PETRONAS – Fuelling the Hybrid Leap
Arguably the greatest technological leap in the history of Formula One took place in 2014, when Hybrid Power Units replaced the naturally aspirated V8 engines. “The rate of development over the past two years has been very impressive. Many people thought that there was not much opportunity to move things forward, but that has not been the case. There have been significant new advances – and fuel and lubricants have been one of the main focus areas in terms of improving the Power Unit,” says Managing Director of Mercedes AMG High Performance Powertrains, Andy Cowell.
Reliability plays an even more important role due to the increased mileage under the current regulations. In 2014, drivers had to get through an entire season with five Power Units. That figure was reduced to four in 2015, including the engine, turbocharger, MGU-H, MGU-K, battery and various control systems. If too many parts are required during the season, severe grid penalties are triggered. By comparison, the mileage covered by each of the five permitted Power Units was approximately 2,800 km during the 2014 season. In 2015, it was 3,400 km for the four Power Units. In other words, an increase of over 20%.
During the first two years of the Hybrid era, neither the Silver Arrows nor any of the Mercedes-Benz customer teams exceeded their allotted quota – something no other Power Unit manufacturer achieved. This marks a tremendous success for the Brixworth group – a success towards which PETRONAS has made a huge contribution, having worked closely with since 2010.
“The whole partnership was very exciting for us from the outset,” said Andrea Dolfi, Motorsport Manager at PETRONAS LUBRICANTS INTERNATIONAL. “Apart from guaranteeing that the performance is there, we have also had to ensure reliability.”
PETRONAS supplies the MERCEDES AMG PETRONAS Formula One Team not only with racing fuel and engine oil, but all the ancillary fluids that are used in the vehicle – apart from the contents of the driver’s water bottle… Transmission oil ensures correct lubrication of the eight-speed gearbox, while hydraulic fluid is used to actuate it. As of 2015, PETRONAS coolant has also been utilised in the ERS cooling system.
Lubricants are not only important in order to guarantee the service life of components – but also impact on performance. “Friction in the V6 engine and its ancillaries uses up the power generated,” says Cowell. And, of course, combustion is just the start of unleashing the process that produces movement. The goal is to convert as much chemically bonded energy into kinetic energy as possible. “There is a synergy between fuel and engine,” says Dolfi. That is why the cooperation between Mercedes-Benz and PETRONAS is of fundamental importance.
“Our relationship with PETRONAS is not just branding on the car, but also a deep-rooted technology partnership,” continues Cowell. “That’s why we see it as a co-engineering,” adds Dolfi. “It’s not the case that they give us the engine and then we develop the fuel and oil for it. We work together. Any change made to the hardware is reflected in the composition of the fluids.”
While the regulations have limited the composition of petrol quite considerably, large performance gains can still be achieved in this area. “You have a basic number of ingredients,” says Dolfi. “Depending on how skilled you are, you can make fast food or a gourmet meal with the same ingredients, but we know how to combine individual components properly.”
Despite the recent success of the Mercedes-Benz Power Unit, that’s not the end of the story. In theory, 1,240 kW (around 1,650 PS) is available to the engine in the form of potential chemical energy. “If we can get that at the crankshaft, we’ll be satisfied, and then we can stop!” says Cowell, jokingly.