One of the most visceral things about auto racing is the sound race cars make. It’s not the noise, though it is hard to deny the appeal of a V12 at full throttle, but the feeling it gives you. The rhythmic pulse of controlled explosions within an internal combustion engine reverberate through the body, giving you a sense of the power, precision and risk involved in motorsports.
Different cars produce different sensations. Stand behind a top-fuel dragster when it launches and your entire body literally vibrates. A pack of Nascar racers sounds and feels like 1 million lawnmowers blasting past at 200 mph. And then there are Formula 1 cars, which sound like jets turned up to 11. There’s nothing quite like the sensory overload of an F1 car running flat-out.
Which is why so many F1 fans are so bent out of shape over the new technical regulations. The new cars simply don’t sound, or feel, like the old ones.
Beyond the change from naturally aspirated 2.4-liter V8s to turbocharged 1.6-liter V6s, the rules limit engines to “only” 15,000 RPM, down from 18,000 last year. Blown diffusers, which used exhaust gasses to increase downforce and gave some cars a distinctive bark upon deceleration, also are banned. As a result, the cars are significantly quieter–so much so that many spectators will no longer need ear protection.
Though the new engines don’t scream quite so loud as before, they have their own charm. We suspect race fans will grow to love them with their turbo whine and rumbling exhaust.
We’ve only had the pre-season tests in Jerez and Bahrain to hear the new powerplants, so we’ll have to wait for next weekend’s race in Melbourne to hear what they sound like at race pace. But so far, we like what we hear. Yes, they aren’t as loud as the old engines, but there is a lovely burble and rumble that makes the engines seem like living things. And when drivers lift off the throttle, you can hear the high-pitched whine of the turbo screaming as the car takes a corner. There’s some personality behind that mechanical fury.
This clip, from the Jerez test, is a fantastic showcase of the new turbocharger’s whine as the Ferrari cuts its engine in the pits.