The start of 2014 season saw the biggest technological change to the design of Formula 1 cars in the history of Grand Prix racing. So it was a great relief that the first 3 races of the F1 season produced extraordinary exciting racing and in the Bahrain Grand Prix probably the best race in living memory. This despite predictions of doom and gloom from many F1 pundits.
It is my opinion the changes have improved the racing tremendously. The new 1.6 litre hybrid engines develop tyre shredding torque which has placed new demands on the driver’s skill. Most drivers are meeting the challenge admirably but surprisingly Kimi and Seb are for the moment struggling to reproduce last season’s pace. It’s fascinating to watch.
Whilst the changes has produced great racing and has brought about an end to the domination of Sebastian Vettel and his Red Bull. The biggest story is the lack of noise from the new cars. No longer do we get the ear-splitting high pitched scream that was the trademark of the V8 powered Grand Prix cars. If the TV pundits, newspaper reporters and F1 chat forums are to be believed the lack of noise spells the end of F1’s popularity and will lead to declining audiences.
But are the quieter cars the deal breaker that many claim? I have been pondering this question since the start of the season.
Cast your mind back to past Grand Prix. During the build-up to the race fans will excitedly chat away to each as Mexican waves flow around the grandstands. That excitement reached fever pitch as an ear splitting noise announced that the cars had left the garages and were out on track. That high pitched howl was a huge statement of intent and power and bloody exciting! Bur remember what happened next? Every single spectator immediately reached for their ear defenders in an attempt to avoid certain deafness and to preserve their sanity. From that moment on they were plunged into a world of silence were they don’t talk to each other and cannot hear the race commentary from the public address system. The self-imposed but much needed silence had an anaesthetising effect on the spectators. They couldn’t talk with each other, so attempted to communicate with gesticulations and sign language. Not once during the ninety minute race did they cheer an exciting overtake or scream out loud when cars unfortunately crashed. It’s only when the race finished and they removed their ear defenders that they return to normal. Even as the drivers circulate on their celebratory cooling down lap the noise of the engines drowns out the cheers from the crowd. This is the true reality of the old V8 Grand Prix cars. Yes the noise was exciting but if we are honest with ourselves only initially.
The new cars are quieter and don’t produce that sudden rush of aural excitement but they are still loud. The shrill high pitched scream of the V8 is replaced by a purposeful throaty growl. Now that ear defenders are no longer mandatory, new sounds become apparent. The whine of the turbo, the thrum of the high speed electric motor become audible. You can pick out the sounds of the overheated brakes and the painful cry of the overloaded tyres.
At the first race of the season in Australia Daniel Ricciardo drove a superb race to put his Red Bull on the podium (pre stewards enquiry) beating Sebastian Vettel in the process. With two laps to go you could hear the cheer from the crowd all around the Albert Park circuit. What’s more Daniel Ricciardo could hear the fans applause. It was wonderful for fans and driver alike.
Later in the day I went online to F1 fan site CrashNet to discover what other fans thought about the Melbourne race and the new cars. Whilst acknowledging the fact that the Melbourne F1 had been a thrilling race. I was amazed that so many fans complained about the lack of noise from the new cars. These fans had watched the race on the TV. How on earth could you notice the difference in volume emanating from the TV speakers? Am I missing something?
I’m delighted with the new quieter cars. I’m no longer required to wear ear plugs to preserve my hearing. I can talk about the race with the person sitting at the side of me. I can listen to the commentary booming from the public address system. The new cars are just as thrilling to watch in fact they are more thrilling to watch as they are more of handful for the drivers to control.
Someone said that when you come face to face with a lion you don’t need to hear it roar for it be an exciting experience. That’s how I feel about the new cars.