Wednesday, April 09, 2014

Exhaust Notes

The dull drone of the 2014 power units left an emotional void in the hearts and minds of those for whom the soul-stirring sounds made by F1 engines have always been one of the sport’s major attractions. Having vastly underestimated the power of sound to rouse feelings of awe, wonder and passion – even the drivers were critical of the muted motors - the designers of the sophisticated new turbo hybrids have now been tasked with finding ways to provide exhaust notes worthy of the pinnacle of motorsport. Those searching for dramatic new sounds could find plenty of inspiration from the past.

The violent noise made by F1 cars used to shake the ground, make teeth rattle, eyes blur, ears ache, hearts race. In the previous turbo era the tiny 1.5 liter devices had a shocking ferocity, delivering a fearsome blast of bellowing sound and flame-spitting fury that fired the imagination.

In 1989 the turbulent turbos were banned and the new 3.5 liter engines came in three different configurations that produced wonderfully varied symphonies of sound. When we first heard the glorious unrestrained caterwauling I was standing bestide a veteran Italian journalist who – with eyes glistening – was experiencing ecstasies of sonic-induced euphoria comparable to any operatic performance at La Scala in Milano. “Bravo! Bravo! Bellissimo!”, he exclaimed as the V10s and V12s howled by, their anguished wailing underscored by the mournful basso profundo of the V8s.

It seemed possible to detect national characteristics in the exhaust notes. The Renaults screeching stridently in magnificent discord had overtones of a fierce Gallic argument. A French colleague insisted a hint of Garlic wafted through the air after a Renault-powered machine had bawled by. The Hondas, still higher on the decibel scale, howled with more technical proficiency as if a multitude of enormous tuning forks were vibrating in perfectly controlled harmony, 12,000 times a minute, but the barely tamed tone left no doubt raw mechanical mayhem was being committed here.

The Ferraris made a much more complicated noise, with each of the 12 cylinders apparently operating independently in a tortuous cacophony that seemed to imply a fervent cry for help. There were notes of desperation within the unholy hullaballoo, perhaps perpetrated by an anguished chorus of 3,500 operatic castrati who were distraught at the loss of the vital organs that gave them voice. Accompanying all this was a constant rasping commotion, sounding like glass being shattered at a tremendous rate, as if the mighty orgy of cylindrical detonations was being celebrated by an infinite number of wine glasses being enthusiastically smashed to smithereens against Armco barrier.

The even higher pitched Lamborghini V12s sang a spine-tingling aria, a richly melodramatic wail that came within screaming distance of the best ever F1 sound: the celebrated 1970’s era motors built by the French rocket maker Matra. The magnificent Matra V12s produced a spine-tingling combination of Stuka-divebomber-like shrieking that carried its own air raid siren accompaniment and a majestic melodiousness that sent spirits soaring into the stratosphere.

1 comment:

  1. To the modern day F1 fan, the painful howl of the restricted exhaust as the cars twitch their way out of a corner and down a straight, the gasping of air intakes and intercoolers, and whirring energy recovery systems as life and previously undiscovered amounts of torque are fed back into the "power units", justified by never been heard before screaming tires begging for mercy are a modern day racing symphony as opposed to a decibel charged '70s rock concert, and an accurate reflection of what the future of racing will be.
    Only George Lucas was ahead of the F1 engineers when he created the Pod Races of Star Wars Episode 1.
    Accept this: We will always race. It will not always be with petro-chemical powered "cars".
    As evidenced by the first 3 races of 2014, the competition is as ferocious as ever, goes deeper into the design and management than ever before and rewards our intellect as much as our racing instincts.
    I love it!
    Your friend in Speed.
    - if you're not racing, take the bus.