Formula 1 Cars Will Be Louder in 2016, but That Won't Solve the Sport's Problems

Matthew Walthert@@MatthewWalthertFeatured ColumnistJanuary 24, 2016

Revised exhaust systems will make F1 cars louder in 2016.
Revised exhaust systems will make F1 cars louder in 2016.Charles Coates/Getty Images

Formula One cars are going to be louder in 2016 than they have been since the switch to hybrid V6 engines for the 2014 season.

According to Mercedes executive director Paddy Lowe, speaking in the latest episode of the team's in-house studio show, instead of wasting some extra pressure from the exhaust system:

We now have to duct that air separately through an extra tail pipe and this is all intended to make more noise.

So, we are trying to make the engine louder. It will work. We will see how much louder they will be, but some measurements have been made in the labs and we have seen some significant increase.

The quieter engines have been one of the most common complaints of the new engine formula among fans and even F1 chief executive Bernie Ecclestone.

"I was not horrified by the noise, I was horrified by the lack of it...these cars don't sound like racing cars," Ecclestone told Australian newspaper the Age (h/t Sky Sports) at the 2014 Australian Grand Prix.

Making the cars louder is a good idea: It will stem one of the main criticisms of the new engines and will "improve the spectacle" (a favourite phrase of late among the sport's leaders) for the small percentage of F1 fans who actually attend a race each year.

However, louder engines won't solve most of the sport's problems, including declining television viewership, vast budget inequality among the teams, the loss of races in traditional markets and the lack of competitive racing at the front of the grid.

Video Play Button
Videos you might like

But, hey, if we can distract everyone with a few extra decibels, maybe they won't notice all the other issues! (One assumes those exact words could have been spouted by either Ecclestone or FIA president Jean Todt during a top secret meeting to discuss their "near unanimous" mandate to recommend improvements for F1.)

Meanwhile, back in reality, more noise may draw some extra fans back to the circuits, but roaring engines alone will not reverse the tide seen, for example, in Germany. At the 2014 race at Hockenheimring, the Telegraph's Daniel Johnson estimated a Sunday attendance figure of 50,000 (compared to 122,000 for the British Grand Prix) and just 10,000 for Friday practice.

Unsurprisingly, the 2015 German Grand Prix was cancelled. That fate has already befallen France, and Italy and the U.S. could be next on Ecclestone's chopping block.

Bernie Ecclestone and Jean Todt at the 2015 British Grand Prix.
Bernie Ecclestone and Jean Todt at the 2015 British Grand Prix.Clive Rose/Getty Images

And what about those declining TV numbers? Joe Saward provided a good overview of the scale of the problem for Professional Motorsport World, and it will not be fixed with louder cars, either.

Engine noise is mostly irrelevant on television. The microphones are muffled, and the commentators are talking most of the time, anyway. Comparing the sound of even the old V10 engines on TV vs. trackside is the equivalent of hearing a recording of the London Symphony Orchestra instead of a live performance.

Of course, the inequalities in income and spending between the teams has nothing to do with engine decibels, either, but is one of the biggest problems facing the sport. With new teams each year on the edge of bankruptcy—in 2015, it was Lotus, before their Renault buyout—worrying so much about car noise is like rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic.

The vast differences in team budgets also exacerbate the differences in on-track performance, where low-spending teams have no hope of beating the likes of Mercedes and Ferrari.

Unfortunately, there is no real impetus for change at the very top. F1's overall revenues are in good shape, according to Forbes' Christian Sylt.

Ecclestone, therefore, sees no need to change his current strategy of milking the race organisers for as much as possible, talking down to longtime fans, seeking out more pay TV deals and moving races away from traditional markets in favour of oil-rich (that seems like an oxymoron these days) nations willing to pay exorbitant hosting fees.

One day, declining attendance and TV viewership figures will reach a point where they can no longer be ignored by those in charge. And then it will not be a matter of tinkering with exhaust pipes or tyre widths to fix the sport.

Until then, at least we'll have a bit more noise.

Follow me on Twitter for updates when I publish new articles and for other (mostly) F1-related news and banter: