We are now seven months into the Formula One calendar. Our first year in the era of the v6 turbo charged engines. There have been 14 races, in four different continents, with three drivers winning those races. Just three points separate first and second in the drivers standings, the closest margin at this point in the season in Formula One history. Yet every week, the engine noise is mentioned. Whether it’s the perpetual question pushing from reporters, or broadcasters giving their two cents on the difference from last year to this year.
To first understand the complaint, you must understand the issue. In 1989 Formula One banned turbochargers due to the 1988 dominance of McLaren and World Champion Ayrton Senna, who between himself and teammate Alain Prost, won all but one grand prix. Since the banishment of turbochargers, efficiency has taken a back seat in the interest of Formula One’s great minds. What we were left with from 1989 to 2013, was unadulterated speed. Racing in it’s purest form. Sex on a racing circuit. Engines ranged from 12 cylinders to 8 cylinders, and the sport fed itself on the boom of technological advancements of the 1990’s and continuing into the 21st century.
Formula One tripled in size in this period, becoming one of the biggest spectator sports in the world. Drawing close 100,000 people in attendance for each race event. Sponsors falling over themselves with money in hand, countries vying for the opportunity to host the greatest show on asphalt.
In this period though, Formula One got away from what it was created to be. Formula One is the pinnacle of auto racing. It is the peak of technological advancement. The strides that these car companies make on the circuit trickle down to their dealerships. What people don’t understand is teams like Ferrari don’t use Formula One to sell its road cars, they use the road cars to fund the Formula One team. It is the be all, end all of motorsport.
So in 2014, after four consecutive years of an energy drink company winning the World Drivers Championship and Constructors Championship. Formula One saw their opportunity. It is no secret we are living in an ever changing world of self awareness and moral sensibility. So the re-introduction of turbo chargers were announced alongside the highly controversial v6 engines.
Formula One is the continual advancement of speed. To push the envelope further and further everyday. As with all sports, the game reflects the times. What the v6 engines + turbochargers offered was an efficient and economical way to not only conserve fuel, but push the boundaries of speed. The new energy recovery systems (ERS) uses previously wasted energy in the brakes and shifting to transfer power to the engine. The exact same way a Prius charges its battery when you brake.
Now to the issue. The sound, or lack there of. The sound from 1989 to 2013 was raw, powerful and boisterous. When you parked your car at the circuit, a 10 minute walk away, you could feel the tremble in your gut. It was a roar, a booming echo of a sound. Your dad would go and buy you ear plugs because Mom told him too, but by the end of the formation lap they were long gone. It was for many people, the cherry on the top of a wonderful experience.
I don’t want to take away from the love of sound, because I too wrap my fondest memories in the scream of Michael Schumacher’s 2003 F2003-GA 19,000 RPM Ferrari.
The new sound, while quieter, it is also different. It’s a growl, not a roar. The spaceship-esque snarl that is released in downshifting doesn’t sound bad. It sound’s like the future. For those saying Formula One is taking steps backwards and taking away from the spectacle, I understand your opinion. But the new engines are lung busting beasts underneath a sheath of carbon fibre and energy.
Nobody really likes change. It’s not about getting used to it and adjusting to your new “worse” surroundings. It’s about understanding it. In just a few years all of the old lap records around the world will be gone. These cars will be pushing the barriers of speed and creating useful technology for the vehicles you and I drive. What we’ve lost in superficial value we will gain back in terms of sport.
Just five races remain in one of the most enthralling seasons in recent memory. Two best friends, turned enemies, turned best friends and turned enemies again, pushing each other to the limit. Teammates drawn against one another, travelling the world for a prize they’ve dreamt of since they drove karts together as teenagers. It writes itself. So get ready, buckle up and make sure you don’t blink. It’s going to be fast, sort of loud, and spectacular. Formula One wouldn’t have it any other way.