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When Formula 1 boss Bernie Ecclestone mentioned that something may have to be done about the sound of the 2014 engines (power units), it struck me as something that was a much bigger task than said sentence. According to AUTOSPORT’s story today, Renault’s head of track operations, Remi Taffin, says that simply changing the sound isn’t that easy:

“If you want to have a different noise you have to go up on revs, but there would be no point going up on revs if you look at the fuel flow, because you would have to get the fuel flow up. But then you bring get your efficiency down,” he added.

“There’s nothing you can do with exhaust profiling because again you’ve got both exhaust pipes running into the same tailpipe after it has run through the turbo, so it is what it is.”

The combination of lower revs and a single exhaust piped through the turbo gets us this particular sound so to change that, you’d have to change the regulations and if memory serves correctly, these engines are all tuned, as is the exhaust, so it would take more than a willy-nilly change to make it happen. Speaking of revs, Taffin also said:

“It’s important to say it’s based on the regulations, because they set 15,000 as a maximum, but the fuel flow limitation means the maximum we’re running, whether it’s a Ferrari, a Mercedes, or a Renault, is 12,000 and at the end of the straight it could be 10 or 11,000.”

That’s certainly not the numbers the broadcasts have suggested in passing and it does shed light on the reality of the task. Ultimately if the FIA are entrenched on their fuel flow rates, then the sound is what it is and it isn’t a case of getting used to it, it’s a case of dealing with it until there is a regulation change.

So how do you reckon the series could change the sound? Would a regulation change simply ramp up the already meteoric costs of the power units? Even if you’re not bothered by the sound, is there something about the current power unit that you’d like to change? Increasing revs would take increased fuel flow so is there a better way of keeping the fuel flow the same and simply designing a different exhaust layout for more sound or is it ultimately down to revs?

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An F1 fan since 1972, NC has spent over 25 years in the technology industry and as a CTO, he focuses on technology integration in commercial workspace design, AV systems integration, digital media strategies, technology planning, consulting, speaking, presenting, sales, content strategy, marketing and brand building.
  • Yes, reg changes would up the ridiculous costs further, and no, there’s no exhaust change that’d affect volume/tone. With the fixed fuel flow rate and engine configuration, it was known units would be making peak power around 10,500rpm, with a depressing power curve thereafter i.e.; they wouldn’t be hitting 15krpm unless geared improperly or perhaps at the fastest tracks in a compromise. There’s just no way to get around air/fuel ratio for the ICE.

    Because of this, components were “sized” accordingly; turbo’s turbine & compressor speeds/manifold runner dia, valve train timing… upping the flow rate will force engineers to change these features rather than concentrate on the ERS systems, which is what FIA truthfully wants.

    As to exhaust changes, there’s nothing to be done. As mentioned in other responses, there’s vey little “exhaust” as we think of it on these cars. You have the turbo plumbing (header to turbine, compressor impeller to induction) whose function critically affects performance, then a straight tube leaving the turbo to exit the car’s reared, which is what potentially could change. Changing the diameter/length of the exit tube will change the volume/note ever-so-slightly, but not enough for anyone to hear a difference.

    I’d like to see greater ERS output (-H power spooling the turbo more, coinciding w/ increased ICE combustion efficiency, added K battery power), but hybrid power density does nothing for the sound.

    Really, it’s 1.) Up fuel flow, and/or 2.) change engine config rules.

  • Oh come on, this is really technically so easy! I did this when I was 5 …
    A couple of clothes pins, a clean deck of cards and we’d have real engine sounds!

    • jiji the cat

      lol, my kids have those. add a couple of skid sounds and i think your on a winner.

    • Maybe they’ll put a 1,000 stereo system on the car with a mic in the engine are and then blast the audio from speakers in the sidepods. :)

  • Patrick Dinsmoor

    This season really has been a giant let down so far. I initially was behind these change to new engines just to shake things up. The engine freeze for the past few years put too much emphasis of design and technology on the aero side of development instead of mechanical. But after watching 2 races with the the new Engines (I refuse to call them power units), the sound is underwhelming even compared to a Indycar. Everything is also too complicated as I have no idea how all this works with 2 hybrid units even as a die hard fan, how are kids and casual fans going to understand these new engines if I can’t figure them out. F1 wanted more relevancy, but has made it very hard to understand the technology, with stupid names like ERS-H and ERS-K, and POWER UNITS. Also after two races we haven’t seen the expected reliability issues. If we are going to have all this technology, then I want every car even the top teams, to have about a 30% chance of not finishing.

    I am afraid right now that this could be the year I lose interest in F1. I am sick of fuel saving, tire saving, DRS and now the engines sound like crap and I don’t understand the point of i all. I was browsing youtube today and watched a recap of the 1998 Canadian Grand Prix, where Michael Schumacher won by 16 seconds, and the gap to 3rd was about a minute. Those stats make it seem like it was a boring race, but it was the opposite. Many cars retired due to racing incidents and reliability issues, Michael had a 10s stop and go in the middle of the race, and Michael put in repeated lap records lap after lap mid race trying to hunt down Fisi. It looked and sounded and felt like F1. Unfortunately I don’t think the first 2 races this year looked, sounded, or felt at all like F1.

    • I think one will get accustomed; look at NFL broadcasts (or Football/Soccer if you’re outside the US). When first watching either sport, one’s confused over all but the most basic rules and strategies. The broadcasters expect the audience to keep up and through osmosis glean knowledge necessary for the sport. I think that’ll happen as well for those less interested in/less literate w/ the technical changes.

      I agree, the graphics could use more work for helping the fans, and as I don’t watch the American NBC broadcast, I can only assume much was left unexplained. My girlfriend, not an F1 fan, was confused as well. She got the new PU’s when it was explained it worked like a Prius, a battery and generator-assisted (MGU-K) internal combustion engine, but with driver-influenced finite energy from the battery, and a 2nd generator (MGU-H) using waste heat to either recharge the battery or add power and smoothness to the engine.

      Not totally accurate, but enough so she got the concept and started understanding when broadcasters discussed recharging lift and coast tactics.

  • Patrick Dinsmoor