Race Blog
China 2017

A Noisy Revelation

I’ve had an epiphany, a revelatory moment, changed my mind and seen the light. Formula 1 must get louder.

It’s the great-looking cars that have done it – now longer, wider, more purposeful in appearance, all swoopy and Hot Wheels-like (save for the ugly fins and coat-hanger wings, of course). At long last we have racing machines that fit the bill. With all this positivity of design it’s now beyond doubt: these rocketship-fast flyers need a sound to match.

Regular readers of this blog will be well aware that I’ve long been puzzled by the wearisome whining of those that criticise the terrific, technologically advanced power units that propel this era of hybrid F1. But while working trackside at the Melbourne grand prix circuit I realised things have to change.

Don’t get me wrong. In no way does the sport need to revert to the head-splitting on-or-off white noise of the recent V8-powered past, or the caterwaul howl of the V10 machines that preceded them, no. I’m thinking something more akin to the gorgeously textured, torquey and ultimately powerful roar of the mid-80s V6 turbo generation. For you younger readers, you’ll just have to believe me that hearing the ground-shaking thunder of a Honda V6 turbo powering Keke Rosberg to the first 160mph lap at Silverstone in 1985 is something that stays with you forever..

To see the shiny and colourful carbon fibre cars of ’17 attacking a quick lap is special indeed. Add some much-needed lightness, get rid of the unnecessary fuel-saving regulation and increase the V6 volume, and we’d be damned close to enjoying some of the best F1 racers ever. Of course there are other issues that need to be addressed. The money-burning indulgence of 100-element front wings really is a shocking waste of time and money in a sport that continues to pay lip service to the hollow mission statement of frugality. Legislate for a far simpler front-of-car aero design, save millions and likely improve the racing. Simple!

FIA President Jean Todt is just plain wrong. The public do want noisier cars.

During the Friday afternoon practice sessions in Melbourne I spent considerable time shooting from spectator-crowded areas. Many a local came to say ‘hi’, keen to chat about F1, photography and the joys of being a Formula 1 fan. Intelligent questions came thick ‘n’ fast, so, in the interests of politeness, I asked one of my own:

“What do you think of the new cars?”

On the look, speed and spectacle of the new era’s machines, ripostes of positivity flowed, save for one repeated gripe.

“They need to be louder, mate!”

I had to agree.

For those of you yet to experience the 2017 sound you’ll have to trust me. The - lack of – noise you hear when watching F1 on television really does do the current power units a disservice. Now that we have some new guys owning the sport – hopefully not encumbered with a mindset politically biased against the hybrid machines – the on-car mics will be placed where they should be. Honestly, the sound is way better than the underpowered vacuum-cleaner hum that you’re mostly (not) enjoying through your TV’s speakers.

The FIA’s recent statement that their desire from 2021 onwards is for cheaper, simpler and louder power units (seemingly contradicting Todt’s opinion on noise) has been welcomed by many, but there is a risk. Fail to heed the wishes of the automotive manufacturers who will build the engines and the sport will come – literally – to a grinding halt.

Those F1 media room opinion-formers who so joyously embrace a misty-eyed memory of the past, extolling the virtues of a sport not in thrall to automotive manufacturers, would do well to remember that Formula 1 has always been dominated by those they seek to reject. Mercedes, Ferrari, Audi (née Auto Union), Alfa Romeo, Honda, Renault and BMW, et al, have all at some point in the past raced in, and occasionally been pre-eminent, in car racing’s top formula.

For those of you thinking I’ve forgotten the legendary Double-Four-Valve Cosworth, I haven’t. I also haven’t forgotten who paid for it. Frank Costin and Keith Duckworth’s all-conquering V8 wouldn’t have turned a crank or pushed a piston without the financial backing of automotive mega-brand Ford…

Formula 1 simply has to be relevant to the motorised world it represents, leading from the front, helping to push the technological boundaries. Obviously I know much of what appears in F1 can take years – if ever – to appear on a run-of-the-mill car that you or I may drive, but, without those that seek to push the technological sporting envelope, your road car would very likely be a sight less fast, efficient, comfortable and safe than it is today.

Force the manufacturers away and we’ll all suffer.

As the maxim states: Be careful what you wish for.


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