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New Formula 1 engine noise from an acoustic expert’s perspective

Salford University professor of acoustics and audio engineering sheds light on why new F1 engines sound less exciting.

There’s no doubt the new V6 turbocharged engines are much quieter than the old V8s, having witnessed the first race of the 2014 Formula 1 season. Australian Grand Prix organisers went as far to say they had been short-changed. But just how much quieter are we talking?

Trevor Cox, an professor of acoustic and audio engineering at Salford University, decided to look at the difference from a scientific perspective on his blog. He confirms why spectators have done away with needing ear defenders.

“According to the sport’s governing body FIA, the sound pressure level for the new cars is 11 decibels lower than before (134 dB compared to 145 dB),” Cox commented. “Normally in acoustics, a rule of thumb is that a 10 decibel change sounds likes a halving of loudness. Although, both new and old engines produce noise levels likely to produce pain in the ear.”

The professor pointed out there’s more to it than volume. He goes onto explain the old V8 created a sound within a spectrum the human is particularly sensitive to that, at its top end, is akin to a human scream.

The new V6, meanwhile, is very different. “The new engines are producing their energy about an octave lower, away from the range where the ear is most sensitive, and at a frequency lower than human screaming. No wonder fans have complained of a less visceral feeling.”

It sounds like scientific confirmation Formula One has become quieter and less interesting, but the professor actually says the lack of ear defenders is a good thing, stating that he would “much rather” listen to the new engines in full than the old engines through hearing protection.

The Formula One rule changes were meant to make the sport more exciting and less of a procession. New rules include double points awarded in the Abu Dhabi season finale, a much more extreme version of the KERS system and five engines allowed per season instead of eight.

Check out the YouTube comparison below, which now has more than 2 million views, and let us know your thoughts. Also look at the professor’s graph comparison of the two engines – the difference between the 2013 and 2014 engine really is significant.

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