The F1 Grand Prix is arguably the largest motoring event in the world and I feel ashamed to write that I have never actually sat down and watched an entire race and have never been to the race hosted in my very own city… How can I even call myself an enthusiast?!
Well this all changed for me just over a week ago, whilst I was sitting down in front of my computer (much the same as every other spare minute not spent at my 9-5 or at another car event) I received an email notification and began reading…
On behalf of Shell Australia we’d like to invite you to spend a day
with the Shell and Ferrari team for the F1 on Friday 15 March.”
I also received the same message on our Facebook page and I knew that this was the real deal!
So at the drop of a hat I arranged time off from work and eagerly sent my reply, which of course was a “YES!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!”
Fast forward to the big day – Friday the 15th of March.
I arrived at the main entrance to the temporary racetrack that is built around Albert Park Lake and without a minute to spare I met up with our tour group.
Looking around the circle of people, there were several big wigs from some of Australia’s leading online sources of automotive content, tech reviews and more.
One familiar face jumped out at me, it was Matyas from Downshift who had made the journey down from Queensland! Now that is dedication!
After the formalities were over we made our way through the club displays and into some of the more high security areas and before we were asked to switch off our cameras, I managed to snap a quick shot of this historic Skyline racer as the group moved into the pit areas and Shell Track lab.
This tight little cosy space is what all the fuss was really about though and was the reason for the tour and our golden ticket to see behind the scenes of the F1.
This is of course the Shell Track Lab and it is here the team runs multiple tests on all of the Ferrari cars oils and fuel.
Over the span of one day the fuel is tested at least four times and oil samples from the engine and driveline are tested for traces of specific metals that might help provide an early warning sign before there’s any major mechanical failure.
The lab goes wherever Ferrari go\. So this on-site office is packed up and shipped all over the globe. Shell really invests a lot of time and money into Ferrari’s success.
After being in the lab we were then escorted out into the pit lane!!
At this moment, seeing all the buzz and excitement around me I realised this was pretty special. The entire time we were in the pits the V8 Supercars were out stretching their legs and with every pass down the main straight the walls would rattle and the noise would echo off the grandstands. All the while the pit crews continued about their tasks and seemed not to notice the end of world approaching with every top speed fly by from the throaty V8’s.
“Just stand in front of the garage and smile… or something” Being put on the spot for my photo I couldn’t muster up the energy for my best Derick Zoolander ‘bluesteel’ but managed this instead.
In all honesty, I think I was still in awe and couldn’t believe this was actually happening. We’ve now proved ourselves in having such a strong online presence that we are being invited to press days like this, what an honour.
It’s a pretty good feeling to be noticed by a little company that goes by the name of Shell Motorsports!!
After our tour of the Ferrari pit and Shell track lab, we then moved onto the Shell Marquee where we were wined and dined and kept entertained until the big practice session.
We were also treated to miniature Lego kits including various Ferrari’s and even a full pit crew! No one is ever too old for Lego!
Meanwhile there was several aerial displays being performed by the RAAF Roulettes and they even brought out a fighter jet but more on that later!
In the corner of our hospitality suite there was this magnificent simulator, sporting three full HD displays, force feedback and three very realistic pedals!
The seat itself was actually mounted on some hydrolic pistons which helped let your spine know if you were in fact driving on the ripple strip or even worse for your vertebrae… The dirt!!
After my turn on the simulator, I felt pretty chuffed to have made my way onto the leaderboard in the top 10, only to be blown away by Mr Downshift himself. Maytas.
He’d scored top spot but was later knocked back down and missed out on snapping up a rare Lego Ferrari kit worth a few $$$ by only two spots!
While we enjoyed our light lunch and refreshments, the course was being prepped for the big practice.
Shell had organised to have a few guest speakers come and share some insight into the motorsport world that revolves around Shells fuels and lubricants while we were waiting for the howling F1’s to hit the track.
The Dick Johnson team were the first to speak and got the intimate crowd’s attention for the rest of the speakers.
Then Ferrari test driver Marc Gené enjoyed a brief moment in the spotlight and shared some insights into his work for the team and his hopes for the rest of the season.
Our last guest speaker was Guy Lovett, Shell Technology Manager for Ferrari. Having just stepped into this new role he was all smiles and very friendly which is easy to understand given that he just landed his dream job!
After Guy’s time on stage we were allowed some time to have a quick interview with the man of the hour about his work and what the Shell Track Lab offers Ferrari what no one else can…
GSS: So how did you get into this? Is your background in chemistry?
Guy: My background is automotive engineering. I’ve been working with Shell since 2004, and I started in engine testing for commercial applications. Currently I’m working for both Ferrari and Ducati in similar roles.
GSS: How similar are the race fuels/lubricants to off-the-shelf V-Power and Helix?
Guy: With fuel, strict FIA regulations force them to be very similar. The rules are designed to ensure relevance to road technologies. But there is some scope to tailor fuels for the team. Having said that, we’ve run an F1 car on road fuel. Alonso drove it with fuel from nearest Shell at the Fiorano track, and BBC did a documentary on it. There was less than 1 second difference between them over a roughly 60-second lap. Racing fuel was better for acceleration though. In terms of oil, there are no regulations, so it’s very different to road stuff. We’re able to tailor everything very specifically to the Ferrari engines.
GSS: Does the race fuel have an octane number?
Guy: Yes, but I can’t tell you what it is. There’s a minimum though.
GSS: How much fuel do you guys ship to each race and how?
Guy: We ship in about 2000L of fuel for each race. But development and adjustments are ongoing, so the fuel the drivers start the race with is not the same fuel that they end the race with. The logistics can be incredibly complex due to lead times. We generally use sea freight due to the weight, but sometimes air freight is necessary. The cars have a capacity of about 150L. This will be reducing to about 100L for the 2014 race season.
GSS: What power are the cars making on a good day?
Guy: Upwards of 800hp. This may not seem like a huge amount, but consider that the minimum weight is 642kgs. The power-to-weight ratio is the key metric.
GSS: What are the most important things you test/measure for in the oil samples? Which engine parts or metals are you looking for specifically?
Guy: There’s a list of key metals, but it’s confidential. Combinations of metals in the liquids point in the direction of a component. We can pick up failures before physical faults occur. It’s really very useful info for the Ferrari team. No-one else has a dedicated fuels/oils team on site for every race, because space is very tight. But it shows us how seriously Ferrari take this partnership.
GSS: What’s the worst mistake you’ve seen or know of in terms of fuels? Have you blown an engine during a race due to fuel/lubricants?
Guy: If we’re not breaking engines, we’re not pushing hard enough. We’ve broken many on the test bed, more than I care to remember. And engine lifetime is designed to be about 3 races, which includes qualifying etc. So about 2 to 2.5 hours. But I think there’s scope for improvement in reliability and longevity.
GSS: And development on the new V6 turbo motor?
Guy: We have lots of experience in formulating new fluids. It’s a given that they will have a different appetite for fuels compared to the V8s. So as soon as new rules are announced, we start development straight away and begin mapping fuel and oil requirements. And the changes to motors make F1 racing more relevant to road cars.
GSS: Was there a defining moment when you sat down and realised: “Holy shit, I’m working in one of the best jobs in the world?” How old are you?
Guy: Not one, but several moments actually. I only started the job recently, so the first one was the phone call from the boss, saying I got the job. Next was my first trip to Maranello, where they design and build the Ferrari F1 cars. The next one was receiving this Ferrari uniform [points at self]. The next one was my first race. My most recent one was looking at my own Ferrari headset, with my name printed on it. And I’m 32 years old. But it can be difficult to manage a young family (daughter is 2.5, son is 1 year old) with continuous travel. And of course, I’m never off the clock.
Then for the rest of the afternoon I was left to my own devices, I walked half of the incredibly large circuit before I realised I was just getting further away from my exit.
Along the way I found a few tiny openings in the unforgiving fences that line the track.
These Mazda 6’s were going flat out with a mix of different celebrities behind the wheel and after the race is done and dusted the cars are made standard once more and given back to dealerships to then sell for a cheaper price.
Earlier I mentioned a fighter Jet being flown by the RAAF for their aerial demos, well it may look harmless in this photo but this made the most horrific and loud sound I have ever heard in my life.
From out of nowhere this magnificent roar came from above sending a woman to the ground and nearby birds in a panic from their tree’s.
Words cannot describe the heart stopping feeling as my ears where attacked from out of nowhere!!
For the rest of the day I just tried to soak up as much of the atmosphere as I could and tried my hand at fence photography. These damn cars kept getting in the shot and ruining it.
I persevered with the fences to not much avail. On the plus side I did manage to get a rather nice snap of this Red Bull car screaming past.
I did spend a bit of time just staring down the main straight thinking about the chaos that would unfold on Sunday, a brief moment in time as the cars spring to life signaling the start of the race and the new season.
Over the weekend the V8 Super cars were out in force desperately trying to prove their new chassis now that there’s some new kids on the block, Mercedes and Nissan have really given the stale sport an injection of excitement and created some new rivalries.
There was high hopes for Mark Webber to secure a spot on the podium while he was on home soil but as fate had it a faulty ecu had set him back on the start line, Webber held on and finished 6th
One thing the surprised me being the naive motor sport fan having never been to the F1 before is how different all the cars sounded, the high pitched howl of the Mercedes and Red Bull cars compared to the raw clanking mechanical sound of the Ferrari’s down gearing through the corners. Those sounds will stay with me for a long time!
Red Bull was tipped to be the race leader with many teams openly comparing themselves to Red Bulls faster lap times from the previous season but Sebastian only managed to secure third place on the big day.
It was great to see Ferrari place 2nd after our guided tour just days before the race, the level of commitment from every man and woman that is involved in these cars is truly inspirational.
So going from complete F1 novice to being guided through the Ferrari Pit and then the Shell Track Lab, I’m sure many of you would be quite jealous reading this but rest assured. I now have the bug!!
Seeing what really goes into each car, the level of development and research that sees these cars constantly being developed throughout the race season within the guidelines to squeeze every single bit of performance out of both the car and the people behind it.
Thank you to Shell Motorsport for the amazing opportunity, it has been a eye opening experience and helped me become a better motoring enthusiast!
Thanks for reading,
2013 Australian Grand Prix Race Results:
1 Kimi Räikkönen Lotus 58 1:30:03.225
2 Fernando Alonso Ferrari 58 +12.451
3 Sebastian Vettel Red Bull 58 +22.346
4 Felipe Massa Ferrari 58 +33.577
5 Lewis Hamilton Mercedes 58 +45.561
6 Mark Webber Red Bull 58 +46.800
7 Adrian Sutil Force India 58 +1:05.068
8 Paul di Resta Force India 58 +1:08.449
9 Jenson Button McLaren 58 +1:21.630
10 Romain Grosjean Lotus 58 +1:22.759
11 Sergio Pérez McLaren 58 +1:23.367
12 Jean-Éric Vergne Toro Rosso 58 +1:23.857
13 Esteban Gutiérrez Sauber 57 +1 Lap
14 Valtteri Bottas Williams 57 +1 Lap
15 Jules Bianchi Marussia 57 +1 Lap
16 Charles Pic Caterham 56 +2 Laps
17 Max Chilton Marussia 56 +2 Laps
18 Giedo van der Garde Caterham 56 +2 Laps
Ret Daniel Ricciardo Toro Rosso 39 Hydraulics
Ret Nico Rosberg Mercedes 26 Electrical
Ret Pastor Maldonado Williams 24 Spun off
DNS Nico Hülkenberg Sauber 0 Fuel system