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Grand Prix's green machines are so quiet they threaten racing's business

Posting in Technology
 
Formula One Australia Richard Munckton Wiki.jpg
Racketeering: The Gand Prix sells well because it is loud. But with this year's greener engines, the cars make less of a racket. That could drive fans away. Above, Jenson Button and his winning noise machine in the 2010 Australian race.
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In Grand Pix auto racing, decibels sell. Fast cars roar around road and track at ear splitting volume. Not only do the fans who pay big money love it, but they expect it.

So there were a lot of disappointed people on hand in Australia over the weekend, when the 2014 season "quietly" kicked off in Melbourne with newly mandated energy-improved engines. Spectators quickly realized that the slimmed down V6s don't make anywhere near the wonderful racket as did the big ass V8s to which they're accustomed.

"They sounded like golf carts," said one in a tweet, as the London Evening Standard reported.

The race organizers are so concerned that they're threatening legal action against Formula One, the international body that specifies designs and that is run by Bernie Eccelstone.

"I was not too happy with the sound," said Australian Grand Prix chairman Ron Walker. "We are resolving that with Bernie. It's clearly in breach of our contract. I was talking to him last night and it's not what we paid for."

Walker is a friend of Eccelstone's, who himself is not happy with the changes that his own organization forced in order to give the Grand Prix a greener image. "He's horrified about it," Walker said. "It will be an issue for all promoters. If you sat in the grandstand you could hardly hear them coming down the straight."

The old 2.4-liter V8 engines reached 140 decibels, just below the level that causes permanent hearing damage, the Standard noted. 

The quieter 1.6-liter V6 engines, which use turbocharging as an energy efficient power enhancer, could ruin the sport's popularity, Walker warned. "When you take the excitement away, you have trouble selling tickets," he said. "You have to create demand, and part of that demand is people liking the noise of the race cars."

Australian Grand Prix chief executive Andrew Westacott agreed. In describing the weekend race to Melbourne radio station he noted, "What was lacking was the sexiness and the appeal of the noise."


Westacott said he did not need earplugs in the pit lane at the start of the race and described the sounds as being like harpsichords in a chamber orchestra. He expects hardcore racing fans in Europe will be even less impressed by the quieter cars.
Indeed. But if the changes stick, then Formula One should flesh out its rebranding effort. In Britain on the BBC, the sport's theme tune is Fleetwood Mac's hard driving, electric bass led, tortured love song The Chain (famous promotional bass riff starts at around the 3-minute mark). Perhaps they should replace it with There's a Kind of Hush. Feel free to suggest a better alternative song in the comments section below.

Photo is from Richard Munckton via Wikimedia

Another injection of green engines:

— By on March 18, 2014, 6:47 AM PST

Mark Halper

Contributing Editor

Mark Halper has written for TIME, Fortune, Financial Times, the UK's Independent on Sunday, Forbes, New York Times, Wired, Variety and The Guardian. He is based in Bristol, U.K. Follow him on Twitter. Disclosure