As with most components of F1 cars, the type of oil used within the engine is very different to the kind of oil you might put in your own car at home. The oil has more challenges to overcome than in a normal car, and thus it must have very specific qualities. So, what kind of oil do F1 cars use?
The oil used by each F1 team is usually kept secret, in order to prevent other teams finding out valuable insights. Each team uses their own personal preference of supplier, but it is likely that most use synthetic oils.
This may not seem like a solid answer, and that is because it is hard to pin the specifics down in such a secretive industry. What we can do however, is take a look at what engine oil needs to do in an F1 car and discuss some of the partnerships between the teams.
The Important Qualities Of F1 Engine Oil
Friction is the enemy of an F1 car in most cases. Although at the ground level the tires rely on friction to give them the grip that keeps the car stuck to the road, performing turns at break-neck speed, the rest of the car needs to run as smoothly as possible. This means that there needs to be as little friction as possible, which is achieved through the use of various lubricants.
The car needs to be able to drive seamlessly through the air, and in this case, friction is reduced via a set of aerodynamic additions to the car that allow it to do so. However, inside the car, specifically inside the engine, there is a need for liquid lubrication to keep the moving parts running without a hitch. The car may look fast, but inside things are moving much quicker.
The engine is made up of many different components, from pistons to shafts to various valves; there are a lot of moving parts to take into account. Each of these parts is usually very close to or working in conjunction with another, and they may move past each other hundreds of times every second. This means they need to be able to do so without rubbing against each other.
Friction doesn’t just slow things down, but it also generates heat, of which there is more than enough of in a combustion engine. The temperatures regularly reach over 1000°C, and so keeping it as low as possible is hindered by extra unnecessary friction. Enter engine oil, which allows for pistons to move rapidly without causing any wear to their casings.
Keeping Things Cool
The engine oil is used throughout the internals of the car, with its main role being lubrication, and a side role being cooling. It is sprayed onto various components during the combustion cycle to help drive heat away from the components and make everything run even more efficiently. Not only that, but the oil is also working under extremes of both temperature and pressure.
Keeping Things Clean
The oil also helps to keep the engine clean, by picking up any small bits of loose dirt and debris and carrying them towards the oil filter, where they are safely out of the way of the moving parts. Plus, by reducing friction, the forces required to move the parts inside the engine can be lower, and so the overall efficiency of the engine increases further.
With a lot of challenges inside the car, the engine oil needs to be up to the task. Your road car doesn’t put nearly as much strain on the oil as an F1 car, so what is done to make it so special?
The Oil Itself
Your car engine may produce RPMs of up to, say, 6000 or 7000, which is a lot of turning every minute. However, an F1 engine may turn at speeds of up to 15,000RPM. This is a massive increase, so it is easy to imagine how much harder it is to keep an engine and the relevant components working at more than twice the speed of your regular car.
In order to keep all the parts moving at these high speeds without any problems, the oils need to be carefully created in very special – and secretive – ways, that help to give teams the edge over their competition. Most oils are synthetic, but they are not the kinds of oil that you could go and buy at your local auto shop, as they are extremely advanced and very expensive.
During the creation process, there will be lots of chemical additives combined with the base oil to help give it extra performance capabilities. Some of these additives are used to lower the viscosity of the oil, in other words to make it thinner, which helps to enhance its heat resistance and makes it easier to move around inside the engine, boosting performance.
Other additives may give the oil a longer lifespan, as well as helping to reduce the wear of the various internal components. There are some that will help to lower the freezing point, allowing for it to be used in colder conditions, as well as various detergents that help to keep the oil clean, making it that bit more efficient at keeping the engine clean as well.
The Importance Of Using The Right Oil
The engine oil used in any car has a similar purpose, but in an F1 car this purpose is even more pronounced. Essentially, the oil needs to work on keeping a balance of temperatures within the internals of the car. If the engine gets too hot, there can be massively disastrous consequences for the driver, and for the car itself if the engine is damaged beyond repair.
Dealing with such a range of temperatures, from several hundred to upwards of a thousand degrees Celsius, means that the oil needs to be robust in order to not lose its own structural integrity in the process. It needs to maintain viscosity at the extremes of this temperature range, as if it changed it may cause irregularities within the engine, and oil leaks can end the race for driver and car.
The importance of the oil does not just lie in its ability to keep the engine running during a race, but it also needs to contribute to the longevity of the engine too. F1 teams can only use a certain number of engines throughout the season, and if they go over this limit, they face severe penalties. So, the oil needs to help protect the engine throughout the year.
Regulating F1 Oils
Unlike many parts of an F1 car, the oils used in the internals are not subject to any regulations, so the teams have free rein to do what they want regarding this component. This usually means they work very closely with suppliers to provide an extremely specific blend of oil that is tailored to their car in order to boost performance as much as possible.
Because the oil needs to be tailored to the car, if the information about this oil were leaked to other teams, they would likely lose out on any advantages gained as other teams work to exploit this information or straight up copy it. That is why it is very difficult to find out exactly what oil is used in F1 cars, but there is plenty of information out there regarding who supplies each team.
Suppliers And Teams
Each team will have its own personal preference when it comes to oil suppliers, as we have already said. This allows for strong relationships to be created that in turn allow for very productive and effective solutions to the problems faced within the F1 car engines. Teams may be secretive about the constituents of their oils, but they are usually vocal about their partners.
Mercedes & Petronas
One of the most famous partnerships is between Mercedes AMG and Petronas, a Malaysian producer of oils and fuels. They have worked together for years, and the brand is often part of the team’s full name as a sponsor. This strong relationship between constructor and supplier has helped the team win the last 7 driver and constructor championships.
Ferrari & Shell
Another famous partnership would be that of Scuderia Ferrari and Shell, a global powerhouse in the petrochemical industry. This partnership is one of the longest running in all of motorsport, having been in place since 1950 when F1 is argued to have began in the first place. Over the years, the engine oils produced by Shell for Ferrari have helped them win the most championships of any team.
Teams regularly change their suppliers, with McLaren for example set to rejoin with the Gulf Oil brand in the near future. Red Bull are partnered with ExxonMobil, while Renault get their oil from Castrol. So, it is clear that there are many different suppliers in the game, and the names and relationships change on a regular basis, making it even harder to pin down what exactly goes into each oil.
F1 cars rely on many different components to keep them running smoothly over the 300+km distance of a race. One of these components is the engine oil, which serves several purposes aside from reducing friction. It is subject to high temperatures and other harsh conditions, and this means that teams use their own specific formulas to get the absolute most out of their cars.