Tech analysis: The power behind F1’s fuel war

Nothing has highlighted the importance of what goes into the engine in Formula 1 this year than the numerous technical directives relating to fuel flow and pressure.

Tech analysis: The power behind F1’s fuel war
Petronas fuel rig in the Mercedes AMG F1 pit garage
Sebastian Vettel, Ferrari SF15-T
Mercedes Petronas F1
Daniel Ricciardo, Red Bull Racing RB11
Fernando Alonso, McLaren Honda
Petronas fuel rig in the Mercedes AMG F1 pit garage
Romain Grosjean, Lotus F1 E23
Remi Taffin, Renault Sport F1 Head of Track Operations
Sebastian Vettel, Ferrari SF15-T
Daniel Ricciardo, Red Bull Racing RB11
Renault
Romain Grosjean, Lotus F1 Team with Julien Simon-Chautemps, Lotus F1 Team Race Engineer
Fernando Alonso, McLaren MP4-30

But while the issue has grabbed the headlines, behind the scenes tremendous work has been going on from F1’s fuel suppliers to integrate their efforts with the power units like never before.

In fact, according to Philippe Girard, a scientific delegate for the Total group, never have fuel suppliers and the car makers worked so closely together to try to deliver performance.

It is a world away from how development went in F1’s V8 era.

“The V8s were in a completely frozen configuration,” he told Motorsport.com. “We had come to a point where we almost didn’t gain any more power with fuel.

“But last year, with the new regulations, we gained 4% more power, which makes 22-23 kilowatts – almost 30 horsepower.”

Fuel directly linked to engine power

This performance gain was partly linked to fuel – even though manufacturers and suppliers still like to keep details about how big a role they played a secret.

Last year it was widely known that Mercedes partner Petronas had worked on perfecting the fuel for the German car manufacturer from the moment the power unit was conceived.

That early effort contributed in part to a power advantage of more than 50bhp over its rivals throughout last year.

The role of the fuel was clear too when it came to working out where the performance difference came between the Mercedes works team supplied with Petronas’ best products and other customer teams using products that were not so well optimised.

Fuel a talking point once more

Unlike V8s, V6s make fossil fuels prominent – and mean F1 has become a valuable technological training ground for petrol companies.

The new internal combustion engines use direct injection, which means that the fuel goes directly to the combustion chamber, like a normal diesel engine. As a consequence, the fuel needs to vaporise quickly in order to get the most out of it.

“Turbo engines work like diesels, with a big air excess,” Girard explained. “We try to make the best use of the developed energy, while with the turbo from the 80’s, we would just put as much fuel and air as possible.”

In other words, the problem posed by V6s is not pushing them to the limit but getting as much performance as possible out of a limited amount of fuel - knowing that cars are limited to 100 kilograms of fuel per race and that drivers can rely on two electric systems of energy recovery.

Cooling a factor too

The second problem posed by V6 engines is the management of cooling systems.

Girard added: “The naturally-aspirated V8s were doing 18,000 RPM, which is 300 revs per second. The V6s are turbo engines, so they are supercharged.

“When the intake air is hot, you try and cool it down as much as possible, but it is a lot hotter than with V8s.”

Then you also have to take in to account the energy delivered by energy recovery systems.

Furthermore, unlike the radical rules that fuel has to follow, lubricants are a lot freer. The aim is to reduce contact between the various mechanical parts of the engine, notably during fuel combustion.

“We put some everywhere with mechanical contact and with potentially high pressure.”

Different components are therefore used: for the engine, the gearbox and hydraulics.

“This is restricting but important, it enables us to be a good partner, developing the fuel. It would be annoying if we had nothing more to do!

“We’re opening the field of possibilities, we’re finding solutions. Mercedes has done it very well.”

It is clear that the battle between fuel companies is as intense as that between the engine makers themselves.

Thomas Baron/Guillaume Navarro

shares
comments
Button: Points making us work harder

Previous article

Button: Points making us work harder

Next article

McLaren-Honda: A snapshot from the Circuit Gilles Villeneuve

McLaren-Honda: A snapshot from the Circuit Gilles Villeneuve
Load comments
Why McLaren's expanding agenda will benefit its F1 resurgence Prime

Why McLaren's expanding agenda will benefit its F1 resurgence

In the 1960s and 1970s, McLaren juggled works entries in F1, sportscars and the Indy 500 while building cars for F3 and F2. Now it’s returning to its roots, expanding into IndyCars and Extreme E while continuing its F1 renaissance. There’s talk of Formula E and WEC entries too. But is this all too much, too soon? Stuart Codling talks to the man in charge.

How Tsunoda plans to achieve his F1 potential Prime

How Tsunoda plans to achieve his F1 potential

Yuki Tsunoda arrived in grand prix racing amid a whirlwind of hype, which only increased after his first race impressed the biggest wigs in Formula 1. His road since has been rocky and crash-filled, and OLEG KARPOV asks why Red Bull maintains faith in a driver who admits he isn’t really that big a fan of F1?

Formula 1
Oct 15, 2021
The danger of reading too much into F1's clickbait radio messages Prime

The danger of reading too much into F1's clickbait radio messages

OPINION: After Lewis Hamilton responded to reports labelling him 'furious' with Mercedes following his heated exchanges over team radio during the Russian Grand Prix, it provided a snapshot on how Formula 1 broadcasting radio snippets can both illuminate and misrepresent the true situation

Formula 1
Oct 14, 2021
How F1’s pole winner approach undermines drivers Prime

How F1’s pole winner approach undermines drivers

OPINION: Valtteri Bottas is credited with pole position for the 2021 Turkish Grand Prix, despite being beaten in qualifying. This is another example of Formula 1 and the FIA scoring an own goal by forgetting what makes motorsport magic, with the Istanbul race winner also a victim of this in the championship’s recent history

Formula 1
Oct 13, 2021
Turkish Grand Prix driver ratings Prime

Turkish Grand Prix driver ratings

On a day that the number two Mercedes enjoyed a rare day in the sun, the Turkish Grand Prix produced several standout drives - not least from a driver who has hit a purple patch of late

Formula 1
Oct 11, 2021
The hidden factors that thwarted Hamilton's bid for Turkey glory Prime

The hidden factors that thwarted Hamilton's bid for Turkey glory

Starting 11th after his engine change grid penalty, Lewis Hamilton faced a tough task to repeat his Turkish Grand Prix heroics of 2020 - despite making strong early progress in the wet. Instead, his Mercedes teammate Valtteri Bottas broke through for a first win of the year to mitigate Max Verstappen re-taking the points lead

Formula 1
Oct 11, 2021
How pitstops evolved into an F1 art form Prime

How pitstops evolved into an F1 art form

A Formula 1 pitstop is a rapid-fire blend of high technology and human performance. PAT SYMONDS describes how the science of margin gains makes stops so quick

Formula 1
Oct 10, 2021
Why Mercedes' Istanbul edge is both stronger and weaker than it seems Prime

Why Mercedes' Istanbul edge is both stronger and weaker than it seems

Mercedes and Lewis Hamilton dominated the opening day of action for the 2021 Turkish Grand Prix, on the Istanbul circuit’s much improved track surface. But the Black Arrows squad’s position isn’t quite what it seems. Here’s why...

Formula 1
Oct 8, 2021