What F1 spectators say about the engine noise debate

2014 F1 season

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’ there 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, There 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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87 comments on What F1 spectators say about the engine noise debate

  1. matiascasali (@matiascasali) said on 17th June 2014, 15:57

    How many tickets does the F1 sells per year? how many people watch it on the tv? i guess that’s more relevant. I guess that as long as they’re loud, not painfully loud, they’ll be ok for the people actually going to the races, and as for me, a tv f1 follower (Here, in argentina, the nearest GP is in brazil, and it’s waaaaaay out of my budget to pay the high ticket prices, plus the 2000km trip to Interlagos) and that’s the way it’ll remain for some years from now (for me at least), so, as long as the FOM want me to listen to an F1 with the engine of a Citröen 2cv, i’ll have to suck it up, and watch the races anyway, because sure as hell i don’t watch races just for the sound…

  2. invisiblekid said on 17th June 2014, 16:41

    I though on TV they sounded quite a bit better in Canada as they had so many track mounted cameras and as the cars raced by you got a great whoosh.

    I quite like the sound, but it’s too quiet if that makes sense? They are getting to sound like Audi’s LP1. I went to Le Mans a couple of years ago and the best sounding car were thew Corvettes. The exhaust note after they passed you was earsplitting at the right angle. I don’t care about getting the high pitch scream back, but if they could get the turbo sound to hit you in the chest then I think spectators would be happier.

    TV viewing is a different matter though. Until you go back to what it was, then I think there is not a lot you can do for those that cannot see them for real. There are positives as you can hear more things going on, the crowd cheering (or booing) and pre/post shows means even outside the garage, you can hear the presenters/interviews.

    But I get F1 shouldn’t be the quieter or barely faster than F2

  3. ME4ME (@me4me) said on 17th June 2014, 17:12

    Do i like this years engine sound? -Yes. Do i think it’s possibly a bit to quiet? -maybe a bit. Do i prefer the V8 sound? -No, they’re on equel level for me. Do i prefer the V10 sound? Yes.

    My personal opinion is that the sound is great, alot of details are noticable. But it lacks brutality. I wish they’d went for a 3.0L V6 Turbo instead, together with higher fuel usage this year, which then would be slowly reduced over the years.

  4. I guess this isn’t really to the topic, but why are we debating the sound of the engine when most people in New Zealand, which is where I live, don’t even get to see a Formula 1 race? Bernie is worried “about the unique sound”, but overlooks that the nearest most people here get to a race is via the 30 second news clip, which usually just shows a car crossing the finishing line and maybe some crash or other.
    As far as I can tell, this information is largely lost on the New Zealand public.
    Surely there is an obligation on broadcasters to raise the profile of F1?

  5. JohnnyG82 (@johnnyg82) said on 17th June 2014, 17:36

    Anyone recall how the first era of turbo cars sounded?

    • paulguitar (@paulguitar) said on 17th June 2014, 17:57

      Yes. They were much better than the current cars, but nothing like as good as normally aspirated engines. I went to the British GP in 1988, when we had a mix of N/A and Turbo cars. The turbos were a lot more powerful, but sounded awfully dull in comparison.

  6. BillC said on 17th June 2014, 17:37

    Enough with the noise issue, at least on TV. I haven’t been to a live event but being able to hear the crowd react to events I’m watching is awesome. Being able to hear the wheels chirp as they run across concrete kerbing is awesome.

    Deafening high-pitched squealing is not the definition of F1 cars.

    Actually the best sounding car at every F1 event is the Mercedes AMG pace car. That sounds heavenly, and a field full of that would make my day.

  7. paulguitar (@paulguitar) said on 17th June 2014, 17:53

    I was at Barcelona and I am not exaggerating when I say that felt almost a sense of bereavement when I heard the cars. My girlfriend was equally traumatized, having visited with me her first race F1 last year. She thought the sound of the 2014 cars laughable, had it not been so sad. They are just so UNDERWHELMING. As I said in an earlier post last week, I actually voluntarily missed a session of live F1, for the first time in 27 years of going to GP’s. I must agree with an earlier contributor as well, the views we heard trackside were mostly from those who were very, very disappointed.

    So the situation for me now is that F1 is a TV sport. I am truly loving this season on TV, but there is simply no reason to plough a minimum of £500 into a weekend of live F1 anymore, as it is just not at all impressive. I went to the British Superbikes a few weeks ago and Oulton Park, and there was far more of a thrill in the air there, and it is 90% down to noise. I am astonished to read on here that people think the V8’s were like being ‘yelled at’. I simply can’t understand how anyone with a single ‘motor racing bone’ in them could be anything other blown away and indeed, almost emotionally moved by that sound.

    • Lowe said on 17th June 2014, 19:17

      Very well said… I am surprised where where these people all these years who did not like the sound on V8

    • dearg said on 18th June 2014, 2:00

      To me nothing beat the Ferrari and Lamborghini V12s. When they ditched them for all V10s I didn’t whinge, when they ditched them for V8s I didn’t whinge and I’m not whinging now and still love going to and watching F1. The engines all have their good qualities, surprises me that a fan of F1 doesn’t get that.

      • kpcart said on 18th June 2014, 10:02

        maybe because they prefer a better sound? not every f1 fan is like you and don’t care what they sound like you.

    • Rails (@rjessalt) said on 18th June 2014, 12:42

      Couldn’t agree more, perfectly said. I was looking forward to going to the British Grand Prix in a few weeks time, but there is simply no way I would give my money to such a lack of spectacle (and yes, the racing is superb, best I’ve seen in a long time, but the sound is what made it an experience like no other). I did my time by going to the Spanish Grand Prix, and honestly, I can’t take any more disappointment from this sport. It is something that used to be 100x better in the flesh, and now, you wouldn’t even know they were on the track if you were there in the flesh.

      For me, it is more sensational to listen to the tea kettle boil in my kitchen.

      And I don’t have to pay £500 for that.

  8. mrvco said on 17th June 2014, 18:17

    I don’t plan on attending the race in Austin this year, but I would be curious to see if the cars sound better in person than they do on television.

    It’s not that they aren’t “loud enough” on television, the sound just doesn’t do anything for me, no goosebumps, no tingly feeling, absolutely nothing about the sound screams FORMULA ONE!!!!!

    The best thing I can say about the sound of the new motors is that they sound “interesting”… sort of.

  9. JOn said on 17th June 2014, 19:04

    I want my ears to bleed from the noise damn it. More importantly , I want the cars to revving to 15,000 RPMs whenever is possible ; meaning you get 100kg of fuel for the race and you can use how you see fit

  10. PeterG said on 17th June 2014, 19:08

    To be honest I think the argument about the sound/volume is irrelevant as its ot going to change anytime soon.

    There not going to decide to change the engine formula given how much has already been spent on them & there not going to remove the fuel flow limits given how thats one of the main points of the new formula.

    The engine manufacturer’s want the focus to be on relevance (To them) & efficiency, Thats why the rules were drawn up the way they were & why the discussion from the very start was small capacity turbo hybrids & why many of the manufacturer supported categories have already gone or are likely to soon go in a similar direction.

    The talk of relevance, efficiency etc… is something which a lot of fans seem to be down on, However were not the one’s pouring hundreds of millions of into an engine program. The engine manufacturer’s do care about relevance & efficiency, They do see both as been valuable to them & its the sort of stuff they promote not just to the public but also to the board members who have to OK the funding for there F1 engine program.

    The noise, Aggression etc.. are things which many fans care about, Yet do you stick with super loud, very aggressive V8 engines or go back to something like V10/V12s just because fans want that & risk putting off engine manufacturer’s or do you do something that over the next few years will guarantee manufacturer involvement which in turn will allow F1 to keep going (There is no doing anything without engines afterall)?

    Also consider that many circuits around the world are been hit with noise orders & protests. These new quieter engines will remove a lot of that problem & ensure that races on popular circuits like Melbourne & Monza will continue without constant complaints about the noise annoying local people/wildlife.

    Fans tend to have a very narrow minded view of the way F1 should be based on there own tastes/preferences. Some want a lot of overtaking & love things like DRS, While others prefer good, competitive, Pure racing & despise gimmicks like DRS.
    F1 should take note of fans views but I don’t think it should decide rules/regulations based off of it as fans opinions don’t always gel with whats best overall for F1 & those who take part in it.

  11. John H (@john-h) said on 17th June 2014, 19:11

    I don’t think this has been talked about too much, but I believe quieter engines might help get more young people to attend the races. For example, I’m now considering getting a ticket for my 3 year old daughter to come and see the racing cars on one of the Silverstone days. I’ve managed to get her interested in racing cars on the TV, but now I can take her to GPs as she grows up knowing I probably won’t permanently damage her hearing (too much at least).

    As I say, not many have talked about the family aspect so I thought it should be raised.

  12. tmekt (@tmekt) said on 17th June 2014, 19:26

    The V8s were quite simply too loud (and sounded ridiculously horrible on tv really). If you can actually spend your weekend without having to use earplugs I think that’s only better.

    I’ve been to rock concerts where it wasn’t necessary to cover hearing and the experience has always been 10 times better than to having to use earplugs which annoyingly muffle the sound and take half of the spectrum with them (I don’t want to spend money on some ridiculously expensive earplugs). I also tend to enjoy music which is more diverse than music that’s simply trying to go as high pitch and as loud as possible and maintaining that for the whole 2 hours. Not to mention records that are victims of the loudness war (reduced dynamic range).

  13. mark s said on 17th June 2014, 20:13

    This is formula joke.

    Driver who cant push, cars that cant use fuel, cars that sound like vacuum cleaners. First year im not going to a race in 8 years. No plans to return until the spectacle returns.

    The cars sound HORRIBLE

  14. Chuck Lantz said on 17th June 2014, 20:45

    F1 was, and is supposed to be, the epitome of motor-racing, and not a “how Green can we be?” economy run. While some limits are necessary, such as tire size, aero, engine size, weight and so on, the current limits and the resulting lack of engine noise are obviously causing negative reaction.

    The very fact that polls about the sound are being taken at all, no matter what their outcome, proves the point. They no longer sound like F1 cars are expected to sound. The most telling comment from the poll was when one – positive – respondent who wrote “they sound like very sporty road cars”, … and therein lies the problem.

    • dearg said on 18th June 2014, 2:02

      Another person that believes F1 was only created in the last decade, F1 engines never sounded unlike the high revving engines of recent past.

  15. DaveD (@daved) said on 17th June 2014, 21:00

    Thank you @keithcollantine. This is the first attempt I’ve seen on the entire interweb where someone has tried to actually take an objective look at the subject and separate those who’ve actually seen the cars in person vs. people who watch on TV.

    *BTW “interweb” is an inside joke for us Americans as one of our more senior politicians didn’t know the correct term or even what it was and yet was head of a committee that governed Internet and communications policy here in the US :)

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