F1’s New Formula: Why The Engine Noise Doesn’t Matter

The announcement that Formula 1 would be moving away from the dinosaur 2.8 litre V8 engines, to a more up-to-date package of having a 1.6 litre V6 turbo charged engine coupled with an MGU came as a shock to many of us. Not the least of which were the fans, who were effectively being told by the teams to savour the beloved scream of the V8’s, as come 2014 they would sound completely different.

Well, now we’re here, what do we all think?

There has been mixed reception amongst the fans. Sky hosted a poll just this weekend, where they asked members of the F1 community if they wanted to see engineers ‘tamper’ with the noise output of the cars to make the sound more like race cars.

The poll was evenly matched, with 49 per-cent saying ‘No’ and 51 per-cent saying ‘Yes.’ The reaction on Twitter has also been mixed. Some are saying F1 “has lost its USP” whilst others are saying they like the new cars if only because the drivers have more power than grip underneath them.

As someone who has grew up and experienced the V10, and V8 engines noises in the flesh, I feel qualified to give a viewpoint on the sound and the experience, both from listening to them on TV and from what I’ve heard the brightest of F1 minds say from the trackside.

First let’s talk about what it’s like experiencing the new engines on TV. From the onboard shots it’s actually quite good. The engine notes are very long, and the wheelspin is something you are able pick up more when the drivers push ever closer to the limit.

From the offboard shots however, it’s quite a different experience. Normally I have my TV volume on ’18’ maximum of ’21’ to ensure I don’t piss off the neighbours. That’s still the case with the onboard audio, but when FOM switches to the offboard circuit cameras, I find that I have to run my volume towards the ’28’ and ’31’ region in the slider. Even Sky have had to adjust their commentary sound to ensure Crofty and Brundle don’t talk over the noise of the cars.

Watching F1 on TV is now in many ways like watching a football match. The atmosphere is transferred into the living room; I actually find myself cheering with the crowd.

But for the lack of engine soundtrack, F1 compensates by adding new dynamics. The tyre lockups for example are more apparent, and now you can actually hear the crowed. In many ways it’s like watching a football match. The atmosphere is transferred into the living room; I actually find myself cheering with the crowd.

Admittedly however, I think F1 needs just a little bit more engine noise to add anticipation. The starts for example are greatly suppressed by the lack of engine revs, since the cars only run at 11,000rpm to save fuel. I didn’t know the race started in Australia until I saw that the five red lights went out. Somehow that distinctive, unmistakable sound of 22 Formula 1 drivers dropping their first and second clutches is gone.

As for what the cars sound like trackside, many have said that the broadcast audio does not match what they hear when at the track. NBC pitlane reporter and GP2 world feed commentator Will Buxton says that it’s very much a case of FOM playing about with the sound mix by repositioning audio equipment and mic’s, since the drivers are pressing the loud pedal in different areas to when they were with the V8’s.

F1 photographer Darren Heath also shed some light on the new engine noises, who says “the whole experience of watching the cars ‘live’ is immeasurably improved from what went before.” Heath explains that you pick up on things such as tyres squealing, brakes gripping and turbos spinning when watching the cars live now – all things that were previously drowned out by the engine noise.

“The whole experience of watching the cars ‘live’ is immeasurably improved from what went before”

“The fact that one is aware of so much more of what is happening with the car obviously increases the appreciation of just how hard the drivers are having to work.” Thats probably the best description as to why the engine noises are perhaps not too much of a worry for myself and I’m sure the rest of the fans. Its not the distinct Formula 1 that we know and love, but its still motor racing.

The drivability of these new cars is not nearly like what the drivers have been used to for the last four years. I’m watching the onboards and seeing the drivers properly having the man-handle the cars through the corners, constantly on opposite-lock in some cases. And lets not forget, they’re doing it all in kit that will be in our road cars by 2017.

In many ways, Formula 1 has managed to reinvent itself. The racing on track is competitive, which is really all that matters. But of course racing cars need to sound like racing cars for the appeal. It will come, especially once the teams have sussed out a way to use more of the rev-range without it compromising their fuel usage. But for now – as long as F1 is evolving – I’m fine with it.

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