The biggest discussion subject of the first two races of the season was not so much the racing, but the sound of the cars as they thundered around the race track.
Many people have commented that there was not quite enough “thunder” compared to previous years but before I wade into the “are the cars loud enough?” debate, lets talk about the technical changes for this year that contributed to the reduced decibels within a race.
In a bid to make F1 a more “greener” sport (although how green a sport can ever be when it travels around the world in great big jumbos remains to be seen) and therefore more applicable to car manufacturers around the world, the whole power train was completely changed for 2014. We must also bear in mind that the three engine manufacturers in F1 might have not stayed in the sport without these changes. Renault would definitely not be here.
Before this year, F1 cars had been using the high revving V10 internal combustion engine. It was plenty loud enough, plenty fast enough but there were some drawbacks.
They have been around a long time (with an actual freeze of engine development since 2007) and the technology of these engines was getting a bit long in the tooth, not to mention its petrol guzzling capabilities.
F1 is firstly – in my opinion – about technical innovation and it was decided that it was time for a revamp with the introduction of a whole new set of technical regulations that was cutting edge and more efficient (green).
Enter this year’s 1.6 litre, V6 turbocharged engine, with an energy recovery system (ERS) that is twice the power of the KERS system that used to be in F1 last year. I think it’s quite a sexy unit; I love cutting edge technology. It’s also immensely complicated to get on top of as the engine manufacturers will attest to.
One of the hardest things the teams have been facing is to understanding how to get all the systems of the new power unit to work together.
Firstly, there is the new turbo – we haven’t seen a turbo-powered car since the late eighties – that needs to be mastered. Then there is the ERS, which has never been done before.
Think of it as a hybrid system on steroids - it actually recovers power through two power units that then either stores it into a battery or sends it straight back into the drive train for extra power. Following me still?
So, one of these motor generator units is called the MGU–K, which harvests the kinetic energy lost under braking. It recovers this power through the rear axle of the car.
The second motor generator unit is called the MGU–H, which harvests heat energy from the exhaust gases. Now both units can either store the energy recovered (or harvested if you like) in the energy store (battery), or transfer it back to the drive train for more power. The MGU-H can also be used to spin up the turbine in the turbo to decrease turbo lag.
I hope you can see how much more sophisticated the power unit is for this year. And we haven’t even touched on the control systems that control all these things to try and produce the right amount of power at the right, as well as more efficient, time. Let's leave that for another article with a smarter writer that understands it better.
The smaller engine for this year will produce less power although the turbo will help quite a bit – about 650hp without the ERS. But once the ERS is used then the overall power will jump up to just under 800hp which is pretty similar to last year’s power. But get this: It does it with five times more torque and 30%-40% less fuel.
That’s pretty darn impressive to me.
Okay so now let’s turn our attentions back to the sound debate that has been raging around in the news. For me, beauty is all about excellence and in motor racing’s case, that’s about speed and lap time. And you get speed and lap time through technical excellence/innovation, that’s how it’s always been in F1 and I hope that is how it will always be.
What we have now is a Turbo that exhaust gasses have to travel through which restricts the sound of the car. But more importantly those gasses spin a turbine which gives the car back more power and torque. So when I think of it that way, and I think about last year's cars, I now think, “gee, that’s a huge waste of energy”.
And I have to say I kinda like the new sounding engines. You can make out the distinct differences between the engines and I personally think the quality and variety of the sounds is fantastic.
This year's F1 car may make less sound and so it may have lost a unique selling point but it is technology at its very best.
As far as I'm concerned, there is no sweeter sound than that.