F1 should not act in haste over engine noise


Start, 2014 Australian Grand Prix, Albert Park, MelbourneWhen F1’s 22 drivers revved their V6 turbo engines for the first start of the season in Melbourne three days ago, not everyone was impressed with what they heard.

Among them was Bernie Ecclestone, who wasted no time in telling anyone with a microphone that these engines, which he’s hated all along, are wrong for Formula One.

It’s no surprise Ecclestone should find himself underwhelmed by the first flying start with the new engine formula, because he wasn’t there to hear it. Twenty-odd V6 turbo engines will sound a little gutless to you if you’re in a different continent.

Australian Grand Prix promoter Ron Walker, who can usually be relied upon to toe the Ecclestone party line, also chimed in. Walker’s widely-reported comments to The Age about the race being “not what be paid for” need to be seen in that context, as well as the fact that the Australian Grand Prix’s contract is up for renewal next year.

With Ecclestone already talking about making changes to the engines to alter the acoustics within the next few races, a bit of perspective on the new sound is needed.

How concerned are F1 fans about the noise made by the new engines? An F1 Fanatic poll of 700 readers conducted during the weekend showed a mix of views with the balance of opinion towards the positive:

The majority of fans appear not to be unduly concerned by the noise but a significant minority (30%) aren’t happy with what they’re hearing. This tells us there’s more right than wrong about the sound of the new engines, and though there is scope for improvement F1 should ensure any alteration is a change for the better, and prioritise that over acting hastily.

Leaving aside the question of whether anything can be done immediately, as the specifications of this year’s engines were homologated last month, there are huge potential downsides to making sudden, ill-considered changes to the engine.

Renault energy F1, 2014 F1 engineTweaking the exhausts to increase the noise, for example, could seriously alter the performance and economy of the designs, with obvious consequences for each team’s competitiveness. And having only just digested an enormous rise in engine development costs, F1 badly needs stability in its regulations to allow the cost of engines to fall and relieve the pressure on its smallest teams.

There’s no doubting the new engines are quieter than the old ones. The FIA says the noise level has fallen from 145 decibels to 134, which at close quarters is still above the threshold of pain.

However as Ecclestone banished all but the wealthiest of fans from F1 paddocks three decades ago, few get that close. And if the blast of engine noise seemed underwhelming at Melbourne, a temporary venue where spectators can get fairly close to the action, it’s going to be even less at vast expanses like Bahrain and Shanghai.

But sheer volume alone isn’t everything, a point made by many readers in their responses to the poll above. Though quieter, each of the new engines offer distinctively different sounds, which the bland V8s didn’t. They also allow fans at the track to hear other sounds – the screech of tyres locking and, usefully, the commentary on the public address system.

We also need to see the change in engine noise in its wider context. Formula One is not the only racing series embracing smaller-capacity turbo engines to stay in step with the needs of road car manufacturers. And noise pollution regulations are an increasing problem for some circuits, something quieter racing cars could help to address.

As Ecclestone’s naked hostility to the new engine technology even extends to trashing his own sport in the press at the first race weekend of the new season, you have to wonder how hard his broadcasting company are trying to make the engines sound good as they can on television.

But by urging a rush to change the engines F1 risks making hasty, expensive and potentially controversial alterations which could cause more problems than they fix. Knee-jerk reactions like this usually cause the sport’s biggest changes for the worst.

F1 should take time to see how the public’s attitude to the engines develops, see if it is reflected in ticket sales and viewing figures, and make considered changes based on gathered data.

In the meantime its top priority should be to correct past knee-jerk mistakes – those which F1 fans have unequivocal views about:


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Image © Daimler/Hoch Zwei, Renault

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192 comments on F1 should not act in haste over engine noise

  1. Hemz Shaw (@hemzshaw) said on 19th March 2014, 12:51

    Brilliant article mate!

  2. dirgegirl (@dirgegirl) said on 19th March 2014, 12:56

    I like the new sound a lot, especially since I’m watching on TV most of the time anyway – you can hear so much more ambient sound, which is great. I’d hate to see a kneejerk reaction from the FIA, as the law of unintended consequences would no doubt apply here as it seems to do with all their other rule changes.

    I adored the sound of the V10s and V8s at the races – I still remember arriving at Silverstone during Friday morning practice the first time I went to a GP weekend, and feeling compelled to run from the car park to the circuit as soon as I heard that insane scream – but it certainly wasn’t a comfortable level of noise, and it could sound irritating on the TV.

    • Bullfrog (@bullfrog) said on 19th March 2014, 14:28

      Yes, fond memories of hearing yowling V10s from halfway across the town of Monza and knowing exactly which direction to head. But I enjoyed the screeches and cheers on TV too, and the distinctive Ferrari engine note.

      What did Bernie think of the engine noise when they were all turbos before – in 1985 & 86?
      Has he just got to that age where he needs to turn his TV up really loud?

  3. petebaldwin (@petebaldwin) said on 19th March 2014, 13:00

    I agree with most of the other comments. The sound of F1 is important but it’s not something that affects the quality of races or the championship.

    Double points, DRS, car-park tracks, racing in Bahrain/Russia, unfair distribution of prize money, putting money ahead of fans, Bernie in charge, unfair FIA elections, moving races from historic tracks to new ones in rich countries where F1 isn’t popular, a grid half full of drivers who bought their seat, races hidden behind a paywall etc etc.

    All of these problems are far bigger than the sound that F1 cars make. The only problem is that all of these issues make Bernie richer whereas the sound issue doesn’t. Simple really.

    Honestly cannot wait for the day he’s out of F1. It’ll be a huge day for the sport!

  4. spoutnik (@spoutnik) said on 19th March 2014, 13:01

    Predictable article conclusion. Bernie should indeed focus on areas that really matter.
    As for the sound itself, on tv that was not good, and live, well, I’ll hear it at Spa.
    So I don’t have a complete opinion right now but if it could be a bit louder it wouldn’t harm.

  5. George said on 19th March 2014, 13:04

    As someone who actually attended the race on Sunday I must admit while the actual sound emitted from the cars is of great quality the volume is far too quiet. Nobody wants to hear tyres screetching or crowds cheering to the point where they become the show this is not a Football game its Formula 1. The v8 supercars and Porsche Carrera cup support races were substantially louder on the day. One wonders if the apparent decibel drop to 134 db is measured 5 cm from the exhaust!
    Unfortunately it will be difficult to change volume of the cars from here on in so it seems like we are stuck with it!!!
    If I had my way id have left the v10 configuration with a reduced capacity of approx. 1.5-2 litres and then allowed the turbo and ers system, that way everyone ( 90’s v10 fans, turbo fans, treehuggers) are all happy!

  6. Simon (@s162000) said on 19th March 2014, 13:04

    I think we’ll get used to the sound of the V6’s, but the lack of volume is an issue as it is an essential part of the experience when you go to see a live race.

  7. Richard said on 19th March 2014, 13:10

    In this raw footage from Sky the engine sounds amazing in onboard shots https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ym-mfiJK78A

  8. Mallesh Magdum (@malleshmagdum) said on 19th March 2014, 13:26

    No matter what changes happen, there will always be critics.

  9. Kris said on 19th March 2014, 13:29

    “Though quieter, each of the new engines offer distinctively different sounds, which the bland V8s didn’t.” I disagree, having been to a Grand Prix (Spa) I could tell you the difference between the three, granted it isn’t as distinct, but it was still there.

    I don’t mind the new sounds, we’re fans of formula 1, not engines and we should learn to get on with life and the changes. I agree it could be louder as that was some of the appeal, but at the same time noise is energy loss, so the teams probably don’t mind it being quieter.

  10. tvm (@) said on 19th March 2014, 13:47

    To me it isn’t so much the sound itself as what the sound is signaling, a muffled sound and a castrated sport.

    – Revs kept at 15.000 rpm where we know that the bleeding edge would be closer to 21.000
    – Then not even that since fuel conservation dictates everybody to short shift it well below the 15k mark
    – And if it wasn’t for fuel conservation, the tires dictates absolutely no racing at the limit anyway.

    The sport is broken, sorry to say.

    • matt90 (@matt90) said on 19th March 2014, 16:12

      So just how much power do you want these cars to produce? Because there needs to be a restriction somewhere, so where would you draw the line?

      • pxcmerc (@pcxmerc) said on 19th March 2014, 16:59

        the restriction is fuel consumption, and the weight you add to the car in order to make the consumption work.

        a lot of people have this notion that security and morality needs to be regulated. Fortunately this is not the case. The power that the cars produce and their cornering prowess are dictated by the performance of the tires, and what the tires can withstand.

        This isn’t competition, it’s an advertisement for all the sponsors and a philosophy called austerity.

      • tvm (@) said on 19th March 2014, 20:35

        Maybe around 1000 hp, as you can buy production cars with that amount it ought to be safe for the drivers of f1 as well.

        But its really mute since neither the fuel restrictions nor the tires will let drivers race and take their engines to the limit anyway.

        So start there, with a realistic fuel limit/flow and tires that are actually build for racing.

        • matt90 (@matt90) said on 20th March 2014, 1:39

          Maybe around 1000 hp, as you can buy production cars with that amount it ought to be safe for the drivers of f1 as well.

          I don’t see the logic there at all. To be honest I wouldn’t mind seeing a bit more power, but that reasoning doesn’t make sense to me.

        • tvm (@) said on 20th March 2014, 8:12

          Oh but your are good with 15.000 RPM 1.6 liter? as arbitrary as anything.

          It’s hard to say a fixed number, takes much more thinking than that, my thinking with 1000 is, ahem, physiologic, believe it or not, getting back to F1 being the pinnacle the not-so-interested needs a wow factor which “1000 hp” is. Also its where the v10 finally landed before they were discontinued, the awe factor was just so much bigger back then IMO.

        • jueta said on 20th March 2014, 9:16

          Yeah there are road cars with a 1000hp, which weigh a good two tons. Even the P1 weighs around 1300kg or something like that. I’m not against more power, but to bring that you have to bring other technology from road cars, traction control, stability control, movable aero parts. Which honestly, would be for the best. You won’t see modern F1 cars drift like rally cars anyway. make them modern then. give them the technology available in road cars. All of it. And then see what happens.

    • conzo77 said on 19th March 2014, 20:24

      Oh Please!

      If I have to believe the “fans”, the sport has been “broken” for as long as it exists. With all due respect, but the moaning I hear today is of the same caliber that maintains, loudly, over a pint in the pub together with the moaner’s equally “expert” buds, that everything will be fine if we take all the electronics out and go back to stick shift. That line of thought had a beard even before it was born.

      From my comfortable seat on the couch I saw a race that was a lot more exciting than I anticipated. Hell yeah, I like the V8 or V10, or V12 sound a lot, but the V6s sounded quite fine, and I’m in the camp that likes the plethora of non-engine sounds that emerged.

      I also saw cars moving around a lot more, off-line being a lot more tolerant than before, and a slight but noticeable reduction in the dirty-air zone.

      I, for one, was quite entertained by F1 delivering high drama, action, amazing technology, controversy, and all-over astonishing achievements by every single team member once again – all of them reasons why I love the sport.

      • tvm (@) said on 19th March 2014, 23:26

        You saw what you wanted to see, for two-three years we have heard almost every driver on the grid complain that they cant race because of tires, I guess you are wiser.

        Now on top of that they cant race because of fuel restrictions.

        I’m Danish, I ought to be all over the place over excitement over Magnussen… What did he do… Pass Hamilton on 5 pistons in the start and was not allowed to race Riciardo at lap 50 since he had to safe fuel… thats its, and this is supposed to be a great race. Great cruise as it is…

        I think the sound issue will leave a mark, combined with eco racing where the most economic driver wins and artificial overtaking this sport can’t be sold as the pinnacle anymore, now watch the magic seep out. This sport needs a LOT of money coming in, without any spectacle thats going to be very difficult to maintain.

  11. DaveD (@daved) said on 19th March 2014, 13:57

    If there is 134 decibels and it doesn’t sound loud enough on TV, then FOM is not handling the microphones right. That is loud enough to make your ears bleed and if they really want to fix the issue for TV, then they could easily do so through mic location and/or cleaning up the signal.

    This is blatantly political and Bernie is doing this to get his way. He can’t retire soon enough for me. He’s way into senility and gets away with it because rich people are “eccentric” while the rest of us would be labeled crazy and ignored.

    At the track itself, people will get used to it. I understand that some people will not like it as much and may not go to races if the sound was their main criteria for attending live events. I personally get a headache even when I wear earplugs all day at the races. So I am MORE likely to go now and I actually like hearing the distinctive notes of the different engines and all the new tech kicking in.
    And it was a great revelation to hear the crowd cheering for RIC as he came down the stretch which I’ve never been able to enjoy on TV before. The sound was impressive with the V8’s by it’s sheer power and magnitude. But it became numbing after 2 hours on the TV while trying to actually hear the announcers and the radio messages from the crew. I thoroughly enjoy the new engines and the different sounds I can hear now.

    If Bernie wants to put on more of a show, the tech is easily available off the shelf for him to stick a mic up the tailpipe of every car and stream that sound over the internet. You can tune in and watch the race on TV while streaming that V6 engine sounds from your favorite driver straight to your stereo and make your ears bleed just like you were at the race…if that’s what you’re into. Just apologize to the neighbors in advance.

    • OneBHK (@onebhk) said on 19th March 2014, 18:25

      That is loud enough to make your ears bleed

      @daved I didn’t know there was a bloodbath at Melbourne this weekend… Lol, people were not even wearing ear protection even near the track… I guess it would have rattled some of their ear wax

      • DaveD (@daved) said on 20th March 2014, 1:46

        @onebhk LOL Have you ever heard those bloody Jags revving up at Le Mans GT races? It sounds like a cat being tortured in the depths of hell with 150db megaphone to announce it’s “fun”. Now THAT will make your ears bleed. The Vettes truly made the ground shake like rolling thunder. You could feel it in your bones and it was impressive…and then I saw them getting passed by those nearly silent Audi’s. Yes, they were LMP1’s vs GT’s, but it was so very eye opening to realize how little that sound had to do with performance.

  12. BasCB (@bascb) said on 19th March 2014, 14:28

    Funny really how suddenly a lot of people are conserned with the lower level of noise. Compare this video of an the LMP2 car from Audi and the enthusiasm of the maker of the video mentioning how amazing it is that its so quiet.

  13. rsp123 (@rsp123) said on 19th March 2014, 14:36

    With quieter engines, perhaps a race at Brands Hatch could be on the cards? How great would that be?

    • @rsp123 That is potentially another positive to the new engines! Some race organisers won’t be as concerned about noise pollution hopefully, we could find ourselves with a few more night races on the cards too!

    • i like the sound of the new cars but the volume is so low on tv(indycar is louder and they also use v6 but without ers and stuff)normally when i watch the start on tv when it gets to the 4th light and the engines revved my hairs would stand up and for the first time in my 6 years watching f1 they didnt stand up at melbourne this year. sound is of the main aspects of motor racing.

      fom are quite frankly becoming a joke with there poor tv production i dont know why they remove most of the sound for tv and onboards and things like endless start replays and switching to the wrong action. for example there is a video on youtube of a guy driving the 2004 ferrari using a go pro camera(or similar) and you could hear all the noises like how it growls on downshift and fom onboard of the 2004 ferrari you couldnt hear these sounds)

      • rsp123 (@rsp123) said on 19th March 2014, 16:47

        Quite agree about the FOM TV production – they have no competition, no incentive to make it better. Lazy, repetitive, unimaginative. It would have been good 20 years ago; today it is dull and formulaic, and entirely focussed on getting ads in shot. We don’t even get much sense of which country the race is being held in.

        I suppose there has always been a business element to the marketing of F1. That’s fine. It has to be financially viable. But in the last 20 years F1 has turned from a sport into a real circus – a travelling theme park attraction – in which the sport is about as real as wrestling, and the entire focus of the thing is financial: how hard can fans and sponsors be squeezed?

    • dirgegirl (@dirgegirl) said on 19th March 2014, 17:27

      Ooooh hadn’t considered that, and it’s just down the road! Nice thought!

  14. The results of the polls are interesting.

    The fact that almost half of people think the engines are at least good says quite a lot. I do like the differences in the sounds. I also like the fact you can now hear the crowds, tyre lock-ups and other things in the background. As oppose to the same noise on repeat for approximately 1.5hrs, I feel it adds a bit more character to the cars and the drivers. I did have the pleasure of hearing the V8 engines in person on two occasions at Silverstone. One of those days was wet (2008) and the other was dry (2009), and yes, the engines did sound fantastic, on both days, and they were deafeningly loud. But should I hear these new V6T engines in person, I feel like I would prefer the new ones. I like change, and I’ve come to accept the new engines already.

    Yes they’re considerably quieter, but for all the positives they bring, so be it. I prefer them.

    The first race wasn’t an instant classic, no, but I’m still incredibly excited for this new era of Formula One. Give it time.

    Double points on the other hand, no, don’t want them.

  15. “However as Ecclestone banished all but the wealthiest of fans from F1 paddocks three decades ago, few get that close.”

    This just isn’t true, for a 80 euro general admin, I’ve been close enough to have ear pain both in Monza and Cataluna….just sayin

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