John Floyd
Motorsport columnist
6 minute read
21 Jan 2015
4:00 pm

Oh, please bring back the really noisy race cars

John Floyd

It's 10 days before the first activity of the 2015 season, the Jerez test sessions, and the second year of the 1.6 litre V6 turbo-charged engined hybrids.

Last season was a ‘suck it and see’ situation for many of the teams, with one or two seeing good results and the rest being those that sucked. So, what did we learn from the 2014 season and was it a success?

From the outset, it was the sound, or lack of it, that seemed to disturb both fans and media alike, even F1 supremo Bernie Ecclestone voiced his dislike and concern. There were rumblings of a possible legal action following the Australian Grand Prix, when the organizers were concerned the muted soundtrack would result in a loss of paying spectators for future events.

However, not everyone is in agreement.

Razlan Razali, boss of the Sepang circuit, home of the Malaysian round, says the new quieter power units appeal to “a new breed of fan base.” Although he personally is not enthusiastic about the new sound, he believes less noise improves the race for some fans.

Razali is reported as saying, “We were very concerned after the feedback from Australia. When it finally came to Malaysia, I didn’t like it. It was simply too quiet. But what I noticed in the grandstands is families with kids watching and enjoying F1 better.”

He continued: “I can remember in the past where a dad would put headphones on the kid and hold it. Or a kid would be too scared and start crying, wanting to go home. I think it attracts a new breed of fan base now and that’s what you want.”

I could not agree more with Mr Razali. Attracting new fans is vital to the future of the sport, but I definitely do not agree the quieter power units are the way to achieve this. Dyed in the wool motor racing enthusiasts thrive on the sights and particularly the sounds of performance cars being pushed to the limit and many of these fans have encouraged their offspring to follow suit.If the child is scared or just does not like it, then you simply do not expose them to motorsport.

Suggesting this is the way to create a bigger audience makes no sense at all. Would you take your child to a live concert by AC/DC, where the visual images and audio experience are totally overwhelming? If you did and your child was unhappy, would you walk up to the stage and ask the lead guitarist, Angus Young, if he could turn down the volume?

A rugby international or English Premier league match without the roar of the crowds would not stir the emotions in the least and if spectator silence was imposed by the organizers, those grandstands would soon empty.

So why does F1, the pinnacle of motor racing and its devoted fans have to accept a major attraction – the sound of a high revving engine – has been removed. I understand the fact it is the current design that limits the sound level, but with the outcry from so many, surely something must be done to put the excitement back in.

We are repeatedly informed spectator and TV audience numbers are falling. This ultimately results in a loss of income for the owners and organizers, the very same people who are trying to find ways of restoring those figures. Perhaps I’m a little slow and I certainly do not profess to be a marketing guru, but I do firmly believe in an old adage. “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it!”

In the days of yore, when V12’s and V10’s were the norm on the circuits of the world, there was no major problem, crowds queued to witness the spectacle and TV companies, even the SABC, broadcast the event for those of us who could not be there. But, of course, today it is not politically correct to burn fuel, pollute the atmosphere and increase noise levels for the enjoyment of a few million enthusiastic fans.

Once again we are told F1 needs to have more relevance to the automotive industry and subsequently bring more manufacturers into the fold. Again, I agree, but with reservations.
It is always good to see the major manufacturers becoming involved in the sport, but they are not just there for the racing. Motorsport permits a good marketing opportunity for the sales departments and an excellent laboratory for future developments.

I think the latter point is the prime reason for the reaction of many fans today. Development on track is not for the sake of the sport, but to improve the manufacturer’s road going offerings, today bigger engines are not considered part of the industry’s future.

The fact we are running small capacity, forced induction engines in a hybrid system and refer to them as power units rather than engines, is a sure indicator of this and no one is denying the fact.

But can F1, a sport that has inherently been all about visual and audio excitement since its inception in 1950, continue to impart that level of euphoria to the fans, when we are constantly limiting the very elements that have sustained the sport for 64 years?

Manufacturers have been involved in F1 for all that time, but with the exception of Ferrari, none have remained on a long-term basis, choosing to exit when they feel there is nothing further to be gained or when financial restrictions from the board halt sporting aspirations.

Like Ferrari, McLaren is an exception having entered motor racing many years ago and have remained a strong competitor. The Woking based company recently became a manufacturer of road cars. Using technology gained, they have created a performance car, not a model that is designed to be part of the everyday urban traffic commute.

The company’s involvement with Honda will perhaps result in new market areas, but performance will always be a major part of McLaren as it is with Ferrari.This, in my humble opinion, is a vital aspect of F1’s DNA.

Names such as those from Maranello and Woking, along with Cooper and Lotus are still with us today, having for many years fed technology into the mainstream of manufacturing. These names are still associated primarily with performance. With the present direction of F1, we must wonder if we will be able to say the same about any manufacturer’s contribution to the sport in the next half century.

No, I am not against manufacturers in F1, but concerned the powers that be are catering for the demands of the automotive industry rather than the sport itself. The fact that all aims to cap expenditure in the sport is ignored by some of the big names is a worrying aspect and needs to be controlled before all those with a smaller budget than the industrial giants are completely eliminated. That would be a very sad day.