F1’s Delima: Loud vs. Green — Have the fans have already spoken?

In a much publicized and blunt interview with British TV Channel 4 in October of 2020, Red Bull Racing Team Principal Christian Horner said Formula 1 needs to return to “rock concert” level sound. “I think the volume on Formula 1 does need to be turned up, it’s like going to a rock concert with the volume turned down… it’s got to be loud, produce V8, V10 kind of sound, whether it is a V8 or a V6 or V10, I think the sound is something that the fans miss, it’s something we miss” Horner told Channel 4.

Red Bull Racing Team Principal Christian Horner said Formula 1 needs to return to “rock concert” level sound (Image formula1.com)

F1 Engines now and into the future
The current era V6 turbo-hybrid engine was introduced to the sport in 2014 and is the most technologically advanced race car engine ever designed. This “era” in FIA terminology means the engine platform will remain through 2025, a rule that was thought to help keep cost down. However, fans, race promoters, and even television executives at Sky Sports have expressed disappointment and want the FIA to return to traditional aspirated engines. From the very beginning of the 2014 season when the turbo v6 was introduced, Bernie Ecclestone (former chief executive of the Formula One Group, which manages Formula One motor racing and controls the commercial rights to the sport) furiously criticized the quieter sound of the V6 turbo engines. Debate about the sound and loudness has continued to rage ever since, and Horner seems on a mission to push FIA to reverse the trend for its “next gen” Formula 1 engine in 2026.

Red Bull Team Principal Christian Horner wants Formula 1 to return to the “rock concert” it once was with loud engines (Image wikipedia.org/wiki/Marshall_Amplification)

Loud and “entertaining” for fans
Following the 2021 Austrian Grand Prix, a series of discussions between F1’s major teams explored concepts for a future hybrid engine with a strong focus on adding more hybrid electric power and running on fully sustainable fuel. But again, Horner argued it is essential that the noise factor be a top consideration as fans seek a return to the emotion they had from the years of full song V8 and V10 engines. “I think it has to address the emotion, the sounds, and yes, of course, it has to tick the sustainable boxes. But I think it still needs to be entertaining — otherwise, we should all go and do Formula E” according to Horner.

“We see that costs of the current engine are extremely prohibitive,” explained Horner. (Image formula1.com)

Formula E — No roar of engines and top manufactures bail out
In November 2021, the FIA was eagerly promoting that Audi and BMW had big plans to push forward the continuing electric evolution of motorsport. But just weeks later, both Audi and BMW reversed course and announced their withdrawal from Formula E after the 2021 season. Even more concerning for the advocates of Formula E is the four grid spots now available with Audi and BMW’s departure, which so far has had little interest from any manufacturer or team.

July 2021. ABB FIA Formula E World Championship, New York E-Prix, Jake Dennis (GBR) #27 BMW iFE.21, BMW i Andretti Motorsport (Image NYC E-prix)

Is Christian Horner right?
Is the decline of Formula E simply a disconnect with the fan experience? Specifically, did the FIA fail to recognize the challenge of attracting new racing fans who accept and enjoy watching race cars that are essentially silent? And if we peel that back a layer deeper, did the FIA underestimate the lack of acceptance, pushback and downright mocking from traditional F1 and motorsports fans of the Formula E on track experience. Traditional metrics are unclear in this case as 2020 and 2021 ticket sales were impacted by COVID-19 protocols. The ABB FIA Formula E World Championship, New York E-Prix race in July 2021 suffered from a triple whammy of COVID restrictions, weak ticket sales, and poor tv ratings after CBS Sports’ decision to limit the telecast of the event to their cable channel CBS Sports Network, and online via CBSSports.com and the CBS Sports app.

Voice of the fans
If you watched the Super Bowl last night, you saw countless ads for electric vehicles (EVs) and clearly sales of EVs are accelerating (about 250,000 in 2020 according to Zach Shahan at Clean Technica). But making the EV connection to the motorsports fan base just isn’t there … yet. Just as Christian Horner has identified that the roar of the engines is a central part of the fan experience at F1 races, the fans in NASCAR have voiced similar concerns over the past year about the sound of the NASCAR NextGen car. Thankfully once those cars were on track in a race situation last weekend for the Clash at the Coliseum, fans both at the event in person and on TV heard that glorious 675 HP V8 roar and concerns about the sound of the new cars, for the most part, quickly faded. NASCAR critics are now left with the number placement on the car “doors” as their primary complaint.

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Go Full Throttle coverage of the Formula 1 2022 season begins February 23–25 with the first F1 test in Spain, followed by Test 2 in Bahrain March 10–12 and the season kickoff Gulf Air Bahrain Grand Prix March 18–20, 2022.
*Note the Go Full Throttle AI Driver Ranking and Race Prediction models (which accurately predicted Max Verstappen’s Championship win) delivered 92% accuracy in 2021. We have made some tweaks to the algorithms and the machine learning (ML) logic which will improve accuracy in 2022. Readers can check these out on our home page at https://gofullthrottle.net/

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Bob Francis - Go Full Throttle

Go Full Throttle editors and reporters bring you news & commentary on NASCAR, F1, IndyCar, and World of Outlaws. Member: National Motorsports Press Association