F1′s new cars are jumped-up milk floats – but does anyone really care?


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Formula Milk Float? The new F1 cars have caused a (very quiet) stir

The cheapest tickets to watch Formula One on race day at Silverstone are £150. You're more or less guaranteed to spend several hours sitting in gridlocked traffic on your way to and from the circuit. And if you actually want to follow what's going on, you'd be far better off sitting at home and watching it on TV.

But fans come in their hundreds of thousands, to Silverstone, to Monza, to Spa, to every F1 track on the circuit for one thing: the mesmerising, irresistible, visceral thrill of being up close to the most amazing racing machines on the planet. And the single most important element of that appeal lies in the sound of the cars.

That's what you have to remember should you be inclined to dismiss the concerns about the eco-friendly 2014 cars being too quiet. Noise isn't just part of the sideshow of F1; to the petrolheads who pay big money to attend the races themselves, it is absolutely at the heart of F1.

We're not just talking about a noise that's a little quieter versus a noise that is more raucous.

We're talking about the difference between a noise that is loud and exciting, and one that is so loud, so ridiculously over-the-top loud, that you can literally feel your internal organs vibrating as the sound waves crush through your body. It's so loud that you'd not be in the least bit surprised if blood started pouring out of your ears.

Of course, most TV viewers won't know the difference. Sure, you'll notice the change in tone of the engine - but if your TV is set to the same volume, you'll not notice any difference in the absolute level of that noise. The microphones and sound mixing technicians see to that; just as they could turn a whisper up to the volume of a shout, or turn down a shout to the volume of a whisper, they can make sure that the fans at home barely notice the change.

But at the track, it's very different. The 2014 cars have small V6 turbo-charged engines instead of large V8 naturally-aspirated blocks under their figurative bonnets, a change which - together with a limit on RPM and the ever-larger electrical boosters in the powerplants - give the cars a far lower sound level that's characterised by a distinctive turbo whine and electrical whirr in the background.

It's a difference that can only really be appreciated in person - but this internet video does go some of the way to showing the difference:

No less an authority than F1 supremo Bernie Ecclestone has admitted that he was not impressed.

Ecclestone, while still in charge of F1 as a business despite his impending court case, has no more than advisory input into the rules and regulations, which are decided by the FIA.

"I was not horrified by the noise, I was horrified by the lack of it," he told the Daily Telegraph.

"And I was sorry to be proved right with what I've said all along - these cars don't sound like racing cars.

"I've been speaking with Jean (Todt, president of the FIA) and what I've said is we need to see whether there is some way of making them sound like racing cars.

"I don't know whether it's possible, but we should investigate.

"I think let's get the first few races out of the way and then maybe look to do something. We can't wait all season. It could be too late by then."

Ecclestone might be right - but how much of a problem is it?

Formula One has for many years been a made-for-TV spectacle that fans enjoy going to in person, rather than the other way round. And so while the lack of noise is an issue for those in the pit lane and the stands, it's probably a complete irrelevance for the estimated 450 million people around the world who tune into a race each season.

Only time will tell if the quiet engines affect viewing figures in 2014. But Motorhead's best guess is that a closely-fought, exciting championship will be a far bigger draw for most fans than marginally more exciting engine noises coming through the weedy speakers on your telly.

If F1 delivers that in 2014 then nobody watching the race from the comfort of their sofa will care if the cars are powered by 140 decibel V8s - or the jumped-up milk float engines that the new regulations have brought us.

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