A few days ago, I published a blog called Behind every great sportsperson is a chemical engineer and I promised to return to the topic on a regular basis to show that chemical engineering is often the unsung hero behind some of today’s sporting icons.
This weekend is the Austrian Formula One Grand Prix. If you’re a fan of the sport you’ll know that tyres (and their lack of grip), drivers (what’s more important – the car or the driver) and aerodynamics (who’s got the most downforce) often dominate the pre-race conversation.
But this year has proved different with a brand new generation of hybrid engines and the use of energy recovery systems (ERS), which has dramatically changed the performance, fuel efficiency and sound of the whole sport.
The new regulations have also brought back into discussion an aspect of the sport rarely discussed in recent years – the fuel.
Several of this year’s teams have struggled with their engine power – brought upon by a combination of not being able to maximise their ‘battery’ power and the type of fuel being used.
However, one team on top of their game is Mercedes and their main sponsor PETRONAS. If you watch the race this weekend you’ll find a gaggle of engineers working hard away in the garages.
And in the Mercedes garage at least there will be two chemical engineers testing and tweaking fuel formulae to maximize speed and efficiency for drivers Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg.
The chemical engineers are under added pressure this year with all cars limited to 100 kg of fuel to cover a race distance of around 300 km. Last year it was between 140-150 kg of fuel.
So what’s it all about and why do companies like PETRONAS spend so much money getting involved in a sport like Formula 1?
The answer is normally R&D with companies like PETRONAS using Formula 1 as a platform for enhancing their ‘technological and human capabilities through research & development of PETRONAS’ fuel and lubricant products as well as the nurturing of indigenous technological capabilities in the field of automotive engineering within the PETRONAS Group, particularly powertrain [engines to you and me] research and development.’
So, the next time you sit down to watch a race, don’t forget to tell your friends and colleagues about the vital role of chemical engineers and fuel in motorsport.
And beyond motorsport there’s a dividend we’ll all be able to benefit from at some point. F1 is the testing ground for the development of better fuels that will eventually appear on the petrol forecourts.
And one day you’ll probably be driving a nice car powered by a more economical, efficient and greener ‘powertrain’ developed with the help of chemical engineers.