F1’S SONIC CONUNDRUM
ll it took was a change in Formula 1
engine regulations for the exhaust note’s
seminal role to be thrust into the headlines,
and if you find yourself underwhelmed
with the sounds emanating from the new
1.6-liter turbos, you’re not alone.
“It is s**t,” said four-time F1 World
Champion Sebastian Vettel. “For the fans
it isn’t good. F1 has to be spectacular, and
sound is one of the most important things.”
F1’s ownership of racing’s best sonic
signature was forfeited when screaming
V8s were replaced by “hushed hairdryers.”
But this year’s passing of the torch from
naturally-aspirated to turbocharged engines
wasn’t the first of its kind in grand prix racing.
The last time turbocharging arrived on
the scene, back in 1977, F1 stumbled upon
what many regard as the most stunning
12-year span of soundscapes – turbo and
non-turbo alike – the sport’s ever heard.
“I was invited by Ferrari to come and do
a week of testing at Maranello in ’ 79,” says
former F1 and Indy car driver Eddie
Cheever. “That was the first time I’d ever
driven an F1 car and it was a flat- 12. I still
remember the sounds of it, how it vibrated,
and it stuck in my mind as a thing of beauty.
The turbos followed and had a character
of their own…very different, very violent.”
Those 12 prancing horses are to engine
audiophiles what Led Zeppelin is to rock ’n’
roll lovers. Yet, by 1981, they’d given way
to Ferrari’s 1.5-liter, twin-turbo V6 as it
joined F1 turbo pioneer Renault and early
adopter Hart in the forced-induction club.
Yes, V12s from Alfa Romeo and Matra
continued to fill the air with joy, but the
massive power offered by turbocharging
meant time was running out on the 3-liter,
With the aural experience such a big
part of auto racing, the new breed of
Formula 1 power units faced criticism
for their lack of sonic thrills. Why so?
WORDS Marshall Pruett
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