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Pit Lane Perfection: The Shell Track Lab
Gaining that crucial split-second edge in Formula One calls for fast thinking and fine-tuning on the Friday practice session. We went behind the scenes with Scuderia Ferrari to find out how practice makes perfect in this increasingly popular sport.
The room is small, maybe not much bigger than your garage. But inside are two of the most amazing cars on earth, being fussed over by highly skilled and passionate professionals. For Scuderia Ferrari, the most successful team in the history of Formula One, the only place that matters over the next three days is the pit lane.
Practice Makes Perfect for Ferrari
Forty-eight hours before the race begins is arguably the most important part of the weekend. Saturday’s qualifying and Sunday’s race are obviously the focus for the fans, thousands of whom watch from the stands, plus millions around the world watching on TV.
But despite all the excitement, it’s the often overlooked and unglamorous Friday practice sessions where the race can be won. The teams put in their hardest work during these sessions, and the Shell Track Lab, working with Scuderia Ferrari, is no exception.
Scuderia Ferrari driver and two-time F1 Champion Fernando Alonso understands the importance of the Shell Track Lab. “The work that they do in the lab is crucial at every race, analyzing the fuel and oil for every single run we do. So many things can happen in a weekend, so we need the best people with us. I think that with Shell working with us every weekend, we are in good hands,” he said.
Driven by Data
F1 is an unforgiving sport filled with high pressure, high stakes and high technology. Attention to detail is critical, and anything that can affect the car’s performance is noted, gathered and analyzed. Before the engine is even running, the team meticulously studies data like track temperature, air pressure, humidity, wind speed and direction.
While a few photographers and camera crews await the drivers appearance for the first session, the Shell Track Lab professionals are more concerned with how the data can help them prepare for the rest of the weekend.
“Shell, on the lubricant side, can help us protect the engine,” said Marc Gené, Scuderia Ferrari’s test driver. “Shell also helps a lot to increase the power and performance of the car. Now that you have to use the same engine for many races, reliability is very important.”
The Secret to Success
As the car completes its first few practice laps, the mood in the pits is relaxed. The scenes couldn’t be further removed from the madness of a race-day pitstop, as a dozen or so team members follow the track events through a series of screens and monitors. When the car finally thunders into the pit lane, both the engineers and the Shell Track Lab technicians get to work.
Mike Evans, the Shell F1 Fuel Projects Leader, outlines the importance of the lab: “The fuels are optimized to give the best performance - this can be fuel efficiency or power at high temperatures and high speeds. There’s always demands put upon the fuels, so we work closely with the engineers in Maranello (where Ferrari’s headquarters are located) to ensure the fuels are optimized to work in any condition.”
The only preparatory detail they overlook is the ceremonial champagne spraying. But as F1’s most successful team, they don’t really need the practice.