Tell us about your role and your work.
I'm Dario Izzo, Racing Technical Advisor for ExxonMobil. I'm always dressed in Red Bull clothes because I'm with the Red Bull Racing team but I'm an ExxonMobil employee, from Esso. Exxon has two people on track who follow the two teams, Red Bull Racing and Toro Rosso, and we have two portable labs traveling with the teams. These two people, me and my colleague, are responsible first of all for organizing the logistics for all the products that are brought to the track: the Esso Synergy Racing Fuel, the Mobil 1 lubricating motor oils, the Mobil gear oil Racing Syntetic Gear Oil and we also bring hydraulic oil. And the car also uses some of our car grease.
So we organize the logistics to bring these products to the track and once they have arrived we have a work week that goes from Monday to Monday. When we know that the products have arrived and everything has gone well, we check the quality: each product is already tested in the preparation phase and is tested again on the track because we have to be sure that they are safe with the rules of the FIA. This is because the problem that can happen is a contamination in the supply chain up to the track. So the last check here is on the track, and we have the tools to do these checks. The FIA is aware of our fuel and engine formulations, so when we do a product development with Honda - regarding fuel and engine oil - and we find one of the best formulations, to bring to the track we must submit it for FIA approval, which therefore knows what we have. At the beginning of a weekend of races, on Wednesday, we bring samples to the FIA to announce what will be the formulations that we will use over the weekend. And they will take samples from us during the week, usually before or after qualifying and the race - it is easier for a top team to be sampled in the crucial stages of the weekend. Extra sample checks are also provided, it is a check spot to see that the teams are in good standing.
Does Honda involve more or less Renault in development, given that in this case you are an official team?
We are very involved in development. As an engine is redesigned and parameters change in the combustion chamber, then we test several new fuel formulations. By regulation we can bring to the track a maximum of 5 new fuel formulations per season, but if we are good enough we can do a good formulation already at the beginning of the year and then make only minor adjustments during the year. So 2-3 formulations is a more likely number in a season. With Honda this year it is easier to work because we are the only company that they have to work with: we are the only one dedicated to work towards Red Bull, while last year we were not the only company working with the engine. So there were natural waiting times for product development and testing. If Renault had a number of test benches that were testing other products than ours, we had to wait for the test to finish. So we were in line, but with Honda it's easier now.
How much did your experience with Toro Rosso last year helps in your work?
Quite a lot. We arrived at the beginning of the year with a fuel formulation that is still the one we are using - and we are in the second half of the season. Even the formulation of the engine oil is still the same from the beginning. So not only did we have the experience from last year, but with Honda we also had the experience of previous years when we had already collaborated with McLaren, in 2015-2016.
Speaking about Toro Rosso, has the Gasly/Albon swap impacted your work? Perhaps on the feedback received from the driver?
A strange question for me because in Spa I exceptionally covered the role of my colleague in Toro Rosso and I also made the pit board to Pierre Gasly. So I told him "Pier, I will not follow you anymore but for this weekend I am with you and I also make you the pit board!". The funny thing is that then I also accompanied him to a hotel on a motorbike, something that doesn't normally happen. From the point of view of the driver's feedback, it is difficult to see in our analyzes or in our daily work the influence of anyone drive, the differences are minimal. What can have influence on our work is about what is done by engineers: for example, you can see different values in oils depending on what is done with engine mode. So maybe the motor of Albon at Spa will have been pushed to the maximum has different values than those who run with more saving maps.
Horner highlighted the big difference in the approach between Honda and Renault, with the Japanese more collaborative. Is there even more support in your work for you?
Actually we found ourselves very well in terms of collaboration with both manufacturers. Obviously the Japanese compared to the French have a different way of working, because of a cultural issue, so maybe these are the easiest differences to notice. Our relationship with the both manufacturers was quite great in both cases: we were treated well, they both recognize the value of working with ExxonMobil. Honda for example, working with us since McLaren days, explicitly asked to work with us last year. Renault also had the opportunity to see that our contribution was particularly positive. For example, at some point in the 2018 season their team could not use the third engine specification because they failed to develop a fuel for that engine - while Red Bull, despite being a customer team, could use it because we had developed a suitable fuel. So let's say we somehow demonstrated our competence.
What is the advantage of working with two teams with the same engine? Does it help you make comparisons between the data extracted from the two cars?
In terms of engine there are no differences, the engines are exactly the same between Red Bull and Toro Rosso. We can then compare the data but we already know that there is consistency, so we don't need a comparison because we don't fear that there are different data. For other products there may be this talk but we are quite aligned between the two teams.
Tell us about the technologies used in the Trackside Lab, how they are developed and how fast you need to be during the race weekend to process the data.
There are two main tools. The gas-chromatographer, which allows you to make a chromatography on the fuel, which is a test mostly on the quality to see if there have been contaminations on the fuel. So we see that the fuel from each drum, from the machines or from the pumps is not contaminated. If there is any problem with the car, we can see it with oil. In the used oil, the test is very important to see what kind of metals there are inside. We see it for the most part with a specific instrument, which is a Spark emission spectrometer, which burns oil and has an optical sensor that reads the color of the flame to understand the metal that burns and in what quantities. This gives us a quantitative result within a minute - the time to take a sample from the car, bring it here, analyze it. In five minutes the engineers have the results, so it's pretty fast and important.
The tools we carry are of two types - some are the same that the federation also has to verify the compliancy of our products, then we have also tools that verify the condition of the products used, in particular the oil. These are fairly sophisticated and standard tools among the various team laboratories. Each team can then make additional analyzes, for example we put the results inside an excel file and see how the metals inside an engine oil increase depending on the kilometers, in parts per million. We check the percentage of the metal, there are 3 different metals, and how they increase for the kilometers of the engine. Normally a clean engine oil has zero metals, after the fire-up begins to accumulate something, at the end of the race it is particularly dark and contains a certain quantity of metals. When there is a drop in value in the graph it means that there has been an oil change, at which point it starts again and there is a new increase. What we are going to verify is how metals increase. When we see that the increase changes, something is changing inside the engine or the hydraulic system and we want to intervene before there is a mechanical break. So there is already something that we begin to see the symptoms, to see a different wear and we can stop the car before something happens. For example we can stop the car in Free Practice 3 or in Qualification, and we can tell for example that the gearbox has strange values, so if it does not pass certain tests and therefore could break in the race, we lead the team to replace the component in advance.
Those tests are very important because when a break occurs, our tools help the team to understand where the break occurred, which component in particular. That’s why such a laboratory makes the difference. For example last year in China we had a problem in FP3 with Ricciardo’s car and we managed to qualify in time for one minute: Daniel finished fourth in qualifying and then won the race. That was an incredible teamwork to repair the machine, in which the laboratory also contributed because we identified in particular waste oils that signaled that the break had occurred in a certain component rather than in others. So the team could focus on repairs and get out on time.
Thinking about the results of these analyzes, at the macro level of aggregated data, how do they have an impact on the fuels and lubricants we use in everyday life on the road?
Not so much the results of analysis as the work of development. The people who work on the fuel and lubricant development programs at ExxonMobil are the same as those working on commercial products. So in the same way that the development done in F1 is then transferred and the machines on the road benefit, in the same way it happens with lubricants and fuels. Let's take an example: if we find a component so that from a drop of fuel we extract an energy to make 10 km, this could mean a victory in the race for an F1 car - because it would mean that you really have to use little fuel to take it to the maximum - on a street machine this turns into "fuel economy", that is economy for drivers, low emissions. In the same way the oil and the lubricant: the very pushed engine that is preserved in F1 for 7 races with a given oil or lubricant, if that effectively valid component is transferred to a commercial oil this will mean long-life motor oils for which you will no longer have to change the oil every km but maybe even for the entire life cycle of the engine. Obviously all this working a lot with the imagination, but theoretically it could be a goal...
Regulations 2021? What do you hope for?
From the point of view of fuels and lubricants, there is already a certain degree of control on the part of the federation. We hope that their work, even in reducing the costs for the teams to make F1 more accessible, we hope that they will always give us room for development. If you go in the direction of a single provider of lubricants and fuels, you would remove a very important part of F1. Engines, fuels and lubricants go hand in hand. The R&D phase must remain important in F1 for our role, because this is what leads us to improvements. The competition that is not always so visible, but behind the scenes in reality between us and the other oil and fuel companies there is a tight competition for those who work better.
Is your favorite victory still that of Ricciardo in China? Your best memory?
Well, now I can tell you what my wet victory was, at Hockenheim! I was bathed by Red Bull during the group photo, so I can tell you that taking a shower with Red Bull leaves its mark! But a victory is always beautiful...