'Steel and chemistry' - Petronas now inside the M1

Petronas 'pulled out old F1 notebooks' and 'found some secrets' to help create new MotoGP engine oil, Quartararo takes pole and podium on its debut at Assen.
'Steel and chemistry' - Petronas now inside the M1

The Sepang team's satellite Yamahas have had 'Petronas' on the outside since their debut at last November's Valencia test.

And from last weekend's Dutch TT they also had Petronas on the inside, with the firm's Sprinta engine oil used by the M1 engines for the first time, joining the Tutela gearbox fluid run since the Qatar season-opener.

Petronas had been adamant from the start of the MotoGP project that its priority was a technical partnership, along the lines of its title-winning co-operation with Mercedes in F1, rather than a branding exercise.

But why did Petronas introduce the gearbox oil first, rather than engine oil?

"We started with the gearbox oil, not because it was the easiest but it was the product that concerned us the most," said Dr Andrea Dolfi, Head of R&D Fluid Technology Solutions at Petronas.

"The gearbox is paramount to the rider’s safety. If something breaks down then it might become stuck or broken and the rider could crash w at 300kph. So it was important, and a number one task.

"In Formula One if you break a gearbox then you just stop to one side, this is not the case in MotoGP. So safety first, then performance.

"Then we started with engine oil and this is again for delivering performance but with reliability."

With MotoGP riders restricted to a maximum of seven engine changes during the 19-round season, even one engine failure can have a big knock-on for the rest of season, since the remaining engines need to do more mileage than planned to compensate.

"Reliability is an important part because there is no point in going faster and having more power if you damage the engine or do not finish the race. There is this fine tuning between stretching performance to the limit but also protecting the engine," Dolfi said.

"It's a hard environment: high temperatures, high revs, 18,000 rpm and more sometimes. It is not easy ‘down there’ and we need to help the team because we are proud to be part of it and to deliver Petronas chemistry to the engine."

With F1 now using hybrid engines, MotoGP would require a new approach. However, Dolfi also pulled out "our old notebooks and found some secrets" from their work in the pre-supercharged era.

Like MotoGP, the earlier generation of 2.4-litre naturally aspirated F1 engines revved to around 18,000rpm. By contrast the current 1.6-litre hybrid powerplants only manage 12,500-13,000rpm.

Petronas initially thought it would take two years to develop the bespoke MotoGP oil but it was completed in less than a year, aided by unique technical access to the M1.

"Yamaha opened their doors," said Dolfi. "I went there and they laid bare the engine. I saw all the high-tech pieces for me to understand faster the implications of our lubricants, how to make it better, more reliable and at the same time deliver performance.

"The next step is to move even further in terms of partnership and tackle the development for what is called ‘co-engineering’. What we learn from F1 is that if we can progress together then we can extract the best performance from that combination of steel and chemistry."

Team manager Wilco Zeelenberg revealed that the engine oil does not need to be changed throughout a MotoGP weekend.

"We just need to fill it once and we can use the same oil all weekend," he said.

"These bikes have dry clutches so there is no material coming into the oil and that makes a big difference. If you go really critical on very thin oils or something special it may have some implications for safety or the quality is worse. Then maybe you need to use more [oil changes].

"But we can basically ride all weekend with it."

Fabio Quartararo took the new Petronas engine oil to pole position, the race lead and a podium finish at Assen.

And with the French rookie's lower-spec M1 thought to have only five engine changes available for the entire 2019 season, he will be relying on Petronas more than ever...