Start, 2014 Australian Grand Prix, Albert Park, Melbourne

F1 should not act in haste over engine noise

CommentPosted on Author Keith Collantine

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

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

  1. “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.

  2. 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.

      1. 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.

      2. 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.

        1. 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.

        2. 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.

        3. 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.

    1. 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.

      1. 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.

  3. 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.

    1. 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

      1. @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.

  4. 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.

    1. Memory fades quickly. I remember when Audi introduced diesel turbos’ there were a few complaints about the (lack of) noise, but their incredible performance has put paid to critics. Isn’t it an LMP1, though?

    1. 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)

      1. 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?

  5. 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.

  6. “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

  7. Interesting but I think you’d get a very different response if it was poll of people who had attended the GP rather than a majority who were watching it on TV. The lack of noise is going to be genuine concern to organisers/promoters as it seriously lacks the sense of power and occasion the V8’s had, and I heard plenty of people complaining at Albert Park. Instead, especially early in the race when the cars are all bunched up there are long periods of complete silence in the stands, while cars are on the other side of the track, where you can hear the birds tweet. Had Silverstone been the first race – ie lots more F1 Fanatic readers in attendance – I believe the result of the poll would have been rather different.

    1. @wombat1m, Interesting, your description of it being quiet when the cars were on the other side of the circuit, it reminds me of my 1st. F1 (strictly speaking F Tasman) in the 1960’s, you could hear the trackside broadcast telling you what was happening and then the you would hear the exhaust increasing in volume as the cars came into sight reaching a crescendo as they roared past. I liked it then, I like what I hear now.

      1. An interesting perspective, but not being rude I wasn’t even born then (although I did grow up in the 70’s fairly near the Knockhill circuit in Scotland and remember being able to hear the sound from several miles away on race weekends). I also feel the cars didn’t were really reaching a crescendo as they droned past. Maybe if you have enough historical perspective it works, but the difference between recent years and now is just enormous.

    2. @wombat1m I think that’s a fair point, but other than allowing people to self-select whether they’d been to a race or not (which would inevitably be open to abuse) that’s tricky to do, and getting a decent sample size wouldn’t be easy either. But these are people who will vote with their feet – if they were sufficiently unhappy with what they heard, the consequences will become clear in ticket sales.

      There’s been a mix of responses from people who were at the race in the comments here over the last few days, many of which you can find here:

      Do F1′s new engines have the right sound?

  8. I quite liked the new sound to be honest. Yes its quieter than what were used to be I don’t believe that quieter immediately makes it worse, Just different.

    you have to wonder how hard his broadcasting company are trying to make the engines sound good as they can on television.

    I think any ‘problems’ with how the sound came across on TV was more down to Sky/BBC than it was FOM.

    I say that because I’ve seen footage from the FOM satellite feeds & the sound levels/quality on those was a lot better than what came across on the main Sky/BBC broadcasts. Sky in-particular seemed to have a very low audio-mix on there main program, Especially when been viewed through there Red Button app.

  9. The only race (if it is on future years F1 calendar) that should earn double points is Nurburgring’s Nordschleife…word.
    About the sound issue, V8’s were loud but horrid. V6’s are not so loud but it’s a really nice sound, you hear the turbine, the squeel of the tyres, the ERS systems, AND you can distinguish three different types of sound/engine…I love the 80’s turbo sound so…

  10. Bernie has always made more noise about everything than any iteration of F1 power plant sounds. That’s what he does, he creates problems where there aren’t any and then provides a supposed cure to keep himself in that F1 supremo position. As stated, he has been against the change to these more productive, smaller capacity, less cylinders motors with massive torque, from the start. He has now found his supposed justification and is trumpeting it loudly as always.

    Any changes to these new motors to produce more decibels, or whatever, would be as artificial as, well, double points.

    Mr. F1 supremo should be out there celebrating stridently the new found low end power that makes drivers really have to reach into their bag of skill to control their twitchy torqued up powerful beasts of cars in this new era of F1. He should be extolling the virtues of tire squeals and that these motors still sound great while also providing a higher level of safety for the fans eardrums.

    I think the motors sound great in their own way. They sound unmistakably like a race car being driven in anger. Bernie can spin it any way he wants. The way he chooses to do so says more about him than the way these cars sound.

  11. I just can’t accept this notion that all the billions of Euros, all the engineering talent, all of the massive sponsor following, all of the thousands of people who pay half a month’s salary just to watch, all of the huge companies investing in the technology, all of the infrastructure which has been put into place, and all of the rest of what goes into making F1 what it is, all of that is founded purely on a desire from people to hear loud noises. And that without loud noises, no single aspect of the sport would be enough to redeem it and keep it in business. Because that’s basically what Ecclestone is saying; that without the loud noises, all of those things above would basically disappear.

  12. What about upping the rev limit? If the v6 is allowed to achieve the high revs of the former engines, wouldn’t that get more of the sound back?

    1. The rev limit is 15,000 rpm at the moment and not one team is coming close to it. The reason is that turbo engines peak at lower rpm, generally speaking. Had the 10,500 fuel-flow rule not been imposed, we’d have heard these engines motor-boating around at 8,000 rpm, rather than the 11-12,000 that we have.

  13. Keith, in fairness, how many of those in your poll were at the race? A bit strange to dismiss Eccelstone’s views due to his absence but then attempt to draw conclusions from a poll that is hardly scientific. Of course, if you know something about those polled that I don’t, my apologies. And it is certainly noted that you called for a long-term analysis. Engine sound is of course subjective, but for those who’ve heard a direct comparison, the difference is striking, and not in a good way.

    1. Like the sounds of old F1 and new F1 the tastes of Cheddar and Gruyere are different but they are both cheese and which is better is a matter of personal preference, for the Swiss growing up with Gruyere many are likely to prefer it over their 1st taste of Cheddar, for the English it is likely to be the opposite.

        1. @dmw I am bound to disagree with you on the vitally important topic of toasted cheese sarnies – a good Cheddar with a splash of Lea & Perrins or scrape of mustard makes the very best ones. De gustibus non est disputandum, etc.

        2. @dmw, well that just proves my point, I am afraid I am with @dirgegirl on this one, much as I like Gruyere in a sandwich when it comes to grilled cheese Gruyere is to mild (quiet?) Cheddar has more “bight” (louder?) for me. It seems that 1 persons croq monsieur is another persons welsh rarebit.

    1. F1 is headed toward being irrelevant

      Not according to the engine manufacturers, Who lets not forget were the ones who pushed for the new engine regulations.

      Thats the point which many fans are missing, The FIA consulted with the engine manufactures (You know the guys who actually spend the money on designing & building them) & this was the sort of formula the engine guys said they wanted.

      Indycar held similar meetings with the engine manufacturers to discuss the engine formula most interested them & guess what, Indycar also ended up with V6 Turbo’s.

      Fans can complain all they want about the new formula, But if its the engine manufacturers most want then what else do you propose?
      Staying with what we had or going back to V10 or V12’s, Engines that the manufacturers have no interest in producing & this a formula which will likely have turned engine manufacturers away from F1.

      We already have Honda back next year thanks to the new formula, There’s that Pure company who have an engine design which just needs funding, Cosworth are developing a V6 turbo, Zytek have expressed interest in joining f1 & BMW recently expressed interest in a return (With DTM looking to goto a similar engine formula).

        1. Bring back the H16 I say.

          That particular engine configuration didn’t exactly prove all that successful back when it was used.
          Overweight, Underpowered & thirsty which required larger fuel tanks & therefore a heavier car with other design compromises.

          Ferrari moved away from the V12 in 1996 for similar reasons, Contrary to popular belief the FIA never actually banned Ferrari from using a V12, Ferrari simply opted to move away from it because the V12 brought them too many problems.

      1. Well, may I stress that car makers open their wallet because of F1 being what it was. If less magic and for sure less people at the grandstands, I would suspect they will spend less.
        The problem is that FIA have ruined much of the wow factor or that magic. Sound is one thing – eco drive via fuel-limits and fuel-flow limitations, less power and speed and silly looks are other examples.
        Development and change is normally good but if you miss the fundamentals of the sport, you create lots of damage. FIA has taken F1 to that point and (finally) it has come to light. There is no quick fix to this unfortunately. My prediction is that F1 will slide into the grey mass of other TV-entertainments.
        To me…it is sad times.

  14. I heard on the radio this morning (NPR) a little quip about how people are mad about the engine noise. They played a clip of a V8 from last year, which sounded glorious, and of a new motor, which sounded like a Dustbuster. The announcer explained that the new engines sound bad because they are hybrids. Now, for you non-yanks, first, for this to get on the air on NPR is amazing. They usually focus on “hard-news” and then on urban farming, and book readings, etc. And if you know the politics with them, the message clearly is, “bros are mad because hybrid, so let us now sample their earth-hating tears” I did not immediately stop my car and make an angry call to complain about the biased, nonfactual reporting. (Forgive me F1Fanatics.) But they would have just played my call as an example of an earth-hating car-bro who needs to let go and love a hybrid.

    As far as the noise. Let’s separate two things–volume and quality. I don’t mind at all that the volume is down to a mere 134 decibels. The last race I went to, my ears rang for a week. I had earplugs, but the sound was coming through my chest and out of the ground. So it seemed. I’d like to take my kid to a race without thinking she will have permanent hearing loss even with proper defenders. As for quality, I think the new motors have a bit to be desired. The turbo v-8s of CART back in the 90s sounded fantastic. Old skool turbos from Group B, Group C, etc., made some gloriously manly popping hissing roaring sounds. Plus flames! The new F1 turbos have the sound quality of a well-mannered road car. Where are the flames, the jet-like whine, the evil crackling and popping off-throttle? Seriously, it sounds like the 2.0T in my old Jetta. It’s not hard core.

    What can be done? I suspect nothing. One thing they don’t need is more decibels. It’s loud enough now, thanks. Can we make the turbo sound fiercer? I hope so. part of the problem is that the revs are too low and the displacement too small, which are not easy fixes.

  15. If they want louder sound, put 2 turbines and let them inject 200 liters per hour + let them have 200 kg of fuel for race)))
    Turbine itself muffles the sound, so there’s not very much you can do.

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