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

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

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  1. I loved the V10s, liked the V8s a lot and I now like the current formula. I would still dearly love to attend a Grand Prix someday! Formula One just seems to fascinate me no matter what!

  2. i think that the worst thing about the F1 in this year is the double points.i can understand the new engine,it s for the economy on fuel, and i think its really impressive to see the same times(cuz i thin that it will be) that we have last year.But the worst of all is the double points in the last race. theres no reason.i think theres many ways to keep the evolution til the end of the year.but even when its one team ahead of with big gap, i think that its because deserve to this team to be here.And if one race count double its really crazy.cuz all the races is the sameand noone deserve more poits than the others.

  3. antonyob (@)
    20th March 2014, 9:32

    Having done a full scientific study, ie. listened to some YouTube clips on my iPad, I think the real issue is the sound is now a bit one dimensional, the normally aspirated cars have a burble, and some croaking and some screaming all mixed together and it’s fantastic.

    The current ones just don’t sound like thoroughbreds, they sound like a ford mustang…on economy mode.

  4. 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.

    That’s obviously not true. Ecclestone never wanted the new engines and since 99% of people watch F1 over the tv it makes much sense. I agree with him, anyone should because there isn’t any logic to spend more money for the same output but I like the engines I’m glad they are here and in the end I don’t care about the sound.

  5. I have loved F1 for many years and 4 years ago I went to my first race. The noise was SO IMPRESSIVE! I went to the parts of the track that were surrounded by walls just to maximise the reverberations. There is just nothing else like it. It is the first and most significant you notice when seeing an F1 car go by for the first time and the thing you talk about first to anyone and everyone who will listen. Watching the live home video comparisons of last year and this is depressing. I get the change to the new engines and I get that this naturally means less noise..but it’s the main thing about being there.

  6. I like the new engine sounds (liked the old ones too). I like hearing the tire squeal now though, and the turbo just sounds cool.

  7. Most of the people that like the new v6 engines have never been to a live F1 race. Hearing the v10 or V8 engines screaming for the first time is what got me hooked.
    I’ve been going to the Montreal F1 for years now and this year will be the first race in about 10 years that I’m not attending.
    I’m not against new technology and change but race car drivers driving slow to save gas because of fuel restrictions and engines that sound bland is not why I got into F1.

  8. As to the difference sound makes to the race experience I saw my first NASCAR race, the Daytona 500, a few weeks ago. The speed was amazing, 200mph+, but the thing that made the hair on the back of my neck stand up and put smiles on our faces was the sound of the cars. It was visceral, even a back marker going by alone away from the pack made you feel the engine noise. And when the pack went by it was an earth shattering, mind blowing, nerve jangling experience. Before getting to the race I never even thought about the noise but even as we got out of our car, parked about a mile away, we heard the engines, practice session, and there were smiles all round from my party. But the noise made by the new F1’s would produce none of that experience and I think would therefore detract from the live experience.

  9. Well there is a whole lot more to sound (or noise if its 85 dBA or louder) and sound also consists of Sound pressure and power levels. If a car burns 1,66 kg of fuel per minute it must produce a certain amount of exhaust gasses and no turbo or ERS system can remove these gasses physically and the gas must exit the exhaust. It can get cooled down to reduce the volume, but even if we take a 125cc motorbike engine, the exhaust can be made to sound louder (and probably louder than the F1 cars in Australian GP) or softer … heck I’ve heard 50cc bikes sound louder! lol If the FIA talks about a reduction from 145 to 134 dB then I guess it must be sound pressure measured right at the exhaust outlet, because 135 dBA is an air raid siren and 150 dBA a fighter jet launch. Then I still wonder what happened to the sound levels heard at Jerez during testing.?

  10. Fascinating reading all the comments for and against. I thought the actual race was a big improvement on last years pussyfooting around protecting the tires.
    Call me a big child but as a casual fan I love things like drag racing, and turning up at goodwood hearing the f1 engines rev up from over the other side of the hill. But as an engineer…. Hybrids look like the HyperCar / f1 future for a while yet.

  11. Trying to listen to the cars during the first race made me realise just how muffled the actual sounds of the event are and how much the immediacy of the experience is smothered by the BBC’s non-stop commentary. A few seconds of silence from the presenters now and again would let us connect with the race, but it seems the BBC’s policy is “never stop talking, even for a moment”. A feed without commentary would be great, both on-line and on TV.

  12. Having been to Malaysian GP fortnight ago I must say that the sound of the new engine is not really loud. Watching it from the tower section you really can’t hear the sound of the car coming from turn 5 and 6 going through 7 and 8. The only time i can hear the sound of the car is when the coming from the back straight and going through the front straight finish line…then slowly the sound start to lose again when the car reach turn 1. Unlike the old v8 engine better yet the v10..umphh , where u hardly speak because of the sound but it doesn’t matter because that’s what make F1 is special compare to other motorsport. The sound of the NA engine.

  13. Jeff Keyes
    24th May 2014, 5:27

    I’m a huge fan of turbocharged engines but these V6 just sound awful. This is a racing spectacle and I run toward technical development but nothing here is an improvement. The V-10s wailed, the V-8s had a fantastic roar and these were the best bits of F1. I used to wake at 4AM to get a fix and watch live. It was easy to seduce new fans with the aural delights of V-8s at high RPM. Now they are quite underwhelmed as am I.

    If we were going V6, we should certainly have 20,000 RPMs. I understand the decision, I simply disagree with it.
    These V6 motors belong in minivans. F1 will never be the same. The bar has been lowered too far.

    Sleeping in.

  14. Ben Ringrose
    25th May 2014, 9:18

    I was just thinking if they want to make the engines louder with the turbo, why not replace the turbo with a supercharger (i cant remember which one works like a turbo). And instead of using the engines power to power the super charger, maybe you could use the ERS. This also eliminates turbo lag (something the ERS was supposed to do) and implements the new hybrid technology, just in a different way. Is this possible?

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