Meet the billionaire French oil baron who nearly destroyed his ultra-rare $15 million McLaren race car by accidentally filling it up with diesel.

Via Instagram / @fanchracing

Accidentally filling a gasoline-powered vehicle with diesel fuel might be one of the biggest rookie mistakes one can make, but believe me when I say that it’s more than you think. However, when you’re talking about an ultra-rare collectors’ car with proper racing history, it’s no more a small mistake but a full-fledged sacrilege. Recently, François Perrodo, chairman of Anglo-French oil company Perenco and an accomplished endurance racing driver, made this grave mistake by accidentally putting diesel in his extremely rare road-legal McLaren F1 GTR worth no less than $15 million. At least you won’t expect someone whose family has been in the oil business for almost 50 years to make such a silly mistake. The 45-year-old took to Instagram to share details on the entire episode.

The McLaren F1 cabin.Via Instagram / @fanchracing

Being a wealthy businessman and an avid automobile enthusiast, Perrodo has a garage full of some of the most exotic cars, which includes the McLaren F1 GTR race car that has been made road legal. It’s the racing variant of the iconic McLaren F1 supercar that was first produced in 1995 for grand touring style racing and continued competing till 2005. The one owned by Perrodo is the No. 61 Lark-McLaren that participated in the 1996 GT500 racing series. Driven by John Nielsen and David Brabham, the race car when on to clinch the championship by beating the No. 60 sister car. Although it was powered by the same BMW 6.1-liter naturally aspirated V12 engine as the road-going version, its power was reduced to 600hp to meet racing rules. However, its lighter overall weight and racing hardware made it considerably more nimble and faster around race tracks.

Via Instagram / @fanchracing

In one of the Instagram posts, Perrodo says that he was out on a Sunday drive for a “morning blast with the boys” when he ended up making the dreadful mistake. The F1 GTR was even accompanied by a Porsche Carrera GT and a Ferrari 488 Pista. Shortly into the joy ride, the McLaren ground to a halt and refused to stop, which was initially passed off as usual temper tantrums thrown by race cars of that era. There are very few technicians around the world who have the skills to work on a McLaren F1, let alone an F1 GTR.

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Via Instagram / @fanchracing

With the road-legal race car refusing to crank, Perrodo had to make a distress call to Paul Lanzante from Lanzante Motorsport that had won the 1995 24 Hours of Le Mans with a McLaren F1 GTR. But even someone as skilled as Lanzante couldn’t get the supercar started, which is when the French oil baron realized his mistake. The McLaren F1 GTR had a tank full of diesel!

Francois now has a new sticker on his McLaren F1 GTR.Via Instagram / @fanchracing

What happens when you fill diesel in a gas-powered car?
While you make think that both gasoline and diesel are combustible fuels, they are actually very different. In fact, the combustion process of both the fuel types couldn’t be more different. Diesel is a much thicker oil that is pressurized inside an engine to combust, while a gasoline engine uses spark plugs to ignite the air and gas mixture. Accidentally mixing them up while topping up your car can seriously damage the powertrain.

Via Instagram / @fanchracing

Diesel being thicker can potentially clog the whole fuel system, damaging the fuel filter and the fuel pump. However, things can get much worse if diesel reaches the injectors and block them up. The F1 GTR has two high-precision injectors per cylinder and it can be a very expensive job to replace them. However, most of the time, a complete engine flush can fix the problem and bring it back to life. And it’s much worse if you fill a diesel engine with gasoline, which can potentially destroy the powertrain.

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Francois after his very own Dieselgate.

“After 25 years of dedicated petrolhead life, I did the mother of all **ck ups,” Perrodo said on Instagram. “Firstly, had it been a modern car, the nozzle would not have fit in the hole but the GTR is a race car with a large aperture! Secondly, had we been in France, the diesel nozzle would have been disgusting and smelly but this was [London] and it was as clean and dry as a petrol nozzle!” Surprisingly, the French businessman was able to see the funny side of the incident, quipping “even the f*cking dog laughs at me when I come home” and that he’s “been condemned to drive electric cars (and diesel) til the day I die.” As a joke, his friends added a sticker next to the car’s fuel filler cap saying ‘François No Diesel!’

Francois at Le Mans.

Who is François Perrodo?
Born on 14 February 1977, François Perrodo is a French businessman who is currently the chairman of Perenco – an oil and gas company with operations in 16 countries. The company was started in 1975 by his father Hubert Perrodo. But François took control of the business after his father’s untimely death in 2006 after a hiking accident. According to reports, the Perrodo family has a combined net worth of more than $10 billion. François is also a well-known motoring enthusiast and has rather impressive racing credentials. Initially starting with classic car racing in 2010, François has moved to endurance racing and has taken part in the 24 Hours of Le Mans, V de V Series, Blancpain GT Series Endurance Cup, and other prominent racing series.

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Written By
Sayan Chakravarty, a Senior Writer at Luxurylaunches, brings over 10 years of automotive journalism expertise. He provides insightful coverage of the latest cars and motorcycles across American and European markets, while also highlighting luxury yachts, high-end watches, and gadgets. An authentic automobile aficionado, his commitment shines through in educating readers about the automotive world. When the keyboard rests, Sayan feeds his wanderlust, traversing the world on his motorcycle.