Behind the science

Analysing the engine oil for trace elements

What goes on behind the Formula 1 pits? Mobil 1 Racing’s technical advisors share with us the science behind racing-grade fuel and lubricants

Fuels and lubricants are vital fluids in vehicles, and it comes as no surprise that firms like Exxonmobil play an integral part of the daily operations on Formula 1 cars. The McLaren-Honda F1 team utilises Mobil 1’s fuel and lubricant. As we’ve realised one day before Practice Day of the 2015 Formula 1 Singapore Airlines Singapore Grand Prix, this partnership extends way more than merely providing the vital fluids during race weekends.

Not long after we were given an introduction of Mobil 1’s involvement with the McLaren-Honda team by Bruce Crawley, ExxonMobil’s Global Motorsport Technology Manager, we were whisked away into the pits, meters away from race mechanics getting their elbows greased and fingers stained for the Race Weekend.

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As expected, everything in the pits run like clockwork and are arranged exactly where they wanted, from the hand drawn markers on the pits, to the carefully measured suspension of the carbon-clad poles for 2-second pit stops. The pit grounds were even given a fresh coat of paint before the weekend for a more conducive working environment.  

Although we were right in front of the star attractions (and within touching distance of Alonso and Button’s bottom-specific seats!), we're certain some areas were still cordoned off, shrouded in secrecy. But we came pretty close to one of the segments though, as we were ushered into a less glamourous but more exclusive makeshift lab, where Mike Frost, Mobil 1’s very own Racing Technical Advisor, welcomed us with a lesson behind the scene.

Frost develops new formulas to achieve optimal trackside performance

We reckon that the man in charge of monitoring the fuel and lubricants package for the McLaren-Honda F1 cars is the unsung hero of the 80-crew team. He's able to sieve out raw data based on the fuel quality for preliminary reports. Simply put, the lab tests that he carry out behave like a  “stethoscope”, gathering informed decisions on potential faulty parts from “inside-out”, based on foreign elements mixed within the fuel.

His companion during the race weekend would be the oil analyser, which can measure elements from oil samples. The spectrometer that pinpoints the metallic elements can potentially provide vital clues to defective parts of the car.

Mobil 1 the official sponsor of the McLaren-Honda team

Lubricant and oil temperature in various races would definitely play a vital role in race strategies, and Mike is on hand to advise on the condition of the engine and gearbox, in order to improve the level of reliability in the McLaren-Honda F1 cars.

To be honest, Mike shared with us that he can't exactly rectify the problems immediately, but it provides a proper "fault sheet" to ponder over the course of future races. But we reckon that there is more than enough research specifics (over and above 21 seasons of data to analyse). All we know is that given his experience in such a specialised field, nothing gets in the way of Mike finding the truth of the matter!

Gerald Yuen
Author: Gerald Yuen
Gerald is a writer for TopGear Singapore. The die-hard fan of stick-shifts like to indulge in fun, rather than fast cars. He can be seen sifting through classifieds for old school pocket rockets on his off day.