When you think of Formula 1, you probably imagine fast cars dashing towards a checkered flag. But ExxonMobil technical advisors Sean Dunnett and Dario Izzo cross their finish line before the race even begins.
When an entire team’s career is made in a tenth of a second, every driver demands the absolute best performance out of their car. It’s up to the Global Motorsports Technology Team to develop and formulate the fuel and lubricants. But it’s up to Sean and Dario of ExxonMobil Research and Engineering (EMRE) to test and analyze EssoTM SynergyTM fuel and Mobil 1TM lubricants to help shave those valuable milliseconds off each lap.
“The EMRE team is always working on changes to the formulation to try to get a little extra power out of the engine,” says Dario. Indeed, with ExxonMobil’s latest fuel formulation for the Red Bull Racing Team, Dario estimates that the team is gaining 0.10 to 0.15 seconds per lap (depending on the track) compared to the previous formulations – a considerable difference in the world of racing. But these gains originate from tedious testing in the days leading up to the race.
When arriving in a new locale (always five days before the race), Sean and Dario’s first task is making sure their fuel barrels and oil have arrived and the products are all on spec – not an easy task, considering that products and teams are flying across continents.
The next challenge is communicating with track personnel.
“Trying to communicate in different countries with people is part of the fun of the job,” says Dario. “Sometimes we download the local dictionary, and we learn a few helpful words … like fuel.”
While travel creates an added logistical challenge for the team, they also get to experience different racing cultures and meet new people all over the world.
Once they locate their oil and fuel, the pair takes samples of each barrel to run through a specialized, high-caliber analyzer that tests for contamination and consistency. Because a car’s performance is impacted by even the slightest difference in the chemical makeup of its fuel, Sean and Dario are continuously scrutinizing and testing their teams’ fuel with the cutting-edge trackside mobile lab.
In fact, they take up to 30 separate oil samples on Friday – two days before the Sunday race. Dario calls oil the “blood of a car,” because it gives insight into the health of the engine. With the help of specialized equipment, they look for minute metal particles in the oil, which is often a sign of engine wear that could lead to future problems.
If anything is amiss during practice Saturday morning, technical advisors jump in to identify the issue before the qualifying races later that day.
“We don’t have weeks to generate a report, we maybe have 10 or 15 minutes, with the engineers standing behind us tapping their toes, waiting for an answer,” says Sean.
The race to race day is filled with high-pressure problem solving, unexpected findings and long days – all in the name of speed.
Want to see more of what goes on behind the scenes? Check out these photos Sean and Dario captured on their F1 travels.