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The Noise about the F1 Noise

f1 carsThose who like to follow the news from the motorsport world will doubtless have heard about the furore about what they won’t be hearing. Yes, folks, there have been a bunch of new regulations introduced that have seen the engines making not quite the same noise as they used to, as there’s been a rev limit put on the 1.6-litre turbocharged V6 hybrids: 15,000 instead of the 18,000 of last year.

To judge by what some commentators have been saying, you’d think that the new F1s were dead silent. Wrong. However, they do sound very different. If you remember back to your high school physics days, you might recall that the more frequently something vibrates, the higher the note it produces. The rate of revs sets up vibrations in the air, which creates sound waves. The old sort of engine produced more vibrations, so you got that higher pitched note. The new ones have a deeper tone.

Personally, I like this. One of the two things I have always disliked about F1 motor racing is the sound. The “scream” of the engine beloved of some always reminded me either of a very whiny toddler or a mosquito beside a microphone. It put my teeth on edge.  Trackside at an F1 meet to me was reminiscent of something from Dante’s Inferno: all vile fumes and hideous incessant screaming noises.

The new noise, however, isn’t as hellish. Decibel-wise, it’s the same as it used to be, but the note is a lot more tolerable. The race cars sound more like aeroplanes than oversized wasps. Let’s face it: deep notes in a powerful engine are always lovely to listen to. It’s one of the things that makes a Jaguar a Jaguar (and, for those who like two wheels, it’s one of the key characteristics of Harley-Davidsons and Triumphs).

Apparently, the moves have been introduced as a way of making F1 racing slightly more eco-friendly and sustainable, as these new engines use a tad less petrol than the old ones. This is something I’m in favour of as well, as my other main objection to F1 has been the fact that it does chew through a lot of petrol just to whizz around a circular racetrack at high speed. There is only a limited amount of crude oil on the planet and while motor racing is a lot of fun, it’s good that they’re using a smaller share. Means that there’ll be a shade more for the ambulances.

The manufacturers are liking the move, with Renault and Honda (with McLaren) apparently getting back into the F1 act. Given the way that what happens on the racetrack eventually trickles down into the production cars that you and I drive to work or the school run, this is a good thing. It should mean that we’ll get better, more efficient hybrids on the roads. Eventually.

For those who haven’t heard the difference, you can hear it at this very popular video (from Melbourne, no less!). Note the lack of earmuffs in the 2014 footage.