Taking Performance to the Limit

AS THE OFFICIAL TECHNOLOGY PARTNER TO THE RENAULT F1® TEAM, CASTROL IS WORKING WITH THE TEAM IN THEIR FIGHT TO RISE UP THE GRID

When the Renault RS19 took to the track at Albert Park track in Melbourne in March, Nico Hulkenberg and Daniel Ricciardo knew that the car had been optimised to extract every ounce of power from its Renault F1® Team turbo-charged four-stroke, 1600cc engine. Aside from the work of engineers at Enstone in the UK and Viry-Châtillon in France, Renault F1® Team works in collaboration with Castrol engineers at Castrol’s global research and development centre in Pangbourne, UK and trackside. The aim? To drive performance and endurance to new heights.

Since returning as a works team, the team has shown gradual improvement, finishing sixth in the Constructors’ Championship in 2017 and fourth in 2018. The target is to break into the top three, currently held by Mercedes, Ferrari and Red Bull which is no mean feat and ultimately to be champions. Seemingly a large gap to close, any marginal gain that can be achieved with the engine oil and lubrication is extremely valuable. 

Anything we can do through bespoke oil technologies that just adds that incremental gain to their performance, just knocks thousandths of a second off those lap times and gets them closer in qualifying, gets them to the end of the race faster. That's what we're aiming to do.
Will Pickford, Castrol Technology Manager, Europe and Africa

Working in Formula One isn’t easy, to put it mildly. Formula One is one of the world’s most high-pressure sports where everything is pushed to extreme limits.

THREE ENEMIES

Co-engineering oil for Formula One must break normal limits by combating the three enemies of engine performance – friction, failure and aeration. Friction between the surfaces of an engine robs it of power and demands more fuel for performance, and with fuel limited to 110kg for 2019 that cannot happen.

“Gone are the days where you could burn as much fuel as you like and refuel,” Pickford says. “Lowering that friction means using less fuel to get the same amount of power output.”

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Engine failure is dramatic, highly visible on track and costs both loss of championship points and brand reputation. “The oil is an integral part of the engine”, Pickford adds. “Those engineering surfaces, the materials, the finishes, and the interaction with that oil is part of one design that we work with the engineers on. We need to make it last.”

Finally, there is oil aeration, a peculiarity of high-performance engines, particularly high revving engines. “If you think about it, nothing whisks up an oil and gets air in oil better than something very high revving,” Pickford adds.

THE BENEFITS OF CO-ENGINEERING

Formula One demands the best teamwork and team performance, and the work starts long before the cars hit the track. Over the long off-season, designers and engineers strive to extract the maximum performance from both the chassis and the engine. Formula One is technically 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 used wouldn’t necessarily be considered for mass production.

For Castrol’s work on the engine it is not just about supplying a high-performance engine oil, it is about working in partnership with Renault F1® Team to increase performance and reliability in a process they call co-engineering. Ultimately, fluids are specifically designed for Renault F1® Team, not even wider Formula One.

“Co-engineering is where we try and extract the maximum performance for hardware and oil combined and the intent is that we can achieve more together than we can individually,” Pickford explains. “The result is more than the sum of the parts. The only way we can do that is by working with a close technical partner who understands and recognises that it’s not just about pouring an oil into an engine that’s already fixed in design. The oil really needs to be considered as a component in the engine, just like a piston or a con rod or a bearing. By working together on that engineering and development programme we aim to come up with a combination of hardware and oil that works together to give the best performance.”

This is not a new philosophy for Castrol, it employed the methodology successfully in its Formula One relationship with BMW back in 2004. In those days the powerplant was vastly different with the Williams FW26 driven by Juan Pablo-Montoya being powered by a BMW three-litre V10 engine producing around 900 horsepower. The BMW engineers believed that they could not pass the 19,000rpm ceiling. “BMW were telling us it’s just not possible, but they were really considering the oil as a fixed component,” Pickford says. “It wasn’t seen as a variable, so in the base engine design they were taking the oil as a constant. We really got that relationship going and working in detail with them, we were talking to them about bearing designs.

“We ended up running ultra-low viscosity fluids, way lower than anything they had used before with some clever technology on top, in terms of additive systems. By redesigning their bearing system with tighter tolerances, they were able to reduce friction to a level where the engine could go just that bit higher, perform that bit more.”

Part of the technical challenge is facing different issues as team move through the season. Unexpected things must be urgently addressed, planning way ahead and quick reaction to areas where better performance can be achieved. Castrol calls on an array of advisors and experts from across its business with many years of experience which is where a lot of innovation comes from. The teams have to step away from thinking about normal car oil as part of the innovation process - how do we make a product that’s best for this specific application?

MEETING TOUGHER REGULATIONS

In a world where people and machines aim to run at 100% performance, every aspect of Formula One hardware is crafted, tested, tweaked and wired to incredible standards. All oil used at a Formula One weekend needs to conform to FIA regulations, specifically Article 20 of the technical regulations, that mandates viscosity levels and ensures that engine oil is designed and intended to be a lubricant, and not for any other purpose. “These oil regulations are in their infancy, and they were put in place to stop anyone considering using engine oil as an additional source of calories to burn in the engine,” Pickford explains.

Castrol has a big a voice in the regulations as a member of the Formula One Fuels Advisory Panel (FOFAP), a body comprising oil suppliers from within the sport. There are also regulations about what additives are allowed but that still allows plenty of scope for technology development. “We would largely be selecting from almost the same palette of raw materials that we use for road cars,” Pickford says. “However, whereas in road cars for supply chain or practicality reasons we would rapidly slim down that set of potential ingredients, in Formula One, we can look slightly broader because it will only be manufactured in small quantities.”

The regulations, although they’re the same base engine make-up, have changed year on year. Three years ago, you were allowed five engines per season, now you are only allowed three. In basic numbers that means that engines now need to last 40 per cent longer, and not just survive but function at the same high specification as they did when new. “It was hard last year, it’s even harder this year,” Pickford explains. “Not only are we trying to make those engines last as long as they need to, we’re also looking to continually improve the performance gain. It’s no use standing still on power because in effect you’re going backwards because everyone else will be going forwards. It’s a very difficult challenge. You need an incredibly strong oil to be able to make these engines last.”

“These engines are highly efficient engines that are just not used in a very efficient way in terms of their application. But in terms of that power and durability, I would say you are not going to win races or a championship by having one or the other. You need that perfect balance of ultimate performance and maximum power with the right level of endurance.”

To achieve this calls for a strong oil that protects the engine and reduces friction. Over the years different manufacturers have been too conservative in their designs and ended up with a bulletproof engine that never fails, but never gets further up the grid. Equally, we have seen some strong engines that have gone that bit too far and they are forever trying to get elements of it to hang on. “You need that perfect balance and it’s very difficult to achieve,” Pickford adds. Having a strong oil is an enabler to getting the best of both worlds. It stands to reason that nothing is going to test the performance of the oil better than a Formula 1 environment, with an engine working under very high pressure and temperature. It is also highly relevant to the road car, in that it is a downsized direct injection turbocharged gasoline engine and it’s the most extreme version of that that you’re going to find.

“There’s a lot of pressure inside the engine to get that power output and so there’s a lot going on; a lot of heat and pressure that is pushing engine oil technology to the limits beyond anything that can be done for similar types of engines in road cars.”

KEEPING PACE TRACK SIDE

Once that technology is deployed on the vehicle, Castrol’s work continues. When the RS19 is finally deployed on track, Castrol is on-hand with full mobile trackside support, working closely to analyse performance and oversee quality control. There are many complexities and risks to consider such as fuel contamination and understanding hardware through what you can see in the oil performance from the engine, gear box and wear metal. The team is constantly tracking against data and expected gradients and flagging things so the team can react quickly. Main trackside tasks include quality checking everything that has been delivered to the race track, barrel by barrel and monitoring progression of wear on those engines to see whether they are within the expected limits.

Fuels are checked using Fourier-transform infrared spectroscopy which provides a fingerprint trace of the fuels that is checked against the reference sample logged with the FIA. “If an engineer or a mechanic were to touch his finger in the fuel, the natural grease off your finger could throw that result out and it might look like there’s something in there that shouldn’t be,” Pickford says.

The same compliance checks are undertaken for oils, using a Rotating Disc Electrode Spectrometer to analyse a submitted sample of engine oil.

“It is an industry available piece of equipment, but it’s what we do with it and the interpretation of the data that’s important to us,” Pickford says. “Once the cars are running on track, then throughout the weekend, every time the cars come in, be that from the first installation or the end of every session, it’s our team that are amongst the first people to descend on the vehicle. They will extract an engine oil sample. They then rush that over to the workstation. Within two, two and a half minutes from the cars arriving in the garage, we can pull an engine oil sample, prep that sample, put it in the machine, run our analysis and have the data output from it to tell the team the condition of that engine.”

The spectrometer effectively burns the oil. It is a very high intensity energy source that excites the oil sample, and in doing so burns it. The oil then gives off different frequencies of light depending on which elements are in there, and the brightness of those colours of light represents the concentration.

From the concentration of metals such as iron, copper, lead, titanium and zinc, it is possible to tell Renault F1® Team engineers where the engine wear is coming from and at what rate it is wearing. “We plot those concentrations in parts per million against the engine mileage and what we see is a trace of elemental composition increasing over time which is perfectly normal,” Pickford continues. “If we start seeing an element or several elements going high, that’s an indication that something’s going on in that engine. It is essentially a blood check of the engine condition.

Just like if you feel something’s wrong with yourself you go to the doctor, they take a blood sample and check your condition because it’s a lot easier to do that than open you up. In terms of Formula 1, by regulation, the team are not allowed to open the engine to see what’s going on. By taking that engine oil sample, they can do that blood check on the engine without going into the engine to see what’s going on.

The aim of all this effort is to make the team perform at their absolute best. What Castrol is also doing is taking what it learns from motorsport and putting it back into its product development teams so that the Castrol EDGE customers use on the road benefits from all that knowledge and know-how from Formula One racing.