Sebastian Hirsz, Senior Formula One Technologist, Castrol

How did you begin your career as a technician engineer? 

I have loved cars and motorsports from the age of four and always been drawn to technical things. I studied Chemistry at University to re-pursue those interests and throughout University, everything I did involved cars - I even ran the University Motorsports Club. Castrol and Formula One presented the opportunity to combine those passions so it really became a no brainer. I feel lucky to be given this opportunity with Castrol. 

What do you do in your current position?

I lead all fluid development for the Renault Sport Formula One team. That includes the engineering, design and technical support for Castrol’s bespoke off-the-shelf fluids including fuel, engine oil, hydraulic oil and gear box oil. My responsibility is to work with Renault Sport Formula One Team to design and test the best fluids for their hardware, engineered to achieve the best racing performance. 

How do you design fluid for Formula One?

To design for Formula One, you have to first understand the racing team requirements and what the fluid has to achieve. That includes how it is designed, tolerances, metallurgy, compatibility requirements and what the fluid must work with. Once we understand those performance targets, it is my job to look at the chemistries to meet and hopefully exceed those targets. We also ensure that there are no side effects along the way. After design, the fluid is blended and put through a series of testing at Castrol and Renault Sport Formula One Team.    

Formula One is unique and all about peak performance. Does the engineering process differ from road-based production? 

Absolutely. In Formula One you are attempting to run at 100% all the time - performance can’t fail. This pushes the boundaries of engineering. Often Formula One uses unusual materials to achieve the best. Tolerances are much tighter for example and differences are smaller from mass production road products.

It’s often not just about putting in as much of the good stuff as you can either. You want to put in only what you need and nothing more. That balance is very tricky.  

What are the technical attributes of Formula One fluids? 

Formula One is ahead of the curve to the rest of the industry. In standard road cars, oils are becoming thinner with demand for better fuel economy. Formula One is one step ahead. The materials and componentry we use wouldn’t necessarily be considered for mass production. Ultimately, fluids are specifically designed for Renault, not even wider Formula One. We engineer precisely for the Renault Sport Formula One Team.  

How do you therefore test for those specific Renault Sport Formula One Team requirements?

It links back to things like the unique metallurgies. When we test we account for things which might not be relevant in typical automotive fluid testing. Formula One engines have fine tolerances which are highly strung. Our testing replicates that engine pressure and must be tough enough for Formula One.  

What is the de-briefing and diagnostics process after each race? 

There are different priorities between track side and factory. Track side, the key is the product performance. If we see a spike in a certain result or blip, we look at that right away and can address instantly. In parallel, we work with engineers back at the factory who are also analysing data on improvements which is ongoing throughout the year. 

There must be an impressive engineering force that drives the Castrol Renault Sport Formula One partnership. Can you try to summaries the innovation that takes place in order to create something as unique as this?

Renault will face different issues as they move through the season. We will need to address unexpected things, plan ahead and quickly react to areas where Renault Sport Formula One feel they can achieve better performance. The innovation therefore actually starts with identifying where we can get the most value out of the fluid development.

I call on advisors and experts at Castrol with years of experience where a lot of innovation comes from. We combine ideas and discuss possibilities together. Castrol provides a lot of value by calling on this expertise to make a performing fluid for Renault Sport Formula One Team. It’s almost not about thinking how we would make a normal car fluid as part of the innovation process. How do we make a product that’s best for this specific application? 

How does changing regulation from the FIA effect your job? 

This is a big part of working with the Renault Sport Formula One Team. When new rules are on the horizon, the team is already thinking about how to address them. Anything that concerns fluid will be a challenge for us. Keeping an eye on this is part of the sport. Certainly, the durability and fuel flow limits are very different to how it used to be. You can no longer burn as much fuel as you want to get the horse power. We need as much horse power as possible from a set amount of fuel. 

What do you love most about the job?

I like the pace. I find it very satisfying that I can create a formulation on Monday and it could be in Renault hardware by the end of the week. That is very different from standard project timelines elsewhere in the industry. I’ll be honest, that can also be challenging but always a lot of fun.

I mostly enjoy being at the forefront of automotive engineering. It’s so exciting to see how the team are pushing everything and being part of pushing those boundaries together. I’m also quite a competitive chap – in Formula One the results speak for themselves. I can’t imagine doing anything else. 

What are some of the challenges of the job? 

Sometimes you have to make decisions without having all of the information because of the pace. To keep up, you must be on the top of your game. Pressurised creativity comes into play because you can’t run out of ideas. Sometimes this it tough but the fun part is working as a team to fix things. Products have to be ready for the team to use on time, we’re working to tight deadlines and there’s a huge amount of background work that takes place to get fluids to Renault Sport Formula One Team. A day’s delay isn’t an option. 

Would you say creating fluids is creative? 

Yes, definitely. We explore combinations and approaches not everyone will think of. We can’t just adapt things we have done before, we have to think laterally. You might think that Formula One is quite an established industry now so everything has already been tried before, but that’s not true. The pace of Formula One hardware change means that we have to keep up and there is always something new to try.  

What are the biggest lessons you’re learnt from Formula One and your time at Castrol?

You have to be flexible to work in this game. What seemed like a certainty yesterday, might not be true anymore. You have to be really good at working with people. Yes in your immediate team, but also with others. The more people you speak to, the more ideas you get. The foolish thing is to think you can do it all yourself. I can only do the technical things I am able to do by speaking to people with more experience than me and adding my perspective. 

Whilst technology may change, the spirit of how we develop products and the approach Castrol takes is consistent.  

What advice would you give someone looking to follow an engineering career path into Formula One? 

Don’t be afraid to pursue your passion. Work hard and work well with people. If what you love is cars or planes, go for it – there are lots of career opportunities. It’s not hard getting out of the bed in the morning if you love what you do.

Formula One is a great place for engineers but it’s important to point out that people from other careers or disciplines can build a career here. 

Find out more from the Castrol & Renault technical teams