F1 should not act in haste over engine noise

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

  1. Harty said on 19th March 2014, 19:21

    They do sound pretty lame on the tv, but they always have. I’ll report back from Monaco (my 2014 treat).

  2. Michael (@dedischado) said on 19th March 2014, 19:42

    Increase.The.Rev.Limit. F1 engines are like no other engines on the planet. They do not thunder like NASCAR, rumble like big American V8’s, growl like an angry bear, or purr like a contented lion. Instead, they scream. They shriek, they wail, and they howl like a soul in hell and there is nothing else on four wheels that sounds like them. Make F1 engines scream once again and while it may not make everyone happy (because lets face it, nothing will satisfy some people) it will return F1 to its rightful place at the top of the Motorsport game.

    But don’t do it this year, wait until 2015-2016 to have the regs change. I know it will be a year or two of less pleasant sound, but we can all survive that, wait until Honda gets into the game and then make the change, but let everyone know that it is coming before the end of this season. That will give the engine manufacturers time to adjust and do more research and development. It will also lower R&D costs by spreading them out. Will it make the engines less reliable? No idea, Possibly, but with the regs about engine replacement penalties iin place, it gives the manufacturers something to think about when they want to crack the 20,000 rpm wall again with a 1.6 L turbo. Maybe F1 will stop sounding like IndyCar after a couple of years.

    • PeterG said on 19th March 2014, 20:06

      Increase.The.Rev.Limit.

      Teams aren’t even going anywhere near the current rev-limit so raising it won’t change anything.

  3. JPedroCQF1 (@joao-pedro-cq) said on 19th March 2014, 20:42

    Comments like these Bernie has made always make me mad at him and wanting him to leave Formula 1 for good. The thing is, I don’t think Formula 1 will survive without Bernie.

    Damn you old man!

  4. Bernie’s increasingly ludicrous other pronouncements (rain sprinklers), stupid ideas (double points races), races randomly appearing and disappearing from schedules, inability to conduct business in an ethical and professional manner, betray someone whose judgement and opinion on almost any matter is quickly becoming less and less valid. The sooner the sport is rid of his opinions the better.

  5. What F1 should do is ask Indy how they mic their in-car cameras. This Honda turbo V6 sounds righteous. Every bit as good as a 2013-spec F1 V8, in my opinion. And a 2014-spec F1 turbo V6 should sound reasonably similar. I think it’s got a lot to do with where mics are placed. Or perhaps the ERS-K and H are ruining the sounds?

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CmTOvnRfAJU

    • Andreas said on 19th March 2014, 21:11

      I think it’s the twin turbo/dual exhaust they use vs the single turbo/exhaust used in F1. Also, in F1 the turbo runs the MGU-H, which further reduces the energy of the exhaust gases (after all, noise is energy too).

    • GT Racer (@gt-racer) said on 20th March 2014, 1:29

      Audio on that video isn’t representative of what they sound like from the live in-car system. That video was done using a go-pro camera.
      This is the live race broadcast setup-
      https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IbVr41fSSqo

      In terms of Mic placement, The Mic’s are placed in the same place in both F1 & Indycar, In the sidepods just behind the radiators.
      Only difference is that F1 runs stereo Mic’s (1 either side) while Indycar just runs the 1 on the right side next to the in-car transmission box.

      The reason the Indycar’s sound different is that an Indycar is 2.2ltrs & has twin exhaust exits (Been a twin turbo). F1’s only 1.6ltrs & has a single exhaust exit out the back of the engine cover.

      From the direct in-car channels the F1 cars don’t really sound a great deal different to there indycar counterparts-
      https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=E31WClbY5hQ

      I think a part of the problem with the in-car shots on the f1 world feed is that everything is mixed to 5.1 & some of the volume from the in-car shots seem to be getting lost as a result.
      Don’t think it helped that many broadcasters lowered the audio-mix further in order to get the commentary levels where they wanted them.

      • GT Racer (@gt-racer) said on 20th March 2014, 1:33

        Something else is perhaps that the Indycar engines are maxing out there rev-range. Indycar’s are limited to 12,000rpm, The engines are designed with that limit in mind & the drivers max out that limit.

        In F1 the Rev-limit is 15,000rpm yet at Melbourne nobody went anywhere near that so there been run well below the maximum potential of the engine.
        Thats perhaps dulling the sound a bit.

  6. PMccarthy_is_a_legend (@pmccarthy_is_a_legend) said on 19th March 2014, 21:25

    @keithcollantine it is not often I will agree with you, but this article is 100% spot on and very well written too. Another few races and everyone will be used to the new noise (and noses). As long as the racing is good and competitive I am happy. Nice one!

  7. Rodrrico (@rodrrico) said on 19th March 2014, 21:35

    I was there as I go to Melbourne’s F1 every year. It was more than disappointing. F1 has lost it’s uniqueness to satisfy a small group of **** and vinegar in the form of ‘greenies’. I couldn’t even hear the cars until they were essentially on top of us (even without ear protection). I find it very hard to believe that the FIA claim the cars are 134 decibels. They sound very soft and while they are loud right next to you, this is for less than half a second.

    I can tolerate almost and physical change to the look of the cars in the regulations, but to lose the sound of F1, the one defining factor for going to see them in the flesh for that visceral sensation is a terrible decision from the FIA in my opinion. I have watched Friday and Saturday sessions on TV now that I am home and can tell the trackside feed ‘bass’ and ‘mid’ tones have been fiddled with over reality. I guess to make them sound more meaty instead of vapid leaf blowers. Even the Turbos of Yesteryear sound more like battle tanks over the new 1.6lr V6 engines.

  8. I have to wonder how many of those who voted in the poll were actually at the circuit. Television simply doesn’t illustrate how underwhelming the sound is. And my opinion is hardly an isolated one – it’s all I heard from spectators at Albert Park. Hearing conversations whilst Formula 1 cars circulate surely says it all…

    I find it hard to believe, but sure the new engines may only be 9 decibels quieter – however the tone simply doesn’t carry. You can’t hear the cars coming, and several of the support categories were louder. I echo the sentiment that the V6 turbos sound ‘good’, but their lack of noise leads me to feel they’re not Formula 1.

    You have to remember that people on this website are fanatical about the sport and will always accept its shortcomings, but I feel this is an issue that cuts to the core of what attracts people to F1 in the first place. The first-time, casual & potential fans of the sport won’t feel the same sensory experience they once did. I actually know this from experience too, having taken a mate who’d never seen Formula 1 to Albert Park on the weekend. He was excited beforehand, underwhelmed during, then almost resentful when he heard last year’s Red Bull circulate during a demonstration.

    I hate whinging about this stuff, but for a sport that’s always struggled to harness new fans this really could widen the divide.

    I agree a band-aid solution shouldn’t be found in haste, but I very much expect the pressure to act will increase as the championship returns to Europe.

  9. Deej92 (@deej92) said on 19th March 2014, 21:56

    I think I share the same opinion as many people here: I really like the sound, but I feel there just isn’t enough of it.

    But I’m not going to make any sweeping statements or cast proper judgement until I’ve heard them trackside, where you get a true impression because you never get that through the TV and as stated in the article: “you have to wonder how hard Ecclestone’s broadcasting company are trying to make the engines sound good as they can on television”. Also, like many people, I’ll get used to the sound and level of noise eventually, which should help.

    As mentioned, F1 really has more pressing issues it needs to correct. They’re looking to improve the noses for next season which is a start!

    P.S. There is one thing I will miss about the V8s, which is hearing cars from the other side of the track or just from afar. I loved that.

  10. Nick (@npf1) said on 19th March 2014, 21:57

    Great article.

    Honestly, I think the people who are complaining the loudest (ironically) are the same people who are declaring the championship over with Mercedes winning and take to Twitter etc. every time something changes. It’s been one race, but there are more emotional reactions now than after Silverstone last year, which was dangerous. I guess that tells you what this loud minority wants.

  11. schooner (@schooner) said on 20th March 2014, 0:55

    I’ve mentioned here a couple of times my distaste for the new sounds of F1. That said, the current engine formula is here to stay for a while, and I won’t stop watching because of it. I’m no engineer, but I think that the fuel restrictions may have a lot to do with the weak exhaust noises we’re expected to get used to. If the FIA would allow the teams enough fuel (and fuel flow) to actually use all of those 15000 revs that the engines were designed for, there would probably be a bit more noise, less complaining about it, and maybe even some better actual racing.

  12. Bowsie said on 20th March 2014, 1:35

    The only reason that I care about the noise (or lack thereof) is down to the reduced spectacle of watching the cars live at the track. The noise of the cars from my TV will never approach anything that is provided by sitting in close proximity to these engines at a circuit. In fact I actually prefer the onboard sound of these V6s to the previous V8s.
    My first live F1 experience was Patrick Friesacher’s Minardi coming out of the pits in 2005 in Monaco. I was standing at Tabac and it was absolutely astonishing. The shear noise as they pass in front of you at the harbour and behind you at St Devote is something I will never forget. That was the last year of the V10s and I was so glad to have experienced that. I went back the next year and the new v8s while certainly loud were a pale comparison. I have been to a few grands prix since then but to be honest the noise of the V8s if anything becomes a little annoying due to the fact that they all sounded so similar! So to be honest I wont miss the V8s all that much but I think my main issue is the fact that with this change to quiet v6s we are moving ever further and further away from the good old days of the screaming v10s and v12s and my need to go and see these cars live is basically gone. This is what I’m going to miss!

  13. Chris (@aclasschris) said on 20th March 2014, 2:14

    They should’ve just had all the turbos run external wastegates. However, that probably wouldn’t have worked with all of the energy recovery systems.

    If you compare the engine notes of the 2014 cars, they sound very similar to the cars of the 80s. Biggest difference comes with external wastegates which had the added benefit of lots of backfire and more ferocious sounding turbo spool – easily as exciting to hear as the NA cars of the last 2 decades.

    Overall a design fix would be stupid with the season already underway. Maybe they get get something together for 2015. In the meantime the broadcasters need to crank up the volume on the TV feeds because the cars were virtually silent over the weekend.

  14. Raj said on 20th March 2014, 2:58

    I would hazard a guess that most people supporting the new sound were not track side in Melbourne. And, many reporters were more or less OK with it, most likely because they were able to get really close to the cars. When the cars hit the European leg (with dedicated, vast, open racetracks), I’m sure everyone will be in for a big surprise – and not in a good way.

    I’m a mega F1 fan and never miss a race and attend my local race in Melbourne. A big part of the appeal was THAT sound. The scream of the F1 V10 and V8 was intoxicating and something to look forward to each year. These V6’s don’t sound like F1. Even the local V8 Supercars and Porsche Cup Races sounded better! A lot of us just waited around for the V10 RBR demo car and FA-18 fighter Jet to get our fix!

    Sadly, a change for the worse in this case. You could not even hear the cars when they were on the other side of the racetrack, but only when they were passing you!

  15. Matty No 2 (@mattynotwo) said on 20th March 2014, 3:06

    I think the new engine sound is to quiet, and I support any effort to fix the problem of quiet engine noise.

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