Is the Sound of the New 2014 Formula 1 Engines a Problem on TV?

Matthew WalthertFeatured ColumnistMarch 18, 2014

Ear plugs may be a thing of the past in F1.
Ear plugs may be a thing of the past in F1.MOHAMMED AL-SHAIKH/Associated Press

There was a roar emanating from Melbourne last weekend, but it was not coming from the Formula One cars tearing around Albert Park.

Rather, it was the sound of the media, fans, race organisers and even F1 CEO Bernie Ecclestone complaining about the lack of noise made by the new hybrid F1 power units. (We are not supposed to call them "engines" anymore.)

I do not think this criticism is without merit—I remember how disappointed I was in the difference between the sounds of the V10 and V8 engines—but it misses part of the bigger picture: namely, the television picture.

While many grands prix routinely draw 100,000 or more spectators on Sundays, those numbers are dwarfed by the sport's average TV audience of more than 20 million viewers per race. For those viewers, unlike the ones at the circuits, engine noise is not really part of the show.

The trackside microphones are so muffled that you cannot hear what the engines actually sound like. Even with the V8 or V10 engines, you had to be at the track to truly appreciate them.

Yes, the engines are quieter this season, but unless you are attending a race—and the numbers suggest most F1 fans are not—you will not notice a massive difference from the previous year. The V8s already sounded quiet on television.

Besides, it is a rare moment when the TV commentators—on BBC, Sky Sports or any other channel—are quiet long enough for viewers to actually focus on the engine sound. Here is an example, with Mark Webber providing commentary on Lewis Hamilton's pole lap from last weekend:

I am not arguing there is nothing wrong with the new power units. I enjoyed the sound of the old engines as much as anyone and will certainly miss the noise when I am at the circuit. But on TV, where the vast majority of F1 fans watch most of the races, the difference is just not noticeable enough to be a big issue.

If something can be done to increase the noise for next season, it should certainly be considered. Otherwise, the show will go on—just a bit quieter than we are used to.

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