demo run ahead of Monaco's Historique Grand Prix, Charles Leclerc was blessed with the opportunity to drive Niki Lauda's former Ferrari 312B3 - but a brake failure at Rascasse suggested Leclerc's Monaco hoodoo transcended contemporary F1. Although an awkward incident, Leclerc deserves credit for embracing F1's history.

Formula 1
May 18, 2022
Why the lack of "needle" between Red Bull and Ferrari is a mirage Prime

Why the lack of "needle" between Red Bull and Ferrari is a mirage

OPINION: The fight for the 2022 Formula 1 world titles between Red Bull and Ferrari so far features little of the public animosity that developed between the former and Mercedes last year. But that isn’t to say things are full on friendly or won’t get much worse very quickly…

Formula 1
May 17, 2022
The underdog F1 squad that thrust Senna into the limelight Prime

The underdog F1 squad that thrust Senna into the limelight

The Toleman TG184 was the car that could, according to legend, have given Ayrton Senna his first F1 win but for Alain Prost and Jacky Ickx at Monaco in 1984. That could be stretching the boundaries of the truth a little, but as STUART CODLING explains, the team's greatest legacy was in giving the Brazilian prodigy passed over by bigger outfits an opportunity

Formula 1
May 16, 2022
Why Aston Martin is unlikely to repeat Jaguar’s F1 mistakes Prime

Why Aston Martin is unlikely to repeat Jaguar’s F1 mistakes

Two famous manufacturer teams born out of humble midfield origins, splashing the cash while attempting to rise to the top of F1 in record time. There are clear parallels between Lawrence Stroll’s Aston Martin and the doomed Jaguar Racing project of 22 years ago, but Mark Gallagher believes struggling Aston can avoid a similar fate.

Formula 1
May 15, 2022
How rejuvenated Haas recovered its F1 mojo Prime

How rejuvenated Haas recovered its F1 mojo

US-owned but until recently Russian-backed, Haas seems to have reached a turning point in car performance after three gruesome seasons. And it needs to if it’s to attract fresh investment. Team boss Gunther Steiner tells Oleg Karpov how close Haas came to the abyss.

Formula 1
May 14, 2022