Fueling McLaren: Behind the scenes with Mobil 1

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BARCELONA – Since making the switch to Honda power units for the 2015 Formula 1 season, McLaren has been going through a prolonged period of rebuilding and revival.

With Honda arriving into the turbo V6 engine era one year after rival manufacturers Ferrari, Renault and Mercedes, it has been an uphill struggle to close the gap.

However, the early signs in 2016 have been positive for McLaren. Debutant teammate Stoffel Vandoorne charged into the points in his one-off appearance for the team, while Jenson Button and Fernando Alonso followed with top 10s of their own last time out in Russia.

All hands have been on deck to rekindle McLaren’s glory years – and the same goes for its fuel and lubricant supplier, Exxon Mobil, which owns the Mobil 1 and Esso brands.

We were given the chance to go behind the scenes with Mobil 1 and McLaren during pre-season testing in Barcelona, and with this weekend’s Spanish Grand Prix on the horizon, both parties will be seeing how things have developed in the past couple of months.

WHERE EVERY TENTH COUNTS

Fuel and lubricants form one of the fiercest battlegrounds in F1. While it may seem like a simple addendum to the ongoing fight between teams in areas such as aerodynamics and engine design, it is in fact worth a significant amount of time. In a sport where every tenth counts, the role of the fuel and lubricant supplier becomes all the more important.

“We speak about the best drivers, the best cars, the best engine, but also the best fuel and the best lubricants and the best partners, let’s say technically involved in the performance of the car,” McLaren racing director Eric Boullier explains.

“We need everything to be the best of the best. And you cannot move one without the other one. If I take the example of the engine, the combustion model designed by Honda needs to fit with a fuel that is developed by Esso.

“We have talked to Mobil 1 to say we need now to run the gearbox at this temperature, because that means they have to design a special oil which is capable of keeping the same quality for friction at higher levels.

“Everywhere you have to speak to all the partners and make sure they reach and achieve the targets you impose on yourself.”

The targets may be ambitious, but they are being met by Mobil 1 and Esso. When we arrived in Barcelona, there was a hive of excitement around the team. A new fuel was debuting on the car that weekend following a major breakthrough, with significant gains being made over the winter.

“A lot of hard work goes into this so when you do make a breakthrough which we have done and make a significant step forward, it’s really exciting,” Mobil 1 global motorsport technology manager Bruce Crawley says.

“For me, to bring a new product to the track, it doesn’t get better than that and to know the performance benefit you’ve delivered. So yes, it’s an exciting time.

“The results, the car performance wasn’t up to it last year. However, we were working away really hard. We brought quite a few improvements in last year, and we’ve got more to come this year as well. It’s great to be involved at the front end of a new engineering challenge. That gets me out of bed in the morning.”

In light of its barren run of form, McLaren has faced the challenge of overhauling its car and making widespread changes to its management.

Jost Capito is set to join later this year from Volkswagen, following in Boullier’s footsteps. Meanwhile the likes of driver Kevin Magnussen, team principal Martin Whitmarsh and ex-Honda motorsport boss Yasuhisa Arai have all left in the past couple of years.

For Mobil 1, the push for improvement is never-ending – particularly in the early stages of a new set of technical regulations, with the next set due to arrive in 2017.

“There’s some adaptation going on and fine tuning in certain ares of performance, but there’s some fundamental stuff going on as well which is a serious change in the chemistry of the products that you’re developing,” Crawley says.

“I think at the early stage of any new regulation change, there’s more low hanging fruit generally than there is as you progress through. So we actually quite like regulation changes because it gives us more opportunity to find performance gains and it’s a race, it’s a development race to find those quicker than other people are doing it. It’s quite exciting from that point of view.

“Last year, we have several development fuels which we took to the track which were superseded before we ran them. We’ve got six components in this car of several thousands, so if you just look at our prototyping, it’s a moving target.

“That’s what’s so exciting about it as well, it never stands still. You’re always thinking ‘this has changed, now what can I do?’ Somebody was asking about the influence of the super-soft tires. You’re always looking to see what influence that has. Is that going to put more load through the gearbox? What will happen? It keeps you thinking all the time, have I missed something? It never stops.”

SOCHI, RUSSIA - MAY 01: Fernando Alonso of Spain driving the (14) McLaren Honda Formula 1 Team McLaren MP4-31 Honda RA616H Hybrid turbo on track during the Formula One Grand Prix of Russia at Sochi Autodrom on May 1, 2016 in Sochi, Russia. (Photo by Clive Mason/Getty Images)

KEY TEAM MEMBERS

While McLaren and Mobil 1 may be separate companies, 20 years of partnership means that they are very much integrated when it comes to racing on-track.

The McLaren garage is, much like the team’s corporate image, spick and span. Monitors cover the garage providing up-to-date information on the car in which Jenson Button sits as mechanics set to work around him. Everyone has a job to do: and the same goes for the Mobil 1 technicians that travel with the team to each race.

Tucked away at the back of the garage is a small alcove featuring more monitors and a fuel analysis machine. At every possible opportunity, a small sample of fuel is taken from the car which is then placed into a small cylinder and put into the machine. A few moments of whirring later, and the computer next to it comes alive with data. Every possible element is measured, offering live information that can be crucial to the team.

An example came in the first week of testing in Barcelona. After the driver reported a problem, McLaren called him in and set to work to find the issue. Before its mechanics could, the Mobil 1 team had taken a fuel sample and found an unusually high level of zinc in the readings, signifying that there had been a water leak and allowing the team to take appropriate steps to remedy it. The help offered by the traveling Mobil 1 office is invaluable.

But just as efforts are made in the short-term to flag up any issues on-track and bring new designs to the table, an eye remains on the future. 2017 is set to herald a sizeable overhaul of F1’s technical regulations, unsurprisingly making it a significant focus even at this early stage.

“We’ve already got the plan for the 2017 engine under discussion, so that’s kicking off fairly soon and we’re doing our pre-planning for that,” Crawley explains.

“We’re already doing our modelling for 2017 engine. The collaboration actually that we have got going with Honda is at a level in terms of combustion development that I think is really going to push us through into a new era actually.

“From a fuel and from an oil point of view, so Esso synergy and Mobil 1, I think 2017 we’re going to have a stand-out engine. I think we’ve got a pretty good engine this year as well, but 2017 there’s more to come.”

Working with Honda was a big shift for Mobil 1 to make after 20 years working with Mercedes. The famed McLaren-Mercedes partnership hit murky water when the German marque returned to the sport with its own works team that has since enjoyed considerable success – something Crawley interestingly believes his team indirectly contributed to.

“I would argue that we have helped Mercedes develop the engine that they have got in their car today, because we worked for them for such a long period of time, if you look at the transfer of technology and ideas that go forward,” Crawley says.

“So in some respects we’ve done an own goal, we’ve been working with a company for that length of time and they’ve developed a very strong package. What happened in 2014… I’d rather not say anything more about that. We ran through the program in 2014 with them.”

Given Mercedes’ work with Malaysian supplier Petronas, it was inevitable that putting a rival’s products into the same power unit would not yield the same kind of results. Given that Honda supplies McLaren and McLaren alone, it gives Mobil 1 and Esso greater control and more of a chance to refine its products.

“Much better to [be Honda’s only supplier] because if you’ve got two suppliers, then potentially there might be a difference between one product and another,” Crawley coyly says.

“Potentially there might be… There may be other things that might be going on there that might make you think that it is the product, but there’s something else going on. I’ll say no more!!”

MONTMELO, SPAIN - MARCH 01: Members of the McLaren Honda team run out to Fernando Alonso of Spain and McLaren Honda's car in the pit lane during day one of F1 winter testing at Circuit de Catalunya on March 1, 2016 in Montmelo, Spain. (Photo by David Ramos/Getty Images)

FROM TRACK TO ROAD AND BACK AGAIN

Road relevance is a battle that motorsport has always and will always be fighting. The old mantra of ‘win on Sunday, sell on Monday’ is becoming increasingly outdated, particularly in F1. With series such as the FIA World Endurance Championship and Formula E pushing more tech that can be found in road cars both now and in the future, is F1 no longer road relevant?

When it comes to fuel and lubricants, the answer is an emphatic no. As Crawley explains, many of the products – three of the six supplied to McLaren – that Mobil 1 produces are identical to what you can pick up at your local gas station and put in your own car. Others are modified for racing, but aren’t drastic deviations from the original consumer product.

“For us with our Mobil 1 racing oil we have in this Honda engine, the core technology that we’re using is exactly the same as the core technology in your cars and you’re purchasing off the shelf,” Crawley explains. “That’s very important for us, to maintain that linkage between what we’re doing in consumer products and in racing.

“Same with the fuel as well. The fuel is not something that you’re going to get when you fill up at your local petrol station at the pump. The compounds that we’re using in that fuel are the same compounds and molecules that you’ll find in that fuel. We’re tailoring the composition of the fuel to get more performance out of it.

“The way that we operate is to customize the product for the particular application. If there’s an advantage in customising a specific product for gearbox, engine, hydraulic system, wheel bearings, any of the moving parts in the car, then we’ll customise to get a performance gain.

“You’ll see in the products we’ve got in the car, they’re just commercial off the shelf products. They’re actually good enough and you can’t beat the performance of them. If we could, we would, but if you look at the engine and the gearbox for example, we’ve got bespoke products.

“That then also gives us understanding in terms of ‘if we can change the composition of the fuel in this way, we can get a performance gain’. So that’s very interesting in terms of looking at what we should be doing for a consumer product in the future. How can we improve a consumer product from the understanding, the learning that we’ve got from racing. We’ve got some interesting ideas going on right there as well right now.

“So I think the more road relevant you can make F1, I think the better. The automotivee industry and society in general is looking for cars that are more fuel efficient. That’s what we’re playing with at the moment in F1, so exciting times.”

Can F1 do more to promote its road relevance and the technology that it is advancing?

“I agree with that,” Crawley asserts. “I think it’s a bit of a balance because it is a sport, and there’s entertainment involved in it as well, but in addition to that I think the sport can actually develop technology which has road relevance and has done in the past.

“I think the regulations should encourage that, clearly there’s some sort of financial-economic issues around that as well but that needs to be managed. But F1 has a role in terms of developing efficient powertrains and you can still have good racing with efficient powertrains, so I agree with your statement.”

SOCHI, RUSSIA - APRIL 30: Jenson Button of Great Britain driving the (22) McLaren Honda Formula 1 Team McLaren MP4-31 Honda RA616H Hybrid turbo on track during qualifying for the Formula One Grand Prix of Russia at Sochi Autodrom on April 30, 2016 in Sochi, Russia. (Photo by Dan Istitene/Getty Images)

THE DRIVER’S VIEW

The importance of the fuel and lubricant supplier’s role is not lost on the drivers, either. 2009 world champion Jenson Button has enjoyed significant highs and – more recently – lows with McLaren, but all the while, the partnership with Mobil 1 has continued to develop and flourish.

“Last year was very tough for us as a whole team, but the positive is that it was a new partnership, so we knew it was going to be very difficult,” Button says.

“You can see light, you can see the future is going to be bright, but there’s a lot of pain still before we get there. You’ve got two world champions in the team that are used to winning, we’re used to competing at the front, and we’re not right now, and that’s tough but also, on the positive side, we have a lot of experience. We’ve been in difficult situations before so we give as much feedback as we can to the team to develop. It’s definitely helping.

“I think the partnership with McLaren-Honda being so close, and with Mobil 1 and Esso and Honda being so close is very important to the development. One for reliability, but also because of outright power that we’re getting from the partnership of Honda and Esso.

“With Mobil 1, there’s so much analysis done at the circuit in terms of the reliability and trying to find problems with the power unit and with the gearbox, it’s really helping us improve throughout the season as well and look after reliability, because we’re limited to five engines over a race season now, which is very limited compared to what we used last year.

“So it’s all going in the right direction, but people always expect more. They want it now, and it just doesn’t happen like that when you’re racing in the most competitive motorsport in the world against some very, very experienced individuals.”

Quite how long it is until the glory days return for McLaren remains uncertain, but one thing is for sure: when they do, Mobil 1 and Esso will have played an integral part in bringing them back.

IndyCar champion Will Power completes ‘Victory Lap’ at ceremony in Indianapolis

Will Power Victory Lap
Chris Owens/Penske Entertainment
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INDIANAPOLIS – Will Power went on his “Victory Lap” last week to celebrate his second career championship as the 2022 NTT IndyCar Series champion.

It began with several media interviews in Monterey, California, the day after he won the championship with a third-place finish in the Sept. 11 Firestone Grand Prix of Monterey.

From there, it was off to Los Angeles for more interviews and personal appearances that included a VIP Tour at the Petersen Automotive Museum, several appearances on SiriusXM and lunch at The Ivy, where the Team Penske IndyCar Series driver was treated to Wagyu Beef.

“It was one of the best steaks I’ve ever had in my life,” Power told NBCSports.com.

From L.A. back to Power’s North Carolina home, near Team Penske’s home base of Mooresville, there was one stop left on Sept. 17 — the Victory Lap Celebration at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Museum, an invitation-only banquet where Power and his No. 12 Verizon Chevrolet crew at Team Penske were honored for the 2022 NTT IndyCar Series championship.

They didn’t even have to check into a hotel and spend another night on the road. Power and his team left on a Team Penske plane from the Statesville, N.C., airport at 4 p.m. ET Saturday to fly to Indianapolis. On arrival an hour later, a limo bus took the team to IMS.

Power led the 2022 season with five NTT P1 Awards for pole, earning the NTT P1 Award as the best qualifier of the season for the fifth time in his career. Power also made history with his 68th career pole, breaking the all-time mark held by the legendary Mario Andretti.

Power and Scott Dixon also became just two of only five drivers to complete every lap of every race in IndyCar Series history.

“What a year,” Power said as he was awarded his personal Astor Cup trophy (the second in his collection after the 2014 championship. “What a phenomenal year coming off one of my worst seasons personally. We came back with a vengeance.

“I want to thank Roger and Kathy Penske for everything they have done for me over the years. I wouldn’t be standing here and have the numbers I have without what Roger has done for me. I’m given a car every week that is capable of winning the pole, races, championships, and Indianapolis 500s. I’m so grateful for that.

“Also, to Greg Penske, you are there every week now at every event and I know we will be in good hands moving forward with the Penske Family.”

There are many on Power’s team and at home, that helped support Power throughout his career. None is bigger than Power’s wife, Liz, who told Power before the season that he would win the championship and break Andretti’s record.

“I must thank my wife. I’m so lucky to have a wife with that crystal ball that can tell me what is going to happen,” Power said. “I can’t think you enough, babe. I love you so much and you have been a big support to me my whole career. We’ve been together 17 years, and I’ve been in the series 17 years. She has been such a huge support to me. The mother of our child and she is a fantastic mother.

“She can’t tell the future. She just had faith in me.”

Liz Power’s premonition came true and that allowed Power and his No. 12 Dallara-Chevrolet team to celebrate Penske’s 17th IndyCar championship and 42nd title in the racing team’s history.

“The 12 crew this year, I’ve never had such a great group of guys,” Power said. “Trevor Lacasse (chief mechanic) is such a calm guy, but he does such a meticulous job on the preparation of the car. He is very, very good at keeping the whole crew happy. It feels as if there is no pressure on us. That’s a huge part in getting the most out of people. It was our first year together with you as a crew chief. What a great year to start our relationship.

“Dave Faustino (Power’s longtime engineer), we’ve worked together for 15 years. He’s almost like a wife to me, a partner … apart from sleeping together. We have a very good working relationship. Sorry Dave, I’m an awkward person and you are not.

“The things we have been through in our years together, it’s crazy that we continually improve and get better. We are standing on the podium after winning the championship and we are talking about the car, the race, and the tires. We weren’t talking about the championship.

“We never stop. The other boys were laughing at us, but I’m already thinking about next year.

“Ron Ruzewski (Team Penske IndyCar Managing Director and strategist) on the radio, always calm. He has actually made me a calm person. I rarely get upset on the radio anymore.”

Power also recognized the fans who helped boost attendance at many venues on the schedule this season as NBC Sports enjoyed its largest IndyCar audience yet.

“This series is growing,” Power said. “With open wheel racing now so popular because of Formula One, it’s really our time to push and put money behind it and go now and take IndyCar to another level because we have the best racing product in the world.

“I have to thank my teammates and (Team Penske president) Tim Cindric. I can’t tell you how hard we push each other. We are ultracompetitive and love each other and push each other hard, so thank you.”


Power won the championship by 16 points over hard-charging teammate Josef Newgarden, who finished second in the standings for the third year in a row.

“Overall, I’m filled with a lot of pride for our team and what we were able to do this year,” Newgarden said in his banquet address. “Any year that you step in the championship, you can easily see the challenges it presents everybody.

“It’s a very difficult challenge for the teams and drivers. To be a part of it, make it through it and for us at Team Penske, to topple it, is a very big deal. We’re all competitive.

“The tough thing about being in a championship fight, especially with teammates is we all want to be the best. That’s how it should be. We are competitive people and want to be the best. But it’s a team sport.

“Will, tremendous season, great, great job. I think the world of everybody on our team. It’s a big group. I’m so happy for all of you on the 12-car crew. There is so much we can take into next year.”

Six-time NTT IndyCar Series champion Scott Dixon was unable to attend the banquet because of the Goodwood Festival in England but sent congratulations to Power via a video message.

“I really want to congratulate Will Power,” Dixon said. “You drove a tremendous season this year. Even with some of the lows that you had, some of the mistakes with qualifying, you bounced back tremendously. I know how tough these championships are and to see you do it in the style that you did it in the last race of the season, massive congratulations.”

Power’s championship formula included one victory, nine podiums and 12 top-five finishes. Teammate Josef Newgarden was second in the championship with five wins but only six podiums.

Cindric saluted Power’s season in accepting the championship team owner award.

“Will, you took it to another level this year,” Cindric said. “You are the complete package. You completed every lap, had nine podiums, finished out of the top 10 just four times, broke Mario Andretti’s record, and you did it all without cussing at the officials on national TV.

“One complaint I do has is while most of us think you might be from another planet, you never told us your wife was a fortune teller.”

Cindric also honored the seasons of Penske drivers Newgarden and Scott McLaughlin, who won three times in his second full season (“You are one of only two full-time IndyCar drivers that has driven for us in the past 23 years that hasn’t won an Indy 500 or an IndyCar championship. Your time is coming.”).

Kyle Moyer was named team manager of the year (his fifth time and Penske’s sixth). Pennzoil presented Lacasse with the chief mechanic of the year for the first time, the sixth time for Team Penske. The No. 12 crew also won the Firestone Pit Performance Award for the most pit stop performance award points in 2022.

Power, Newgarden and McLaughlin delivered nine of Chevrolet’s series-leading 11 victories this season, helping Chevy win the Manufacturer Award for the seventh time since it returned to the series in 2012 and the first time since 2017. Jim Danahy, U.S. vice president, Competition Motorsports Engineering for Chevrolet, accepted the award on behalf of his team.


Christian Lundgaard was honored as the 2022 NTT IndyCar rookie of the year. Lundgaard, from Denmark, scored one podium, two top-five finishes and seven top-10s in the No. 30 Honda fielded by Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing. He edged David Malukas of Dale Coyne Racing with HMD by 18 points in the standings for first-year series drivers.

Christian Lundgaard (Chris Owens/Penske Entertainment)

“It’s been a tough season and looking at how it panned out, we struggled so much at the beginning of the season and how we were able to turn it around means so much to me and the team,” Lundgaard said. “It’s the one thing that you only get one shot at. I’m happy to have it.

“Being the first Dane at the Indy 500 certainly helps. Competing here for me is quite important and also special. To win this award and to be here in future years means so much to me. I have a chance to compete for wins and championships.

“This team gave me this opportunity at this track one year ago. We came back and got redemption. We got our first podium here. This year was 40 years ago that Bobby Rahal won the same award. It’s pretty special to keep it among the team.”

Sweden’s Linus Lundqvist was honored as Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires champion after a dominant season for HMD Motorsports with Dale Coyne Racing. Lundqvist won a series-high five races in the No. 26 HMD Motorsports with Dale Coyne Racing entry and clinched the Lights championship with a race to spare, ending with a 92-point advantage over Sting Ray Robb. HMD Motorsports with Dale Coyne Racing owners Henry and Daiva Malukas accepted the team championship.

“I’m very proud of that,” Lundqvist said. “It’s cool to see. We are starting to look to the future, and this might not be doing too bad. It’s been great. As most of you can guess with Henry and Daiva Malukas (team owners), it’s been an incredible journey. So much fun that we’ve had. To be on the grid this year was so much of a struggle for us. I didn’t even know I would be doing this until January.

“To be able to pull out the season that we had, I cannot thank this team enough. We will celebrate this for a long time. I’m so happy and proud about that.”

Outgoing IndyCar Director of Medical Affairs Dr. Geoffrey Billows also was honored as he is leaving that role while battling cancer.

“When I think of Dr. Billows, I think of two words,” IndyCar president Jay Frye said. “One is selfless and the other is tough. He’s gone through a lot these last couple of years, and he didn’t want anybody to know. He’s an amazing man, and we are very grateful for what you have done.”

Dr. Geoffrey Billows with IndyCar president Jay Frye (Chris Owens/Penske Entertainment)

Billows was presented with a framed checkered flag signed by all drivers in the series as well as other IndyCar officials and dignitaries.

“I was not expecting this at all,” Billows said. “This means so much for me to be part of this family for the past 30 years. I’ve been presented with opportunities I never thought I would ever have. I can’t tell you how much I love all of you guys and care for all of you guys.

“Thank you so much. I want to also thank my wife, Tammy, who has been a pillar of strength as I continue on this journey with cancer for the past two years as well. You will still see me as a consultant because I love this too much to quit altogether.”

When the evening concluded, Team Penske boarded a bus to the airport for the short return flight to Statesville. They were home by midnight.

Power’s Victory Lap was complete.

“The best thing about this is I get to sleep in my own bed tonight,” Power said.

Follow Bruce Martin on Twitter at @BruceMartin_500