Pastor Maldonado, Lotus, Albert Park, Melbourne, 2014

What F1 spectators say about the engine noise debate

2014 F1 seasonPosted on | Author Keith Collantine

Pastor Maldonado, Lotus, Albert Park, Melbourne, 2014Formula One was plunged into a storm of negative publicity at the beginning of the season when Bernie Ecclestone furiously criticised the quieter sound of the new generation of V6 turbo engines.

Last month in Spain he convened a meeting of F1 race promoters during which they discussed “various aspects of Formula One the benefit of all fans who are concerned about maintaining the unique feeling of Formula One”.

This was clearly a reference to the debate over engine noise. The following week Mercedes tried – and rejected – a revised exhaust designed to make a louder noise. Nonetheless the FIA have pledged to continue looking for louder alternatives.

But while this is all being done in the name of ‘improving the show for the fans’, no one has yet produced any evidence that large numbers of fans feel the engines are too quiet. Ferrari claimed to have, but did so without even asking fans about the noise and few seemed to have paid any attention to their findings.

An F1 Fanatic poll, which did not distinguish between fans who have and have not heard the new cars for themselves, found the majority were positive towards the new engines, but a significant minority responded negatively to them.

But can we get a sense of what fans who go to races actually think of the new engines? Are they so turned off by the new formula that many won’t be buying tickets for next year’s races?

F1 Fanatic has canvassed feedback from readers who’ve attended test sessions and races since the season began. Here is a representative sample of their responses so far.

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Jerez test

Max Chilton, Marussia, Jerez, 2014

The difference between the V6 and the V8 is huge. The V8s are screaming and the V6s have a deeper sound, but both are special.

The V8s were as loud as you could get, but as I didn’t have earplugs, my ears were annoyed after a day of F1 action. Though they were very impressive, you could hear the cars from miles away.

The V6 is very enjoyable to listen to. You hear much more different sounds. At full speed the cars still sound incredible, not screaming but a more heavy noise. As the cars are braking you hear a sort of whizz, in the middle of the corner the cars sound like a standing aeroplane, and you hear the turbo and ERS working together with the engine when the cars accelerate.

Although the sound is very different, it is still unique and impressive in my opinion.

TV viewers might be disappointed with the sound, but in real life the sound is much better. I think they have to tweak the TV coverage a bit because on TV the cars don’t sound at all like in real life.
Julien (@Jlracing)

Most people’s experience will be through the television where it has never been the case that you can hear what they sound like in real life even with the old engines.

But the sound of the cars is almost irrelevant because I think most go to see the cars in action and these engines produce more power/torque than the tyres and aerodynamics can handle so they are much, much better to watch. You can see the drivers using their driving skills to tame the beast.

And surely that is the whole point, isn’t it?
Steve Mumford (@Toolmansteve99)

Australian Grand Prix

Start, 2014 Australian Grand Prix, Albert Park, Melbourne

The noise will take a bit of getting used to. I quite like it and it’s still quite loud when all cars are on track at once. It was a little strange though being able to have a conversation 50 metres from the track while the cars were out. No chance of that with the V8s!

I must say, it does sound much worse on TV though. Hopefully a change in microphones or audio calibration will be an improvement.

The sound of the cars under braking and acceleration is pleasing and it sounds like a ‘real’ race car.

But most people are here to have their faces turned to a mix of pain/amazement when an F1 car goes past; now when they go past the reaction is one of mild satisfaction.

I never thought I’d be so eager to watch the ultimate speed comparison with the old V8 engine, and it’s a bit sad I can’t hear the new F1 cars from the other side of the circuit.

Yes, the sound is much quieter than previous years. However I honestly prefer it, there’s no need for earplugs because they aren’t at deafening screaming levels and even more better because the engines are quieter you can hear the tyres.

In my opinion actually get more enjoyment because its not all overrun by the engines, you can hear everything else as well. And yes, you can hear the announcers, obviously not when cars are right at your point on the track, but unlike previous years.

Also, I prefer the engine note this year as it sounds more like a proper engine, you can hear the revs change as they are accelerating and braking. Last year it was just an increase in the pitch of the scream.

The only thing I really missed was the sound at the start. I was seated at turn one and in past years you’ve been able to hear the cars coming, building up the atmosphere to when they all appear in a flurry of noise, colour and possibly crashes. This year though there was no real sound to get the hair on the back on your neck to stand up as they approached.

Beyond that, I really like the sound. No massive noise means you hear so many other noises from the car. I love the mechanical sound of the turbo you hear, and it’s the first time since the late nineties that I’ve actually heard a lock-up! I could tell the engines apart better and it was better for the family sitting next to me, as their kid wasn’t screaming from the noise.

I like them, beyond the noise, the cars move around a whole lot more, which makes them a whole lot more enjoyable to watch.

The first thing you noticed was they were a lot quieter, however the next thing you noticed was you could hear the sound of the crowd, the tyres and the sound of the braking.

My first impression of the sound is it sounded less like the V8s and more like a very sporty road car. I did notice all hell was breaking loose over the sound on social media back home.

Having watched the TV feed back, I thought they didn’t do the new sound justice at all, I still think the TV companies have yet to find the right sound levels for the TV Feed.

I really don’t mind the sound of the new engines trackside at all. Different yes. But that’s progress.

Its made no difference to me booking to go to races this year at all.
Andy Donnelly (@Dinalli)

Malaysian Grand Prix

Nico Rosberg, Mercedes, Sepang International Circuit, 2014

I feel that a certain part of the spectacle has been lost with the V8s. They were massively impressive, especially at the end of long straights going from high pitched full revs to deep growling on the overrun and down the gearbox. However I think the fact that we can now hear the track commentary as well as lock ups etc… and have a conversation with the person next to you during the race is excellent. So we’ve lost in one way but gained in another.

I disagree with the claim that they are too quiet. I was surprised by how loud they were when I heard them in Malaysia this year, given all the complaints about it. You can have a conversation with the person next to you, but you still have to shout to be heard! Plus the sound now is also more intriguing to listen too with the whistling of the turbo and the squeal of energy recovery under braking. It sounds a bit monotonous from onboard cameras on TV but at the track it’s fascinating. It also means the most impressive place to listens to cars is now through corners, as that’s when all the power unit components are in action, rather than on straights at full revs.

It hasn’t negatively affected my love of Formula 1 at all. The racing this year has been great and I can’t wait to go to another race.

I very much prefer the new sound which as many others have mentioned, is more ‘wholesome’ sounding like that of sports cars and I really like hearing the hissing sound from the power units which was very distinct at least in Sepang.

My only greatest regret is also the decrease in volume as the V8 F1 engines made a huge impression and gave me a distinct ‘F1 feeling’ every time I stood trackside. The way the exhaust notes reverberated of my rib cage was a surreal experience but it is a bit of a let down to not be able to hear it now as it was exactly that which set F1 apart from all other forms of motorsport for me.
Joachim Ong (@Gactac)

The noise was pretty disappointing. In 2013 you could hear one car from the other side of the track. This year you needed to be on the same stretch of road as the car to be able to hear it.

For example, at the quick sweeping corners in the final sector at Sepang you could hear the car coming from the straight on the back area of the track. You could hear it accelerating down the straight, braking into the 90 degree left-hander and accelerating through the next corner until it flew past you. This year you needed to be able to see the car to be able to hear it.

There’s no scream and the noise just doesn’t carry itself anywhere. I’d go again (I do every year!) but I won’t say it wasn’t disappointing. No chills-up-your-spin stuff any more.

Spanish Grand Prix

Jenson Button, McLaren, Circuit de Catalunya, 2014

There is not a ‘complete lack of engine sound’ they’re still fairly loud and the actual sound they produce is now so much better than the previous V8 engines.

These new V6 engines are quieter, but there not anywhere near been silent, They’re still plenty loud, they all sound different and they all have a very nice tone to them, A lower pitched but very satisfying sound.

It was also cool to be able to hear all the extra noises they make now from the turbo and energy recovery systems, A new extra layer which I thought was interesting to hear.

Something else which the kids really enjoyed was not having to wear ear protection, You could actually discuss what was going on without having to try and shout at one another and without the need for ear protection there was no need to wait until it was safe to remove the ear protection before trying to discuss what was going on.

As to it putting people off or taking away the spectacle, I didn’t find that. The cars are still fast, They still look fast and the acceleration, braking and cornering performance is just as impressive as its always been.

If you liked the dull, absurdly loud scream of the V8s just get someone to sit next to you and scream in your ear all race, Its the same noise you got from those horrible sounding V8s.

Canadian Grand Prix

Pastor Maldonado, Lotus, Circuit Gilles Villeneuve, 2014

I don’t know about many fans, but I come to the race expecting my ears to bleed standing next to the track without earplugs.

I’ll admit I used to to wear earplugs during the race in Montreal (Senna corner). All the cars bunched up for two hours was too much. But with earplugs you still felt that sense of resonance from the V10s and the V8s. The tingling of your whole body as they drove by is what makes fans come back. The sheer violence demonstrated and proved that Formula One was the pinnacle auto racing.

I’m watching the Ferrari Challenge as I’m writing this and they are just as loud. The new V6s rev higher which give it that edge. At the same RPM I’d call it a draw. I’m not talking any softer to my brother sitting next to me.

I don’t hear the tires squeal under lock up that much, and honestly I could care less to hear more of that. I can see the trail of smoke, that’s good enough for me.

The turbos spooling is a nice touch, although you can only really hear the Renaults. And ultimately only in mid-corner off-throttle scenarios.

I miss the days of loud. I don’t mind the new formula. I think it’s good to spice it up. I enjoyed listening to the difference of the three manufacturers, trying to guess which car passed by. But formula 1 for me, like many others I spoke to, was about the sound. That angry engine note is now lost and I think the spectacle has lost that edge.

I found the sound of the new engines very nice. Quieter then the V8, of course, but still nice to hear.

Liked the turbo whistle, the noise of the brakes, etc…, but feel like missing something, something more emotional, brutal. More sophistication, less passion.

Interesting to note that the three engines sounds absolutely different. The Mercedes are louder, lower pitch, the Renaults are quieter, Ferraris between then.
Gilberto Hingel (@GHingel)

What F1 spectators say about the engine noise debate

A few points come up again and again when reading comments from readers who’ve seen the new cars in action.

Although quieter, the sound of the new engines is considered more interesting and varied than the old V8s, and allows you to hear more of what’s going on at the track. Some fans would like the engines to be a little louder, but many also expressed the view that they sound far better in real life than they do on television.

On the whole, the reaction from spectators to the new engines is a lot more positive than it has been characterised as. It’s telling that Ecclestone fanned the flames in the media without having heard the new engines first-hand himself – and once he had, he was a lot less critical of them.

F1 spectators have a more positive and nuanced attitude towards the new engines than has been reported. It is nothing like as unequivocally negative as the reaction to the hated double points finale has been.

That should give those running F1 further cause to avoid hasty, knee-jerk changes to the engines. At least until advanced ticket sales for 2015 give an indication if the noise row has had any effect at all.

2014 F1 season

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Images © Lotus/LAT, Marussia, Daimler/Hoch Zwei, McLaren/LAT

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