Formula One returned to Melbourne this past weekend for the opening round of the 2014 World Championship. Much has changed during the off-season, not least the engine regulations mandating all-new, 1.6-liter turbocharged V-6 “power units,” with greater emphasis placed on the electric KERS system.
This change has had a drastic effect. It’s shaken up the grid – something hardcore F1 fans have enjoyed – but more notably transformed the iconic whine of a Formula One racer into a vague burble – something F1 fans have vehemently lamented.
The sound is so bad, in fact, that the Australian Grand Prix Corporation, the group that staged the race, claims Bernie Ecclestone and his F1 management group may be in breach of contract.
Sound a bit extreme? Watch this comparison video to hear the difference. Andrew Westacott, CEO of the AGPC, told Fairfax Radio that the new, quieter sound was “a little bit duller than it’s ever been before,” and that given the premium a nation must pay to host F1 (Australia paid a reported $45 million for this year's race), the organization plans to study the contracts for any apparent breaches: “There has probably been some,” Westacott said.
AGPC chairman Ron Walker, who remains close friends with Ecclestone, was a little more outspoken, telling Melbourne newspaper The Age that F1’s leader was “horrified” by the quiet drone. “It's clearly in breach of our contract,” Walker said. “I was talking to him (Ecclestone) last night and it's not what we paid for. It's going to change.”
Fans, too, were distressed by the lack of noise. And what little noise there was sounded more like a herd of elephants with bad flatulence.
Formula one without noise is so wrong! Like listening to Metallica with earplugs. #wherestheroar
— Janet Whitton (@mamakastu) March 15, 2014
The outcry from the AGPC is understandable – hosting a Grand Prix is about entertainment and ticket sale; one key reason fans flock to F1 is the incredible sound. Losing that does create a dampener, despite the on-track racing last Sunday, in which Nico Rosberg won in his Mercedes, being quite entertaining.
Australia has had reasons for F1 frustrations beyond engine noise. New superstar Daniel Ricciardo finished second in his debut with Red Bull Racing, becoming the first Aussie to stand on the podium at his home Grand Prix — until he was disqualified by F1 because his Red Bull exceeded the maximum allowed fuel flow. Red Bull has vowed to protest, leading an Australian newspaper to call the entire situation a “farce.”
For the AGPC, tackling Ecclestone on the noise issues will likely be a tough task, even if it discovers legitimate grounds. It’s more likely that the AGPC is going public on its issues as a way to negotiate a lower promoter’s fee for 2015; earlier this month both Ecclestone and Walker claimed to be in the final stages of negotiation, and if a contract hasn’t already been signed, making a stink now may offer some much-needed leverage over F1's supremo.
Walker thinks other promoters will be as upset as he is regarding the neutered sound, and given Ecclestone’s apparent dismay on the matter, as well as the angry fans, a change is likely to be in the works – although it won't come quickly.
And anyway, what's F1 without a little complaining? It's as silly as a Weekend at Bernie's, only without any kicks to the groin.
Unless your name's Ricciardo. In which case you got it bad.