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. marcus (@wombat1m) said on 19th March 2014, 14:48

    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.

    • HoHum (@hohum) said on 19th March 2014, 15:36

      @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.

      • marcus (@wombat1m) said on 19th March 2014, 16:10

        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.

    • Keith Collantine (@keithcollantine) said on 19th March 2014, 20:55

      @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?

  2. StefMeister (@stefmeister) said on 19th March 2014, 14:50

    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.

  3. 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…

  4. bull mello (@bullmello) said on 19th March 2014, 15:14

    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.

  5. MazdaChris (@mazdachris) said on 19th March 2014, 15:22

    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.

  6. chamby said on 19th March 2014, 15:32

    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?

    • 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.

  7. jonathan said on 19th March 2014, 15:37

    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.

    • HoHum (@hohum) said on 19th March 2014, 15:50

      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.

      • DaveW (@dmw) said on 19th March 2014, 16:22

        They are both yummy. But, while cheddar makes a lousy grilled cheese sandwich, Gruyere is spectacular. Some things are not good for other things.

        • dirgegirl (@dirgegirl) said on 19th March 2014, 17:34

          @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.

        • HoHum (@hohum) said on 19th March 2014, 19:40

          @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.

    • Timothy Katz (@timothykatz) said on 19th March 2014, 17:40

      But as 95% plus of the overall audience watch it on TV anyway, how it sounds at the track and how many of the voters were actually at the track is slightly irrelevant isn’t it?

  8. medman (@medman) said on 19th March 2014, 16:02

    The sound sucks and F1 is headed toward being irrelevant. The end.

    • PeterG said on 19th March 2014, 17:07

      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).

      • HoHum (@hohum) said on 19th March 2014, 19:42

        Bring back the H16 I say.

        • PeterG said on 19th March 2014, 19:56

          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.

      • joc_the_man (@joctheman) said on 19th March 2014, 21:29

        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.

  9. DaveW (@dmw) said on 19th March 2014, 16:20

    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.

  10. Dmitry (@robo) said on 19th March 2014, 16:28

    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.

  11. Tayyib (@m0nzaman) said on 19th March 2014, 17:18

    As long as the powers that be don’t make knee jerk decisions it should be all right. I think watching from tv it wasn’t AS bad as I expected, where the problem is for people that have gone to multiple grand prix over they may feel underwhelmed. But surely F1 had to change to these regulation, surely it was the only way for the future of the series.

  12. Do the V6 turbos in Indy cars have two exhaust outlets or two turbos? Somehow Indy cars are much meaner sounding than F1 cars are now, even though they’re quite similar in the engine department.

    • PeterG said on 19th March 2014, 20:03

      Its down to the engine manufacturer.
      Last year the Chevrolet was twin-turbo while the Honda was a single. This year Honda have moved to a twin-turbo setup.

      As I understand it the reason they didn’t allow twin-turbo’s in F1 was because they wanted to move to the single exhaust exit in order to eliminate all the various exhaust blowing & other designs that were used to get more downforce from the diffusers the past few years.

      • Honda’s single-turbo Indy motor sounds bad-a**. Damn.

      • PeterG said on 19th March 2014, 22:43

        Also Indycar runs 2.2ltr engines without all the energy recovery systems & with a lower rev-limit (12,000rpm) producing between 650-700bhp.

        F1’s running 1.6ltr with the energy recovery & a 15,000rpm rev-limit.
        On its own the engine produces around 600-650bhp but the ERS bumps that upto 750-800bhp.

  13. Michael Brown (@) said on 19th March 2014, 18:17

    For me, the issue is that the FOM feed is too quiet. When watching the cars onboard without commentary, they sound incredible when the volume is turned all the way up.

  14. Baron (@baron) said on 19th March 2014, 18:30

    No large concert or stadium sporting match these days takes place without the strategic placing of “atmosphere” mics. The technique is as old as the hills and is essential to convey the live sounds not only to a TV or radio audience, but to the spectators present themselves. 134 db is at the threshold of pain, and if you were exposed to it for any significant length of time, permanent hearing damage will result. ASk me how I know. The V8 noise level was unsustainable and was, to me, a huge irritation after 15 mins.

    I believe the poster who suggested Bernie was being slightly unenthusiastic about replacing the lost vibe with sufficient trackside mics had it right.

    This can be fairly easily fixed for both types of spectators without messing with the motors, IF the track has halfway decent PA faculties (and lets face it, many of the stadiums are newish) and IF FOM can be persuaded to put in the extra kit necessary.

  15. John H (@john-h) said on 19th March 2014, 18:44

    I think it was great to hear the crowd at Oz. The issue is, when we visit the oil-money tracks there aren’t really any crowds there and hence this will be a problem for Bernie et al. and they know it.

    I miss the thrill of the previous engines but its time for change. F1 shouldn’t really be half-***** whichever way it goes, and at the end of the day the V8’s were just dumbed-down V10/12s. So in summary, I like the new engines but please FOM, adapt and turn up the microphones.

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