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18 Mar 2014

Our senses make us subjective creatures and so it's often said, we eat with our eyes.  Formula One's move into a new technologically advanced era has once again bought up the question of sensory appeal.  This weekend I've seen key figures like Martin Brundle and Bernie Ecclestone deriding F1's soundtrack and unfortunately as they're in a position of influence this can further sway opinion.

Do you remember the V12's of yesteryear? We're you disappointed when the switch was made to V10's? How about when the V10's were swapped out for V8's? Or maybe when the V8's rev limits were curtailed to 18,000rpm? 

These are all signs of progression and at the time we all yearned for the sounds of their predecessors but as time went by we learn to accept and then love the new auditory pleasures at hand.  

The same can be said for aesthetics, another battle ground over the seasons where teams have chosen what suits their aerodynamic needs over the way the cars look (step noses and now finger noses) but as time goes by we adapt and learn to accept that which is better.

The condemnation of the new PowerUnits sound is loud and clear but frankly given the regulations there is nowhere to go.  

In order to increase the sound of the new V6 Turbo units I see only 2 solutions, a mandated change to the exhaust system, inevitably leading to arguments amongst the teams, power unit manufacturers and FIA as each grapple with a regulation change that would have technical ramifications. (Performance could be won or lost and be detrimental to the health of the PowerUnits due to limited testing.
Or something that's caused a backlash amongst car owners over the last few years who've felt cheated by the installation of sound enhancing devices, bridging the gap as the vehicles sounds theirselves are attenuated. The Volkswagen Golf GTi is perhaps the most well known/documented of these with owners even going as far as removing the devices. 

From a personal perspective I have no problem with the new F1 soundtrack. Yes they're quieter and you won't feel like your chest cavity is about to erupt as the cars thunder past.  However if you take the time to listen you can discern much more, as the driver stamps on the throttle we hear the MGU-H and K whining, producing power that then assists the Turbo and we get a rush of boost. Heading into the braking zone, you can hear the K harvesting energy whilst the H keeps the turbo spooled and then almost instantaneously the boost is at full song as the driver hurtles on his way.  
This isn't the only thing though, as the diminished engine sounds also lead us to a juncture where you can hear the tyres squeal under load through the corners as they struggle to both stop the car, turn in and then deal with the increased torque of the new PowerUnits.   Furthermore you can even hear the front edge of the plank hitting the floor, as the car pitches forward under braking.

Lastly have you ever heard the furore from the crowd as the driver rounds the last corner during qualifying? Certainly nothing like we heard in Melbourne. The crowds elation was clear to hear and I think we all rode that emotional roller coaster with the crowd.

I for one don't have a problem with the new PowerUnits but having been through several downsizings in the past I can understand why others are having problems assimilating. As time passes by though I'm sure you'll all come to live with the sound. Besides this is just the start! Remember how much exhausts were exploited in the past to extract aero performance, changing the sound characteristics as they went. (Especially the gunfire sounds of the Off Throttle exhaust blown diffusers of 2010)
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22 comments:

  1. Yeah well said mate! "if you take the time to listen you can discern much more, as the driver stamps on the throttle..."

    What's that big story about the sound huh..
    It's just GROWLING rather than previous years SCREAMING - very much different types of sound because of totally different system design which produces the sound (engines, batteries, generators, turbos, exhausts), sorry but one technical evolution step up just happened. History is repeating itself :O

    Anyway, teams should be able to work on fine tuning it to a bit louder, but not sure if they are capable with 2014 parts. Maybe we will wait until 2015 if FIA would then allow some new rules to squeeze out higher pitch bumblebee sound from the PowerUnits.

    I do understand this is what fans are missing in the new era "...you won't feel like your chest cavity is about to erupt as the cars thunder past"

    Ecclestone should come up with some solution I guess :P

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    1. I disagree. F1, like all sports, is dependent on satisfying the spectator. All revenue (the life blood) originates and is therefore dependent upon satisfied spectators. When spectators don't receive what they want, they leave. The "we'll get used to it" argument is merely a defensive argument for spectator compromise, and it begs the question of why one is or would want to be an F1 fan. Is it the technology? Is it the visual aesthetics of the cars? Is it the heart rattling sound of the engines? Is it the silly season gossip? What makes F1 "the pinnacle of motorsports"? The truth is, MOST fans are interested about what happens on the track and not in the garage. Most fans are paying to see, feel, and hear F1 excitement. Fuel flow rates, KERS, ERS, turbos, etc. maybe interesting, but the bottomline is, fans pay for the experience, and if the experience is less than what they expect, they quit paying. The bottom line is that taking a "we'll get used to it" attitude is to cut off the hand that feeds. Why do you think the Melbourne officials are crying "breach of contract"? I love the technology (and I love this site) as it is interesting to me, but I do like the vices of F1 even better...of the over the top multi-sensorial politically incorrect experience of F1, sounds included.

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    2. To Rami Hu...My above post was not intended to be a rebuttal to your post. I intended it to be a general rebuttal on the subject. I posted it wrongly. Cheers.

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    3. Anon: I'll start by saying I understand the fans at the circuit may have something to grumble about but this is where we have been heading now for at least 3-4 years, when the regulations started to be put together. Therefore I have to ask why the likes of Mr Ecclestone didn't do something sooner.
      Having the twin seat cars screaming around the circuit before the actual F1 cars won't have helped the Aussie organizers cause...

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  2. Has not the #F1 group been at loggerheads with the European countries over noise and fuel emissions for many years and had an agreement to meet these by a certain date/Year

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  3. A agree Matt. At the end of the day, noise is absent because noise betrays mechanical inefficiencies. Reduced RPM is a huge part of that.

    I got your note about cooling....we will have to agree to disagree on the laws of thermodynamics LOL.

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  4. You know, normally I would agree with all you have written. HOWEVER .. they just HAVE to do something about the in-car audio feed. You literally cannot tell when a driver is spanking it and when he's off to the corner pub. It's beyond pathetic!

    As for advantages, and there are some, I like the volume and growl of the cars. Who couldn't hear the crowd erupt when Vettel missed out on Q3 or when Ricciardo finished second? Those were great experiences that we often wouldn't have heard just last year. But for God's sake, fix the in car audio. That will NOT take any extreme measures. Move those mics around. The future of F1 depends on it!

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    1. I agree - the previous formula cars always sounded like Play Station on broadcasts and these are worse to the point of being embarrasing! I know nothing about broadcast audio transmission and I assume the various broadcasters have to use the official output. When the sound is picked up in pit lane interviews on ordinary mics, it seems OK, different to before and that is to be expected, but the sound especially in-car is woeful.

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  5. I agree with Matt 100%. Engine noise is overrated. I would accept any engine noise level on the account of better racing. Furthermore I would ditch the DRS because this cars are already slippery to control and there is no need of artificial passovers. And don't forget that in future maybe the cars won't have any engine noise whatsoever. The future is now.

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  6. I'm reserving judgement until I've heard the 2014 cars 'in the flesh'. However, I do think F1 needs to be a bit careful here. There are many race goers that aren't F1 tech enthusiasts like us.

    Just as an illustration, I was at the first Singapore GP in 2008 and I remember the place was full of first time race go'ers who'd never seen or heard an F1 car before. Most knew little or nothing about the sport, had never heard of the drivers and weren't particularly interested in the race result. They were just there for the spectacle and a good night out. I vividly remember the look of sheer astonishment on their faces when the cars first blasted past at close quarters. It was the noise that was the main talking point and it was the noise that provided the wow factor. F1 really needs to keep those kind of people coming back.

    Bernie isn't usually overly concerned with the fan experience but he does know his business. The fact that he's spending time on this subject means he genuinely thinks there could be an affect on race attendance and his hosting fees. I guess time will tell, but we shouldn't dismiss the idea that there might be a problem.

    Excellent blog btw Matt

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  7. Would just like to point out to some others here, that sport isnt about entertaining spectators. Its about competition against another person or team. I think people should remember this when demanding changes because they didnt enjoy watching a sport. I loved the first race. Bring on the rest. I may even go watch formula e. No sound at all there.

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    1. F1 is EXACTLY about entertaining spectators. Who do you think pays for the all the technology?

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  8. Another consideration in this is the manufacturers. They are spending millions to develop these engines. If they feel they are recouping that cost in terms of road car development they are going to be more willing to spend the sums required. If there isn't a technological incentive how many engine manufacturers do you think there would be?

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  9. There always are those who oppose all change.
    I find it pathetic that there is so much talk about the sound of the new F1 engines, while the fact the drivers now need to cruise (instead of racing) more than ever because of the need to save fuel is hardly ever mentioned.

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  10. Where's the limit of pushing changes to F1? Cars have changed considerably over the last 10 years: tyres, engines, aero, DRS, downforce restrictions, fuel restrictions and the list goes on and on. F1 is a money generating business more than a sport; take the entertainment part of it away and the public will look elsewhere. In 2011 DRS was introduced in response to the decrease in the public interest in F1 due to a lack of overtaking. FIA has introduced many technical restrictions aiming at making the sport safer or limiting performance advantages larger teams may have over smaller teams; that part I can understand but we must also listen to what the public thinks about for example the stepped nose (aesthetic correction introduced in 2013) and right now the engine noise. If F1 wants to keep its public and commercial appeal then they should listen to the public and not only to the FIA. If no action is taken F1 will become before the end of this decade a 20-lap race with 1.0 engine blocks; we might then as well stop watching F1 and follow Clio Cup instead.

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    1. F1 has been evolving in terms of regulation since its inception and is predominately done in order to increase safety and reduce speeds (which is usually achieved through downforce reduction), DRS wasn't actually the FIAs attempt at increasing overtaking... The TWG/FIA introduced the moveable front wing in 2009, this failed miserably when DDD increased the predicted wake and made the moveable wings void. The F duct inadvertadly showed the FIA the way and that's why we ended up with DRS.

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  11. I recently read an article where an F1 pilot described how the resonance in the V8s made him and fellow drivers he had spoken with feel noxious. The sound levels of the V10s and V8s could inflict hearing damage and everyone with any sense wore earplugs all the time. It's laughable to see people claiming that that is something they want. It seems there are a disproportionate number of masochists associated with F1. The only thing which matters is that the power units are designed to produce the most power and reliability that is possible and the sounds they produce is a byproduct of this. I've found it more interesting now that all the PUs don't sound the same, by the way.

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  12. Although quieter I much prefer the new engines due to the impact they have had on driver input. The in-car cockpit footage and audio now highlights the driver effort in the control of the huge torque (E.g on corner exits). The time between gear changes is now longer allowing the viewer to hear the throttle inputs. Whereas with the V8’s it seemed to be a crescendo of revs and rapid gear changes. A little work on the volume and I’d be happy

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  13. I agree with you Matt.
    Yes, it's not as breathtaking as the V8 but so what?
    People have to look forward and realize that we're not in the XX century already.
    BMW is now producing electric cars, the companies are trying to make cars with lower and lower consumption. Petrol isn't going to last forever and people has to realize that.
    That's the reason of these changes, that's why we know have the Formula E.
    People who are against that are simply closed minds and they gotta wake up and realize the world they're living today isn't the same it was 30 years ago.

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  14. Victor, how do you charge a battery? Either by plugging it to electricity or feeding it by another energy source. Using energy to create another form of energy generates losses in efficiency. Take the example of the BMW i3: full electric "green" car. What the consumer sees is a car that does not produce co2 but the electricity that is being used to charge the car comes from another type of energy and that is usually the type that has a direct impact on the environment. As a consumer you can't "order" your electricity company to supply green-only electricity to you, that is both technically and logistically not possible. More than %82 of the electricity produced in Europe consists of combustible fuels (coal/gas/oil) and nuclear fuel so we can't speak about clean energy here let alone call Formula E the green Formula 1. We will all have different views about F1 but I think that at the end the commercial and marketing interests will drive the outcome of how F1 will/should look like.
    PS: source of above figure http://epp.eurostat.ec.europa.eu/statistics_explained/index.php?title=File:Net_electricity_generation,_EU-27,_2010_(%25_of_total,_based_on_GWh).png&filetimestamp=20121012130734

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    1. This comment has been removed by the author.

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    2. I see your point and you're right.
      What I meant is that the world is changing and innovating, and being the F1 the top of the motor sport, it can't remain stuck in the past but hasto adapt and be an example. We already saw Ferrari using the last years KERS concept in their production cars, who knows maybe they'll use the both MGU concepts in the future. I get mindblowed how they extract 600bhp from an engine smaller than my cars.
      And that's what F1 is all about : innovate and adapt.

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Whilst I'm trying to keep atop of the blog you may have noticed of late that there is less content appearing. For those of you that haven't realised, most of my work has now been moved over to Motorsport.com where I'm working with Giorgio Piola.

I'm still doing the technical image gallery for each GP with the continued support of friend of the site Sutton Images. However, as always my time is limited and so this might not be updated as quickly as it once was, so keep checking back.

As some of you may have found out already I'm also working with the Missed Apex crew on their podcast from time-to-time, either doing race reviews or dedicated 'Tech Time' shows.

I've embedded the latest version of the podcast below and will update this a frequently as I appear. However, please head over to Itunes if you want it to appear in your player when episodes are available. The show is great to work on and has a great lineup of 'regulars' but has also enticed some bigger names recently too, with Will Buxton and Bradley Philpot on shows during the summer break.


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