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Published: Monday March 31, 2014 MYT 6:09:00 PM
Updated: Monday March 31, 2014 MYT 6:35:00 PM

F1 race more important than engine sound

SEPANG: Changes are always hard to accept but in life change is inevitable, and there is never a perfect situation where everyone is happy.

The new 1.6-litre V6 hybrid engines made their competitive debut in the season-opening race in Melbourne two weeks ago and immediately did not go down well with many.

There were complaints that the new hybrid units have an uninspiring sound and are much quieter than the old V8 engines.

Four-time world champion Sebastian Vettel also weighed in by describing the sound of the new engines as “s***” and calling it a “shame”.

“I think F1 has to be spectacular – and the sound is one of the most important things.”

He is a four-time world champion and what he says carries weight.

But this writer, after hearing it from the stands at the just-concluded Malaysian Grand Prix in Sepang, does not think the new sound generated by the turbo-charged engines, or lack of it, is that bad.

Yes, the cars are much quieter than before, no doubt about that. But they still sound like racing cars, despite what the traditionalists say.

The ear-splitting scream of the old V8s engines is gone and I feel the sound coming from the new V6 turbo hybrids is more pleasant on the ears. The motor-generator units that come as part of the hybrid system are audible, as the technical experts can vouch for them.

Fourmula One introduced the new engines this year after the teams and car manufacturers involved in the sport concluded that it needed to keep up with the road-car industry.

The new engines feature extensive energy-recovery, or simply known as hybrid systems, which are governed by a fuel restriction.

Adopting the engine change ensured manufacturers like Renault remained in the sport when it would otherwise have quit and it also has attracted Honda back, albeit only from the 2015 season.

Turbo engines are naturally quieter than naturally-aspirated ones because the turbo takes energy out of the exhaust flow to produce more power from the engine.

The new F1 engines also have a motor generator unit attached to the turbo to regenerate some of the energy that would otherwise be wasted.

And I think that while Vettel is right to say that the sound is not exciting anymore, there are also others who are defending the change.

Eric Boullier, McLaren’s racing director, said it is true the engine sound is different but it’s not very different from the turbo sound the sport saw in the 70s and 80s.

McLaren driver Jenson Button, now the oldest man on the grid, has also urged the drivers to concentrate on the racing rather than the roar.

“When you win a race you win a race, it doesn’t matter what it sounds like. If the engines were silent, you wouldn’t care. Go and race something else if you are not happy,” said Button in a retort to Vettel’s criticism of the sound.

There may be much noise going around with regards to the new turbo-charged engines but I believe being the technologically-driven sport that Formula One is, the cars are going to be developed to go faster than the old ones in a couple of years and everyone will get used to the sound eventually.

Already the drivers are saying it is far more of a challenge to get the car to perform to the optimum now due to the reduced levels of downforce.

And I like what F1 legend Niki Lauda said to the Independent daily about the current debate.

“It is completely the wrong direction - and the really stupid thing is that we are starting it. If some other people start it, who we can’t control, fine. But we do it ourselves and tell the world, and some idiots who don’t know anything jump on it. Everybody talks about the noise in a negative way, and it’s our own fault. So what I’m saying is, wait four or five races and then we won’t worry any more.

“If Vettel would have had a Mercedes engine and been winning the Melbourne Grand Prix, he would not complain, even if he doesn’t like the noise. In life, we can’t have everything perfect. We will get used to it.”

The writer has been fortunate to cover every edition of the Malaysian GP since 1999, except for one time in 2006 due to another assignment, and it was heart-warming to see the F1 community come together to pay tribute to the ill-fated MH370 with a one-minute silence on the grid - hopefully a first, and a last, in the sport’s history.    

Tags / Keywords: motorsport, Malaysian Grand Prix, Malaysian GP, Formula One, V6 hybrid engine, V8 engine


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