Sports

Why Formula 1 has a sound problem

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Credit: REUTERS/Brandon Malone

Williams Formula 1 driver Valtteri Bottas of Finland drives during the Australian F1 Grand Prix at the Albert Park circuit in Melbourne March 16, 2014. The new race cars run on hybrid technology, leaving many fans missing the old engine sound.

Fans of Formula 1 car racing are upset over a new move to go green.

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(This story is based on a radio interview. Listen to the full interview.)

This season, all F1 cars are required to have new 1.6-litre V6 turbo engines that use hybrid technology. They replace V8s used last year.

The V6 turbo engines cut down on pollution. But they also trim the noise.

Not cool. Fans love the noise.

And after the first race of the Formula 1 season last Sunday in Melbourne, Australia, they're complaining that the new cars are too quiet.

Australian Grand Prix Chief Executive Andrew Westacott, told the BBC that the quieter engines lack raw emotion when hurtling down the track.

"That's an integral part of the chemistry of this sport that's been built up over the decades and it was sadly lacking in Melbourne despite the great racing that we did have," he said.

Bruce Jones is a freelance journalist based in England who covers Formula 1. He agrees the move to hybrid engines messes with a quintessential part of the fan experience. To hear him talk, the sound is the one thing that really attracts people to the racetrack.

"It goes straight through your sternum," he adds. "It's incredibly powerful."

The sound hooks you. And it certainly hooked Jones. He says it's a big reason that he spent the better part of his life covering motorsports. But the cars in Melbourne were quiet, and the sounds were unappealing.

"It was a flatulent sound," he says.

Sound isn't the only thing that upset race fans. Fuel is another issue.

This year Formula 1 also has new regulations concerning how fast fuel runs into the engines, and how much fuel each car can carry. Sensors monitor the fuel rate and if a driver exceeds the limit, goodbye podium.

That's exactly what happened to Red Bull driver Daniel Ricciardo who took second place and was later disqualified. He's appealing that ruling with race officials.

But all the talk about sound and fuel is forgetting something important. Jones says it misses what Formula 1 is trying to do with the greener V6 engines.

The race organizers are trying to make the technology far more applicable to the automotive industry. The technology used in racing will one day most likely be used in our own cars in the future.

"It's a step that had to be taken," he says.

To fix the sound, it appears that teams will re-engineer the sound. And it might be do to the online complaints by race fans. 

Some took the sounds and made videos, like the one below, comparing the two sounds of the cars. Give it a listen. There really is a difference.

But Formula 1 has constantly changed. It's all about technology. New technology, and different cars, new cars and faster cars. It's about different engines. Change is a common thing.

And Jones says that every time Formula 1 has changed people focus on it for a bit and then move on. Prior to the race, people complained about the look of the cars. Many felt the front of the car, the nose, looked ugly.

Those complaints were drowned out by the noise, or lack of noise.

But Jones thinks that as long as the drivers put on a show, the organizers can sort the troubles. Formula 1's chief executive, Bernie Ecclestone, has vowed to fix the sound.

And Jones thinks that if the right engine-roar returns, all will be forgiven. 

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