Moving on with the music

You can live in the past (or make a living from what you were in the past [1]), but there are times where you have to move on. And that’s where we find ourselves ahead of a very different-sounding Formula One in 2014 thanks to the move from 2.4-litre V8 engines to 1.6-litre V6 turbos with their associated energy recovery mechanisms.

From a personal point of view, the change to V8s in 2006 was a difficult one to stomach – how can anyone have not enjoyed this glorious fury of sound more? – but eight years later, I’m more amenable to the new noise coming from F1 this season.

Yes, the sheer decibel level of the new powerplants is less – Marussia CEO Graham Lowdon was surprised he could make a phone call during the first test of the year at Jerez a fortnight ago – but as long as F1 still has that ‘wow’ factor when you’re trackside, that’s fine. There’s that sheer thrill of watching F1 up close that TV will never get across, and given the F1 cars this season still sound like a state-of-the-art racing machine and like nothing else in motorsport – as opposed to a taxi covered in stickers – then I’m all for it.

I’m very much a creature of habit when I’m trackside, and whether it’s watching the cars filing out of the pit lane under my nose in Melbourne until fairly recently[2], using the service road beside the esses at Suzuka to view the cars snake up the hill in FP1 on Fridays, or standing atop the media centre in Abu Dhabi to see the cars pass beneath the hotel that straddles the circuit, I’m always mindful of getting away from the laptop and seeing, experiencing, feeling the cars up close for at least some of the weekend before deadlines pile up and work needs to be done. And the good news is that my trackside watching (and everyone else’s) is bound to be just as good this year.

Sceptical? Two of the absolute best at what they do in the F1 press room say you shouldn’t be. Autosport’s Jon Noble says there’s a different dimension to watching trackside this year with the fizzing of the turbos, the differences between the engines each of Renault, Ferrari and Mercedes have produced, and the extra torque making the cars twitchy coming out the corners. And Peter Windsor told me on the ‘Keeping Track’ podcast last week that he was impressed with what he saw in Spain at the end of January.

“Let’s take (Valtteri) Bottas in a Williams as a good example; I was standing up at Turn 1 when he did his first real run in that car, and I have to say it was quite impressive,” Windsor says.

“The first lap, he kind of bobbled coming out of the right-hander and he had a little bit of oversteer; the next lap, he got it absolutely right in the middle. The acceleration and the torque was definitely visible, and there’s a very nice metallic whirr to the turbo as it winds up. For all those out there that think they’re going to miss that wailing whine of the very high-revving 18,000rpm V8s, this is a different sound, and it’s not bad at all. Collectively, they’re going to be a lot better sound-wise than individually if you’re looking for very high decibel level.”

Using your eyes as well as your ears this season will be the key to enjoying the action from trackside. There’ll be no more of drivers pointing cars straight out the corners and mashing the throttle with no fear of the back end stepping out. Drivers will be working the wheel to a much greater degree. Going sideways on a gripped-up track will happen regularly[3], and we’ll really see the talent of the drivers on display on a wet Albert Park track should Melbourne’s unpredictable autumn weather throw in a curveball, or particularly when the track is at its greenest early on Friday afternoon.

That FP1 session will be the first time 99 per cent of Australian fans will get to assess and then hand down their verdict on the new-look, new-sounding F1. It’s always one of the best moments of the year – new liveries, new drivers, the sun glimmering off the lake[4], the smell that no other sport has, the initial assault on the senses that the opening few minutes of the season brings. It’ll be as good this year too, just different. The soundtrack to F1 will be new, but it’ll be impressive all the same.

OK, so Bernie doesn’t like it, but he’s got a bit on his plate at the moment. You will if you give it a chance. Find a good spot out of a slow corner at Albert Park like Turn 3, Turn 13 and Turn 15, and be prepared to watch and listen. Move on with the new music of F1.

[1] That’s another blog entry altogether. Stay tuned.

[2] And so is that.

[3] Daniel Ricciardo on the 2014 cars: “Managing the torque on-throttle is the main thing, managing wheelspin. You have to drive on eggshells a little bit.”

[4] Well, maybe. It is Melbourne after all.


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