Millions of eyes are glued to the screens as Formula 1 cars race around the circuit, chasing lap after lap. One of the richest, most exorbitant and fashionable motorsports ever. The high-speed, physics-defying car chase can be a task to spectacle but thanks to distinctive livery, we’re able to recognise the team that’s running in the lead, and the ones that are in the wall. Ofcourse, the commentary by Jonathan Legard always helps.
Having established the very essence of liveries, let’s focus on the track cameramen’s favourite car. We’ve seen Lewis Hamilton and Valtteri Bottas swerve the Mercedes-AMG PETRONAS W12 in some wheel-to wheel action; clipping wings, setting the fastest lap-times and in the latest, having a bit of a tiff off with the hub bolt. Whatever the reason, the W12 always makes headlines. And along with all the famed names, there’s PETRONAS that’s vividly visible in the news time and again.
We’ve seen the brand share its ‘personal’ space on the W12 lavishly; it is in fact one of the very few examples of liveries where a sponsored brand is fully integrated and neatly detailed with the car design. Ever wondered what PETRONAS is, and why they share such a limelight with a team itself? We did, and we dug deeper.
PETRONAS isn’t a new name in this game. Petroliam Nasional Berhad – a Malaysian oil and gas company started operations in 1974 to cater to the oil and gas requirements of the country. With such crucial responsibility resting on their shoulder, it was but obvious that the ownership was taken up by the Malaysian government. But unlike many government organisations, PETRONAS didn’t limit itself to serving the nation. They began pioneering the science of liquid gold, developing and adding values to these resources. As a result, the brand is now listed amongst the Fortune Global 500 companies and even has a flashy office that’s marked as a famous tourist destination in the local travel itinerary. The PETRONAS Towers – the tallest buildings in the worlds from ’98 to 2004.
Formula 1 aficionados will remember the early days of PETRONAS in the sport, with them being one of the main sponsors at the BMW Sauber F1 team. But a new chapter was written when PETRONAS signed a deal with the newly formed Mercedes-AMG PETRONAS team in December 2009. 12 years and seven consecutive double world championship titles later, every kid on the stands is now cheering for the PETRONAS branded W12 car to finish in the podiums.
So how does a government owned subsidy extracting crude oil from the depths of the sea rise to being one of the most influential brands in the motorsport? Well, lots and lots of reasons contributing to their success but it’s not just sponsorship titles and big cash deals. As technical partners to the team, it’s their expertise, innovation and fluid technology that grants them a performance edge over the rest. The Mercedes-AMG powered W12 benefits from PETRONAS engineered lubricants, including the Primax fuel, the Syntium oil and Tutela functional fluids. Here’s more on how it’s done.
Questions for Stephanie Travers and En De Liow, PETRONAS Trackside Fluid Engineers
Q. What does the role of a PETRONAS Trackside Fluid Engineer (PTFE) consist of?
En De: As Fluid Engineers, we travel with the team to every Formula 1 race and work from the dedicated PETRONAS Trackside Laboratory within the Mercedes garage to extract, monitor and analyse samples of the fluids during the Grand Prix weekend.
Steph: The first samples are tested as early as the Tuesday before a race to ensure that the fluids comply with FIA rules and haven’t been contaminated during transport. Once the car has fired up, we take samples before and after every session and analyse them using the machinery in the Lab. We use a spectrometer and viscometer to monitor the lubricants and a gas chromatograph to check the conformity of fuels registered with the FIA. In addition to our analysis for the Mercedes-AMG PETRONAS Formula 1 team, we also provide fluid analysis to the Mercedes customer teams of Aston Martin, Williams Racing and McLaren.
Q. Why that analysis in the PETRONAS Trackside Lab is important?
Steph: The analysis conducted in the PETRONAS Trackside Lab is essential for two reasons. It allows us to ensure that our fluids comply with the FIA regulations and enables us to provide early detection of any potential problems in the engine and gearbox.
We use the spectrometer to perform the equivalent of a blood test on a sample of oil. Much like a human blood test, the results show us the levels of all of metals within that sample and allows us to monitor for excessive wear during the weekend. When it comes to the fuel, we use the gas chromatograph to take a fingerprint of the fuel to ensure it matches the golden sample approved by the FIA.
Q. How does the analysis help Mercedes during a Grand Prix
En De: the analysis in the PETRONAS trackside lab plays a pivotal role during a race weekend because the tests help predict potential reliability concerns. They also help us ensure that the race fuel and lubricants are performing as well as possible. We take approximately 150 oil and fuel samples per weekend and approximately 214 tests per grand prix. Over 23 races, that all adds up!
Questions for Dr. Andrea Dolfi, Head of Research & Develop Fluid Technology Solutions, PETRONAS
Q. Why PETRONAS is the Title and Technical partner to the Mercedes-AMG PETRONAS Formula 1 Team
Our successful collaboration with the Mercedes-AMG team has allowed both parties to develop cutting-edge technology and nurture talent from around the world. For PETRONAS, we can test our Fluid Technology Solutions™ at the pinnacle of motorsport, and our Research and Development team are continuously working to innovate those fluids to provide the team with the best performance, power, mileage, durability and protection. Furthermore, our experience in motorsports allows us to take the learnings and apply them to the products available to consumers around the world.
Q. How the fuel and lubricant is developed for Formula 1
Our scientists and researchers in Malaysia and Italy co-engineer the fluids in tandem with the engineers at Mercedes. That means they are tailor-made for the Mercedes power unit and can provide the best possible performance, reliability and efficiency. Since the start of our partnership, we have provided 750 fuelare now very close to a 1000 fuel and lubricant candidates for testing by the team.
Q. How PETRONAS takes the learnings from their development trackside and applies them to the products available to consumers
The ground-breaking technology developed in F1 is a catalyst for the subsequent creation of class-leading fuels and lubricants for consumers. Our scientists use F1 as a vital test laboratory to design and develop the cutting-edge formulations for fuel and lubricants in order to maximise their performance, efficiency and durability. What’s more is that we also aim to reduce fuel consumption at the same time. Then we actually use all the learnings, all the experience we’ve got here, and apply it to our commercial products. PETRONAS Primax with Pro-Race was launched in Malaysia in 2020 where we took various chemistries from our Primax F1 race fuel, including the world’s first dual friction modifier. Additionally, using our F1 knowledge, we launched Syntium with °CoolTech for road car engines in 2019, available to consumers world-wide.