Female Engineer Fuels Ferrari F1 Team

Lisa Lilley loves her job. For 18 weekends a year, she follows Formula One teams around the world, spending her time in the Ferrari paddock.

Not as a fan, but as technology manager for Ferrari Shell Global Solutions.

Lilley is responsible for extracting every ounce of power from the fuel and lubricants used on the scarlet-red race cars of Felipe Massa and Kimi Raikkonen, as well as making sure that the team’s Shell V-Power fuel meets the standards imposed by the sport’s governing body.

The 33-year-old British engineer, who joined Shell 12 years ago after graduating with a degree in chemical process engineering, is one of the few women in the male-dominated world of motorsport.

Has Lilley encountered any roadblocks because she is a female? “None whatsoever,” she says. “Within Ferrari and Shell, the important thing is to demonstrate you can do the job, and that you are competent.

“It takes a long time to earn that respect whether you are male or female.”

She says that in her case she feels it took a full year with Ferrari to finally earn that respect.

“There is an upside,” she adds. Being female in Formula One has helped her integrate on a social level. “They remember you, your name and recognize you.”

Lilley hopes to see more women get involved in motor racing, and visits schools to encourage girls to explore the world of engineering.

For most young women, five years of work in combustion chemistry may not be the norm, but it gave Lilley the basis for her PhD and opened the door to a dream job.

After a stint working with Shell’s alternative fuel project, Lilley joined the Formula One program.

As the overseer of F1, the Fédération Internationale de l’Automobile (FIA) dictates the chemical and physical parameters of its fuel. These regulations are designed to foster the development of better road car fuels; power boosting chemical compounds are banned and all chemical ingredients are highly monitored.

In fact, the fuel pumped into the Ferrari is composed of 99 per cent of the same fuel that is in the Toyota sitting in your driveway. That leaves a 1 per cent margin for the teams to maximize their fuel creativity.

“We have high-tech computer models that do the calculations,” says Lilley. “We find the best compromise in reliability, performance and fuel consumption.”

Shell technicians analyze race fuel in an on-site facility. This lab’s work is so precise, it can detect contamination in a fuel sample equivalent to a cup of sugar in a small lake.

There are minimum and maximum standards set for fuel specifics. The maximum octane permitted is 102. A change in chemical components, power output, sulphur content and fuel consumption variables can all increase or decrease the allowable octane levels.

Decades ago fuel companies experimented with exotic, powerful and even dangerous blends, but that freedom has been curtailed.

All Formula One fuel must have a 5.75 per cent bio dynamic component – FIA’s small contribution to environmental responsibility. That number is likely to remain in force until 2011.

With the Ferrari race car engines revving as high as 19,000 rpm, fuel and lubricants must withstand ultra-high temperatures – and burn efficiently. The additives ensure a clean burn with maximum power; not an easy task.

During a race weekend, Lilley and her Shell team conduct more than 40 tests of the fuel alone.

The lubricants involved are what she calls the “early warning system.” By monitoring small particles and metal found in the fluids of the engine and gearbox, for example, she can see abnormalities that can potentially lead to an engine failure.

As for Ferrari’s fuel strategy for the next Grand Prix race, Lilley is tight-lipped.

In the highly competitive world of Formula One racing, teams are fiercely protective of their strategies – including those around the fuel they use.



Nika has had a love for cars and racing since childhood. A regional racing license holder she has been involved with the industry, working with racers, teams, journalists and automobile manufacturers in sponsorship solicitation, logistics, hospitality, road show and communication program implementation.