Why the Trackside Lab can be key to a race victory

Q&A with…DARIO IZZO Motorsport Technical Advisor, ExxonMobil

It’s not so obvious from the outside, but fuel and lubricants can play a key role in the performance and reliability of a Formula One car. They can be the difference between a car failing to finish a race and scoring a precious Grand Prix victory. Let’s meet Dario Izzo, who is responsible for monitoring ExxonMobil’s products supplied to Aston Martin Red Bull Racing, to explain more…ExxonMobil takes a Trackside Lab to every race and you’re in charge of it.

Tell us about your role .We have a Trackside Lab that travels with the team to test our race fuel and engine oil for two key reasons. The first is to maintain the highest levels of quality control for both our Esso Synergy race fuel and Mobil 1 engine oil. The FIA regulations require us to certify and declare the exact formulations for both the fuel and engine oil prior to the race event, so we check every container we ship to the track and even the fuel transfer units to make sure we always meet this requirement. The second reason is, I take samples of the oil from the engine, gearbox and hydraulics systems to check reliability throughout the race weekend. We know what metals to expect in the used oils and what trends of wear to expect. Depending on the metal, we can help identify which component the contamination or wear may have come from.

Can you give an example of how the Trackside Lab has been critical to a Grand Prix weekend?
During FP3 at the Chinese Grand Prix in 2018, one of our cars was hit with a mechanical failure. The Aston Martin Red Bull Racing team needed to characterise the nature of the problem as soon as possible to fix it before Qualifying. An oil analysis I conducted highlighted an increase of two metal wear elements sharing the same characteristics of the turbocharger metallurgy. These Lab results allowed Aston Martin Red Bull Racing to identify the issue in a timely manner and we managed to qualify for the race just in time. On Sunday we won the race. This was great teamwork and a demonstration of ExxonMobil’s technical capability and trackside support to Aston Martin Red Bull Racing. Having the lab is not a trivial thing. It gives the team an extra tool that can have a direct impact on the result of a weekend. 

How many samples do you take on average per weekend?I monitor the gearbox, hydraulics and engine oil – that is three samples for each car, three times a day, so 18 oil samples during a race weekend. For fuel, I sample every single drum we bring trackside, confirming that there is no contamination when we transfer fuel into the fuel pumps. In addition, at the request of the FIA, I may be asked to take samples at any point during the race weekend. This is roughly 20 fuel samples for a team, each weekend.

ExxonMobil is a global company with facilities all over the world. How has that large footprint helped your work in Formula One?
At the Chinese Grand Prix two years ago, we had an issue with particles in the engine oil. We didn’t have the required instruments in the Trackside Lab to understand what particles we were looking at. But I knew a colleague who worked for ExxonMobil in Shanghai who could help. I asked her to test a sample of the oil for the next morning. She helped us out and it demonstrated how an oil company like ExxonMobil can support you anywhere in the world. We had the results the next day! Fortunately there was no issue, but it is always worth checking.

How useful has it been to be the only fuel and lubricants supplier for Honda, rather than having to share development time with another manufacturer from a rival team?
It has been hugely important as we can really focus on development for our own teams, Aston Martin Red Bull Racing and Scuderia Toro Rosso. It means we are quicker with development because the whole effort of the team at ExxonMobil, Honda and Red Bull is focused on one engine. We know as soon as we develop something, it goes straight on the test bench in Sakura and we get results quickly. It’s absolutely brilliant! 

What’s your favourite Formula One memory?
Last year’s Monaco Grand Prix was a particularly special race because we won and our Mobil 1 engine oil played a key role when the team were managing a power unit issue. The big celebration in the pool in Monaco was great fun and a memorable experience!  I have so many great memories since working in Formula One – and this is only my third season. My first year was great – I only worked a few races but we won the majority of those I attended. I consider myself to have been a lucky charm that year!

Source ExxonMobil