From Track to Road: The Relentless Pace of Lubricant Development

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The latest synthetic from Pennzoil: Ultra.There’s no doubt about it, racing has helped in the development or perfection of road-car technologies that we all benefit from these days. There are many examples worth citing, including all-wheel drive, traction control and seat belts, to name but a few.

At times, the connection between racing and the end consumer can seem dubious, particularly when a quick cost-benefit analysis is conducted and the budget of the average F1 team is considered. Still, there’s at least one company that sees the benefit of being involved in F1, no matter the cost: Shell.

At the 2010 Montreal Grand Prix, the lubricants company invited a select group to gather insight into how racing helps perfect their consumer products. The visit was timed to coincide with the introduction of Pennzoil Ultra, the synthetic oil that entered the Canadian market last year.

Shell is a major sponsor and technical partner to Scuderia Ferrari, Pennzoil is a Shell brand and Ultra is roughly the North American equivalent of Shell Helix. To complete the circle, Ultra is the very first oil sold on this continent to be recommended by Ferrari for all their road cars and the prancing horse logo is featured prominently on every container.

On the Thursday prior to the race, we were given a private tour of the Scuderia Ferrari garage where we witnessed mechanics preparing the F10 racecars of Fernando Alonso and Felipe Massa for battle. More interestingly, we visited the Shell on-site laboratory, situated within the Ferrari garage.

This pristine, cubicle-sized lab is where technicians ensure that the V-Power fuel used to propel the team cars matches the chemical fingerprint of the control batch given to the FIA at the start of the season. It’s also where they conduct on-the-fly testing of the engine oil that comes from the cars to ensure consistent performance.

When Lisa Lilley, Shell Technology Manager for Ferrari, described the relationship between the two organizations as being “at the heart of all their activities,” it seemed like a bit of a stretch. But there’s no denying the fact that the mobile lab takes up some valuable real estate in the garage area. Anyone familiar with racing will know that the pit garage is a high-stress, no-room-for-error environment. (For further proof that the Shell-Ferrari relationship is a close one, Lilley has her own office on the hallowed grounds that comprise the Ferrari headquarters in Maranello, Italy.)

F1_Ferrari_PennzoilAnother point worth mentioning: F1 is an incredibly demanding sport from a technical standpoint. The costs are stratospheric, the competition is intense and the rate of development is relentless. Furthermore, the rules change often and the demands on engine performance in terms of power, efficiency and reliability increase year after year.

Last season, for example, refueling was banned in F1; this change had a profound impact on Shell and their need to provide Ferrari with a formulation that would deliver equal power and increased efficiency. In terms of the requirements for oil performance, that has skyrocketed as well. In 2010, teams had just eight engines with which to power two cars over 19 race weekends. A few short years ago, they were allowed an unlimited number of engines to burn through over the course of a campaign.

The latest result of the technical partnership is Pennzoil Ultra, which the company claims is the oil that keeps engines closer to factory clean than any other brand. Shell representatives describe the oil as being so advanced, it also cleans out up to 40% of existing sludge within the first oil change. In fact, the test numbers for Ultra indicate that no other oil can do better statistically in terms of sludge and wear protection; capitalizing on its exceptional ability to resist heat, shear and wear—the three factors that cause oil breakdown.

Of course, cleaner oil provides significant immediate and long-term benefits: increased fuel efficiency, reduced emissions and longer engine life. These are all very worthy developments, so if Pennzoil Ultra provides even a fraction of these benefits, then full credit to Shell. And full credit to Scuderia Ferrari for helping develop the lubricants that drive even the most humble of road cars.

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