By Stefan Kristensen
October 4, 2022

What Oil Do F1 Cars Use?

There might be some familiar brand names out there on the F1 circuit, but oil is fundamentally different at that level than anything you might put in your own car. That's true even if you’re riding in a Corvette or even a Lambo. So what’s different about F1 engine oil and what are they using?

Each team is different, with Mobil 1 and Petronas being the most dominating force in the engine oil part of F1 racing. As far as the oil mechanics go, F1 teams keep that information very close to the vest. The molecular composition of these oils are closely guarded secrets. 

These oils, at least as far as we know, are fully synthetic and once the oil is delivered, the engineers in Formula 1 go to work. From a scientific perspective, it's as complex and deep as it gets. These formulas are broken down to the molecular level and designed for the maximum. 

What Do We Know About Formula 1 Engine Oils?

How exactly these mixtures are put together in labs is generally a close secret between the teams. Of course, there is no secret that is truly impenetrable. As the saying goes, “Two people can only keep a secret if one of them is dead.” 

What we do know, is that there are a number of additives that go into these oils and the formula can change if tweaks are necessary. Every RPM, every temperature gauge, and every modicum of change in engine performance sends everyone back to the drawing board. 

  • Anti-wear Additives
  • Detergents
  • Oxidation inhibitors
  • Defoamants
  • Rust and corrosion inhibitors
  • Dispersants
  • Pour point depressants
  • Viscosity index improvers

Anti-wear additives are designed to do what oil does and that’s protect your metal on metal parts from grinding against each other, wearing themselves down. Oil viscosity plays a huge role in this and that’s probably why F1 sticks with fully synthetic oils. 

Detergents work with the dispersants. Their job is to eat sludge and keep everything running clean as a whistle. Oxidation inhibitors do just that—inhibit oxidation, which is to say they keep the oil stable as it works under furious temperatures and rapid ingress and egress of oil.

If you’ve ever seen oil foam before, it's a product of the heat exceeding the oil’s temperature limitations. Defoamants are designed to maintain the oil’s integrity even if temperature limitations are exceeded. 

Rust and corrosion inhibitors are designed to protect the engine when nothing is going on. Even when the engine cuts off, the oil still coats everything and those rust and corrosion inhibitors protect the steel from condensation. 

Pour point depressants are like defoamants except they do the exact opposite. Where defoamants protect against high temperatures, pour point depressants protect against the cold by lowering the freezing point of the oil. F1 racing takes place in cold temperatures as well, so it's necessary.

Qualities of F1 Engine Oil

The secretive nature of oil in Formula 1 racing leaves us with scraps to go with. What we do know is that these oils have to endure some of the harshest conditions on the entire planet. The car has to run at insane levels of proficiency and remain lubricated and cool throughout. 

Friction is a car’s greatest enemy, whether it’s a Toyota Prius or a Formula 1 race car. Imagine the speed of the pistons pumping, approaching 150mph, then a quick drop to 40mph to corner, and then light it back up on the straight-away. 

The levels of friction are extreme beyond imagining so it takes a special oil to keep these machines churning out RPMs week in and week out. While friction is an extreme issue, the other is heat. 

The temperature on a regular day, inside an F1 engine, can reach 1,850°F, which is the entire reason for the defoamants. Since friction plays a huge role in that, the defoamants are necessary when the lubrication is failing. The idea is to limit the friction as much as possible, which shaves degrees off that overall temperature. 

Cool and Clean

It's not the oil’s job to keep the engine cool. However, oil plays a secondary role in just that. By reducing friction, it reduces heat by default. Throughout the cycle of the engine, the oil moves through various components, keeping them at peak efficiency. 

This helps to keep heat build-up to a minimum. Detergents and dispersant additives in the oil play another, crucial role in reducing heat and friction. That role is to keep the engine clean. Sludge build-up is an unfortunate side effect of the combustion process. 

Efficient oil will break any of that build-up off before it has an opportunity to damage the components. Sludge that’s been cleared from the components is driven from the engine to the oil filter, where it's caught up and held. 

F1 Racing Oil Regulations

A lot of things in Formula 1 racing are heavily regulated. One thing that is not heavily regulated is engine oil. The level of leniency on oil manipulation in the lab is high and complex. 

That’s why it's so difficult to get a grasp on what exactly is going on behind closed doors. The complexity of the additives and the experimentation are constantly in motion. Plus, oils in F1 are specifically designed for a single car. 

If the methodology on the oil going into the F1 racecar is leaked, that’s a tremendous advantage that’s wiped out immediately. If another team is aware of how a competing team is utilizing their oil, especially if they’re a highly successful team, the other team will replicate it. 

It's one of the few things on any level of racing that is a wide-open competition precisely because the regulations on it are so lax. 

Bottom Line

The oil in Formula One racecars is a closely guarded secret by every individual team. Of course, the oil brand is not, just the methodology and the additives going into these stock oils as they come in and before they go into the car for the first time. 

Written by Stefan Kristensen
I have been passionate about motorsports ever since I was a little boy. Back then, I cheered on the racing cars simply based on their colors. Later I fell in love with the many technical features, strategic plays, humans and their stories that all together drives this amazing sport to make it as interesting as it is.
No Comments

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Subscribe to Our Newsletter

Get notified of new posts, articles and insights.
Copyright © 2024 Motorsport Explained
Designed & Developed by Gateway Digital
linkedin facebook pinterest youtube rss twitter instagram facebook-blank rss-blank linkedin-blank pinterest youtube twitter instagram