If you own a Ferrari, Lamborghini, Aston-Martin, Maserati, Bentley, McLaren etc, you will know that the factory specified fuel for your car will have an octane of 98 or higher. In South Africa such an octane number is almost impossible to come by, unless you live in certain selected regions along the coast. The rest of us have been forced to use regular 95 octane in our cars. This is not a problem though as these manufactures know we have a lack of the preferred fuel, resulting in detuning of these highly strung performance cars to be able to run on the lesser octane fuel.
Shell, however, has stated that their 95 octane V-Power Nitro + is formulated in such a manner that the octane number means significantly less than we are led to believe, and even the most highly stressed engines in the world can run effortlessly on their pump fuel. Now this really is a big claim, as many cars don’t even reach our shores because 98 octane is unavailable. Shell made this statement at their V-Power Nitro + Festival hosted mid-February at the FNB Stadium. To prove it, the V-Power Nitro + team drained the fuel bladder in a 2009 2.4 liter V8 Ferrari Formula 1 car also known as the F60; then proceeded to fill it up with regular Shell 95 V-Power Nitro + pump fuel. Let’s put this into perspective; this car is capable of running at 18 000RPM during normal operation and was designed to run only on Shell V-Power ULG 66L/2. This is such a secret fuel formula that one can find no information on it at all, even on the internet. If you’re thinking that this exercise is ludicrous, you would normally be correct. However, Shell says that their V-Power Nitro + formula is 99% identical to the V-Power ULG used on the world stage of Formula 1.
I cannot confirm if the car was actually filled with the regular pump fuel. I’m still sceptical, as I was unable to get any answers from the pit crew about the setup of the car, and what was done to it to make it run on the regular fuel. I tried to chat to the pit crew, but to no avail. However, the Shell staff did arrange for the media to speak to a Ferrari Formula 1 test driver as well as one of the German engineers who was in the development team of the V-Power Nitro + formula.
I was still scepitcal about the exercise as I watched the Ferrari F60 Formula 1 lined up next to the pump at a Shell forecourt near the FNB Stadium for photographs. I tried to question the pit crew at the filling station, with no luck. Only to later find out the pit crew mainly spoke Italian. On the bus ride back to FNB Stadium I sat next to Vimal Hurribunce, a Product Quality Lead at Shell, and I told him that I was unconvinced about the authenticity of this exercise. As some of the technical questions I had been asking had not being properly answered. Vimal then took all my questions and gave me the answers I was looking for, adding a level of reassurance to my now fading doubts.
When we got back to the stadium, the unmistakable sound of a Formula 1 car echoed through the grounds, like a cold wind through a valley. I had goose bumps. Although this car sounded distinctly F1, it sounded a few octaves lower than other V8 F1 cars I have heard, so clearly this car was running on something different. Which it was. It was running on the same fuel available to you and me at most Shell fuel stations!
The F60 whizzed past faster and faster as driver Marc Gené got more comfortable with the circuit and the setup of the car. This car brought the crowd of more than 7 000 to a standstill. After the laps, the car was returned to the pits where the crew hooked it up to numerous machines that did various things like circulate air through the intakes and download telemetry from the laps that just took place.
While the car was being prepped for its next run I was fortunate enough to have a word with Marc Gené who is a Formula 1 test driver for Ferrari. Unfortunately I only had 10 minutes with him, so I had to limit the thousands of questions I had about Formula 1 cars and find out how the car reacted on the pump fuel verses the Formula 1 fuel.
I asked Marc if there was a significant difference between the pump fuel and the racing fuel. He said that on this tight track it was impossible for him, a Formula 1 test driver, to notice any difference. That means if he didn’t notice anything, then clearly there wasn’t any difference at all. He did say that if he had taken the car out to a Formula 1 track and properly ran it through its paces, there would definitely be a difference, only identifiable by split seconds on the lap times. The fact that this car actually ran on the pump fuel was extraordinary, but having an F1 test driver state that he couldn’t feel a difference in the way the car drove is a testament to the V-Power Nitro + formula.
After sharing a few driving tips with Marc I humbly left the presence of one of the fastest men I had ever spoken to. I ran into a crew member with a thick British accent. Happy to find somebody in the pit who spoke English, I asked him what had been done to this car to make it run on pump fuel. He answered that nothing had been done to the car. The rev limiter had been dropped to 15 000RPM, as this is not a competition car anymore, he said, so to prolong the engine life they have to drop the rev limiter. Also, the fueling and timing map were adapted for our climate and altitude within Formula 1 specifications.
Before my adventure ended, I was able to sit down with Andreas Schaefer, the head of the fuels laboratory at Shell. I wanted to find out how a Formula 1 car could run on the fuel that is commercially available from Shell, yet manufactures like Mitsubishi don’t bring in the high performance versions of their Evolution series because we don’t have the fuel for it.
Andreas confirmed that our base fuel simply does not meet the octane requirements set by some manufactures, but the additives formulated in the V-Power Nitro + are derived directly from Formula 1. The technology in this fuel is the same technology used by Formula 1, he explained. Also, the octane of the fuel is not so important in a Formula 1 car as it revs so high; far more important is reducing the friction in this engine. This made a lot of sense because the tolerances in a Formula 1 engine are so tight that when the engine is cold, essentially it’s ceased.
Only when the oil is heated externally and pumped back in, allowing the internals to expand fractionally will the engine turn over. This means a marginal increase of friction at 15 000RPM could result in catastrophic engine failure, however with the V-Power Nitro + there wasn’t even so much of a misfire. Andreas said that there is 25% more friction modification technology in the V-Power Nitro + than there has ever been in any other Shell fuel.
I attended this event with a personal investment, as the only fuel I ever use in my cars is Shell’s V-Power, followed by V-Power Nitro + after it was launched. I was really keen on learning about the technology I have been paying for all this time. Recently I bought a car that was designed to run on 98 octane fuel only, and to prolong engine life I would religiously mix octane booster with every tank of fuel. Thanks to this demonstration put together by Shell I don’t think I need to anymore.