With F1 apparently splintering into national teams – the UK’s McLaren, Germany’s Mercedes, as well as Force India, Hispania, the Malaysian-owned Lotus and the very Latin Ferrari – it’s easy to imagine the sport is becoming less and less about international partnership.
But that would be to overlook how the technology behind the on-track action continues to ignore national flags and how the pursuit of speed remains a cross-border cocktail.
All of which serves to explain why, on the eve of Jenson Button’s championship defence, we are once again featuring a shiny red Ferrari and the scarily smart people who formulate its fuel at the Shell Technology Centre in Thornton, Chester.
Last summer we toured their set-up at the British Grand Prix and spoke to technology manager Lisa Lilley about the challenges of producing F1-grade fuel.
Since then, she and her colleagues have seen their job get harder as the new ban on in-race refuelling means that in addition to being pure, efficient and completely consistent, what they produce now gets put into the cars in much larger quantities than before.
As the video here shows (once it gets past the self-congratulatory bit and into the science) that means it needs to be as light as possible – and also that it must be able to survive being stored in bulk next to a very hot engine without becoming unstable.
Lilley said: “The 2010 refuelling ban is by far the biggest challenge we have seen in fuel development in 15 years, but it is also a really positive one for us. Over the last year we have put a lot of work into the formulation of the Shell V-Power race fuel for the new season, and our main objective has been to optimise its power and performance for Ferrari.”
The specifications laid down in the regulations have changed too, which has allowed for much-needed experimentation in order to find ways of dealing with the higher temperatures the fuel is expected to be subjected to.
Lilley’s colleague Mike Evans, project leader for Shell Formula One Fuels Development, said: “Engines, performance-wise, are tuned to run a rich, heavy type of fuel but you can then run them on a slightly leaner formulation, which will give you a small drop in performance but it will also give you better fuel efficiency. It’s getting that balance right.
“We can alter the mix of components in the fuel to enable the engines to run leaner but still give optimum performance, and that’s an area we’ve been working hard on for the last nine months leading up to the 2010 season, given the latest FIA rule changes.”
And when Ferrari’s two cars line up on the grid tomorrow ahead of everyone bar Sebastian Vettel, the team will be very well aware of the debt they owe to the scientists in Cheshire.
Team boss Stefano Domenicali said: “Shell has unrivalled expertise and knowledge in fuel technology, and our close-working relationship means we can constantly push the fuel to its boundaries to achieve both power and performance.
“The fuel is a crucial element that has always been very important to Ferrari and the refuelling ban in 2010 means the partnership will be absolutely fundamental this season.”