The debate over Formula 1’s current regulatory impact continues as Mercedes tried out a new exhaust trumpet to increase the sound of the car. Whether it worked or not has not been the topic of discussion rather the lampooning of the concept and appearance of the contraption.

While FIA president Jean Todt has transformed the cause célèbre of the organization from safety to sustainability, the regulations have brought a raft of earth-saving technology initiatives due to pressure the car manufacturers placed on F1 as a contingency to their involvement.

The changes were antithetical to the other “noteworthy” cause of the FIA which was cost-cutting and budget caps. Teams struggling under the stable regulations of 2013 and prior are now faced with meteoric rises in their costs to participate in this year’s specification.

Certainly saving F1 was a major concern and keeping manufacturers involved was important. Many suggest that F1 was being threatened by Mercedes and Renault if they didn’t make the 2014 engine regulation changes. Meanwhile, teams such as Sauber, Caterham and Marussia can barely stomach the massive cost increases.

Jean Todt told AUTOSPORT that the overwhelming concern from fans regarding the sound of the cars will simply go away:

“It is a question of taste,” he said. “I don’t have any problem with the noise, but I need to take it into account if a lot of people say they want more noise.

“I never heard any complaint about the noise in Spa [at the World Endurance Championship round]. And in Spain, again, those who complain they are more vocal than those who do not complain.

“We have asked some manufacturers to prepare some suggestions.

“But believe me, in a few months’ time, nobody will speak any more about the noise. We will have found something else.”

Amidst the debate, and unlikely champion of plain thinking has emerged in the form of Pirelli motorsport boss Paul Hembery. Leave it to a supplier to make the most sense of the F1 errors and nonsensical moves. AUTOSPORT has the call:

“When you are in business, the first thing you do is try to understand your customer,” said Hembery, speaking before the Mercedes exhaust test.

“I think it is very dangerous for a sport like F1 to invent rules, regulations and ideas without extensively understanding what the customer expects from it.

“It is the fans we need to appeal to. What do they want to see? What do they expect to see?

“Do they expect a WWF version of motorsport? Or do they expect a technology race? Those are the two extremes – what is it that the public expects from the pinnacle of motorsport? Once you understand that, they you can start.

“At the moment, you risk putting the cart before the horse in trying to solve the problem without actually knowing what the problem is.”

Perhaps Todt is hoping it will go away but as Hembery points out, the circus isn’t providing what the majority of the fans want. Todt says that there is a silent majority who prefer the new changes in F1 and those who don’t like it are a vocal minority. We could spend an hour discussing how that actually works with topics such as Sustainability, politics, cultural diversity and more but that’s for another blog.

In the end, we’ll see if F1 loses viewers and attendees over the very expensive regulatory changes and current Mercedes domination. Teams and sponsors are getting nervous and nothing changes F1 quite like a reduction of income. Hembery’s notion of WWF(E) style racing may still be a pertinent element but there is an agenda that is being pressed as well and as we’ve seen from daily headlines, that agenda is not a unanimously endorsed concept.

Whatever changes are made will require unanimity amongst the teams and that will be a very difficult element in the desire to change F1. Honda has been labeled as company who’s motivation for returning is the new engine/hybrid format. Renault and Mercedes have been labeled as bullying F1 into the new engine format as well. Can F1 make changes that will keep these three happy?

In the end, it’s nice to see how F1 pundits are all speaking for fans and making bold statements as to what we will and won’t watch and what is important to us. It will be more interesting to see who is closer to interpreting the fan sentiments than others.

An F1 fan since 1972, NC has spent over 25 years in the technology industry focusing on technology integration, AV systems integration, digital media strategies, technology planning, consulting, speaking, presenting, sales, content strategy, marketing and brand building.
  • I think Todt’s quote actually is considering the fans, not dismissing them. A vocal percentage have rallied against the sound, which leads us to Merc’s butt trumpet. I hate the notion, but if one wants a fan-sensitive FIA, there you go…

    The bigger question is ho has the true measure of what fans want? It could be true that a majority dislike current F1, or it could be false. Has anyone sampled the fan base (I don’t consider a team’s or website’s poll unbiased in the least, particularly w/ the leading verbiage used.) It’s not a knock on Ferrari or F1B; promoting one’s own view to further a cause or earn justification is fine. However, if a poll’s purpose is assessment for potential improvement, it must offer open avenue for extrapolation, must sample a representative portion of the community (not a fan base or the willing internet participants); essentially the middle-of road fans invested in the sport, not an entity of the sport.

    Polling is a very difficult thing, so one must instead look at metrics, yet even here, results can be skewed. It’s already been discussed how tv viewership figures are misrepresentative. HBO’s figures are down from last year; is it because pay TV sucks more, or is it the changing nature of content consumption and the rising costs of the model?

    Note, I’m not saying the premise is false; a majority of fans might indeed be turned off by F1 2014. Short of an unbiased census however, the only way it’ll be determined true is if fans do indeed stop watching as they say and, in the case of F1B, website hits/post counts depress.

    • He seems to be dismissing them from my vantage point. Saying that we’ll all forget about it and move on is marginalizing the situation a bit. I suspect there are a large throng of people who are not happy and not just a vocal minority. If it were a vocal minority, they wouldn’t have even done the butt trumpet. He’s simply trying to manage crisis like any PR person would. Time will tell, viewer numbers will be key.

  • What I find fascinating is the intentional, pejorative use of the word “noise” when Todt and many other supporters of the new PU’s describe the sounds of past F1 engines. The mainstream motoring press is guilty of this, as well.

    Noise, defined by:
    The Oxford Dictionary: A sound, especially one that is loud or unpleasant or that causes disturbance: making a noise like a pig in a trough.; what’s that rustling noise outside the door?

    From Merriam-Webster:
    1. loud, confused, or senseless shouting or outcry
    a : SOUND; especially : one that lacks agreeable musical quality or is noticeably unpleasant
    b : any sound that is undesired or interferes with one’s hearing of something
    c : an unwanted signal or a disturbance (as static or a variation of voltage) in an electronic device or instrument (as radio or television); broadly : a disturbance interfering with the operation of a usually mechanical device or system
    d : electromagnetic radiation (as light or radio waves) that is composed of several frequencies and that involves random changes in frequency or amplitude
    e : irrelevant or meaningless data or output occurring along with desired information

    If a statement or thought gets repeated often enough it can take hold as a new touchstone whether the statement is valid or not. I understand that many do not, maybe never did, like or appreciate the sounds of the Cosworth, Ferrari, Illmor, Alfa, BMW, etc. engines of old. But for many of us, those very sounds are anything but noise; yes, they are loud, but they are also a glorious symphony of mechanical engineering that is intrinsically tied to sport of F1.

    I really wish that Todt, et al, would cool it with the marketing newspeak. Noise is subjective – one person’s rock and roll band is another’s “noise”. One person’s opera is another’s “noise”. Lets call this issue what it is – engine sound – and stop attempting to prejudice the audience.

    My 2-cents fwiw.

  • Rapierman

    As it relates to Formula 1, what I see are some groups of people who are attempting to dictate as if they were God (for lack of a better phrase) and it is devoid of the free choice and respect demanded by the concept of a civilized species. In the end, my moral sense is offended by all groups dictating what a thing is supposed to be without ever having given due consideration to those who have not been heard, regardless of the reason. Even between everyone, when all are yelling at each other, who are the ones who stop to listen? Out of that same set of groups, who among them are yelling like fire-and-brimstone preaches who end up distorting the message that they’re supposed to send and thus end up offending more than they serve?

    Fans have already taken up their positions. Teams have taken up their positions. The various governing bodies have taken up their various positions. Pundits have taken up their positions. I get that. Each of those groups have their reasons for saying what they say, and I agree that they’re all legit. However, they’re all screaming at the same time, with their fire-and-brimstone preacher intransigence, and it all ends up becoming deafening noise that hurts my ears, even if their positions were legitimate. My mind ends up yelling “SHUT UP ALREADY!!!” I never say this because I’m trying my best to be respectful. It’s just very hard sometimes when people do things that provide me with no end of aggravation, and there are plenty of people who do that to me.

    But then I look at those who may or may not have a dog in this hunt, and I find that they have concerns that are equally as legitimate. As an example, there are folks near CotA who complain about the engine noise and how it detracts from their property values. As I speak, I’m sure they’re jumping for joy because someone came up with a quieter engine. That’s an issue that’s equally important to them, but nobody really listens. I’m pretty sure that it’s different in each location, and all of their issues are equally important, but how many are listening to those folks, those who aren’t at all that involved or even interested in Formula 1? Are they not a part of the human race like we are? Do they not have their own free will like we do? Do they not have as much value as morality dictates? Do they not deserve the same consideration and respect as everyone else?