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When Formula 1 introduced its revolutionary V6 turbo hybrid power unit formula in 2014, the conversation around them was dominated not by how remarkably powerful they were or even the unreliability problems some manufacturers experienced.

Instead, all that seemed to matter to fans and even drivers and paddock dwellers was one thing – how the new power units sounded compared to the V8s they just replaced.

Many fans spent the early years of the V6 turbo’s lifespan lamenting how the soundtrack of F1’s bold new age was quieter and softer than the last. But in recent seasons, with the power units themselves remaining fairly static as the cars that surround them morphed dramatically with regulations changes, it seems the agonising over engine sounds has died down.

However many still regard the output volume of an F1 car as a vital part of the spectacle, as Red Bull team principal Christian Horner argued recently. “Anybody that comes to a Formula 1 race is shocked by the speed and the energy of these cars and that a human being can be piloting one of these incredible missiles around a circuit,” he said. “The noise is a factor in that.

“The noise is part of the emotion. It’s part of the DNA of the sport. It’s funny how you get used to things because the V6s with the energy recovery systems they currently have are much quieter than the old V10s and V12s or even the V8s. So now when we roll out a show car and you hear a V10 or a V8 engine, all the mechanics put their tools down to go and watch the car.”

Did F1 lose something significant when it switched from V8s to V6 hybrid turbos? Or are the current engines loud enough – and the complaints about them were just a load of noise? Four of our writers have their say.

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Noise row was a matter of ‘optics’

It’s January 28th, 2014 and I’m standing by the exit of turn one at the Jerez de la Frontera circuit in Spain awaiting the first sight – and sound – of F1’s new generation of V6 hybrid turbos. How would they sound compared to the blaring 18,000rpm normally aspirated V8s of previous seasons?

Some found the 2014 cars sounded better than they looked Quite acceptably, I thought. “That car is loud,” I noted. Not as loud as what we were used to, no doubt, but still clearly a racing engine. I had missed out on F1’s last turbo era, but I’d heard cars from that era performing at historic events, and to me these seemed no quieter than the machines of that much-celebrated period.

So I was surprised by the furore which followed, which seemed to be largely whipped up by then-F1 CEO Bernie Ecclestone. He was clearly no fan of the new formula to begin with – three years before they were introduced he described himself as being “anti, anti, anti, anti” the change in regulations. The reality of the new rules also ushered in a period of domination by Mercedes which undoubtedly wasn’t good for business either.

But if Ecclestone had motives for taking pot-shots at the new rules, a poll we ran on the site convinced me that others were sincerely underwhelmed with them. While the majority were satisfied with the sound of the engines, it wasn’t an emphatic result, and it was clear a significant chunk of our readers weren’t impressed.

I don’t believe engine noise was a significant concern for the majority, and the disproportionate amount of media attention it received was a consequence of Ecclestone’s Gerald Ratner-esque rantings. When the next generation of F1 engines arrive in three years’ time, I have no doubt Liberty Media’s publicity drive will be more disciplined.

Keith Collantine

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Sound is secondary

F1 cars became infamous for their loud, high-pitched, wall of noise that hit you as a V8 or V10-engined machine shot past you. The roaring sound of an F1 car was always a distinctive part of the sport, and fans were enthralled. But throughout the years, the noise of an F1 car has changed significantly, and as the sport looks towards greater electrification in 2026, it’s possible that sound will be impacted again – reflecting an ever-changing automotive world.

Max Verstappen, Red Bull, Miami International Autodrome, 2023 F1 needs closer competition more than louder cars For me, this is no bad thing. We as humans need to think about the costly impact the sport has on the planet. But of course, talk of engine noise isn’t a new thing in the sport, and it’ll continue to rumble on for years.

Engines became significantly quieter in 2014 when the 1.6-litre V6 turbo hybrid engines came in. The cars had a very different and distinctive sound, even differing between teams in recent years. There were still some arguments even then, however, as some claimed the 2.4-litre V8s were not as loud as the V10s or especially V12s, but regardless F1 pushed on with the far quieter V6s engines.

The idea was to bring the cars more in line with what we see on the road, which tended towards smaller capacity turbo engines, adding depth and texture to the engine. Back in the day the old engines had a big impact and did add a bit of a ‘wow’ factor, but with the V6 you can hear the engine working without your ears bleeding.

All eyes are now on the 2026 engine, which F1 has admitted will be a push for efficiency. They want the focus for development and competition to be on the electrical side to tie in with the wider push for electrification in the road car domain. Some bad news for loud car fans, however – the fact there is great electrical power may mean there will be a bit less noise.

For me personally, the racing is why I watch F1 – not the sound of an engine. This season is struggling to bring us much excitement. If the 2026 engines are quieter but more competitive, I’ll be happy.

Claire Cottingham

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F1’s popularity shows what really matters

If you can swallow the sobering realisation they are little more than billion-pound, supersonic weapons designed to inflict death and destruction on targets in as rapid a manner as possible, anyone who has experienced a fighter jet ripping the skies above them knows how that unfathomable energy and bone-shaking sound is something that can never be forgotten.

Lando Norris, McLaren, Miami International Autodrome, 2023 Packed stands prove ‘the show’ isn’t lacking In the exact same way, anyone who was fortunate enough to witness a grand prix start prior to 2014 knows what an extremely raw, visceral experience hearing and feeling the vibrations shake your very core was – and how that energy is something modern F1 cars just cannot emulate.

Ultimately, as human beings, we are shallow. Even with a sport so dedicated to performance above all else, we care for aesthetics. We cried for vanity panels to beautify ugly stepped-noses in 2012. Fans and even drivers resisted the introduction of the halo purely for being an eyesore. Classic clips of V12 F1 engines screaming an automotive aria earn millions of clicks. It’s no surprise that when Polyphony Digital, makers of Gran Turismo, designed their vision of the ultimate formula racing car, they chose a V12 engine to power it.

But tastes change. Looks fade. The superficial becomes superfluous. And almost a decade from their introduction, the only conclusion to draw is the sound of F1’s V6 power units never mattered as much as its detractors claimed.

F1 has been as popular in recent years as ever. Fans flock trackside in record numbers never seen before. Over past seasons when Lewis Hamilton and Max Verstappen took the title fight to the final race in 2021, when Daniel Ricciardo thrilled fans with daredevil passes or Sergio Perez scored his remarkable debut win in Bahrain, who honestly among us was left thinking ‘if only the cars were a bit louder’?

Thankfully, if damaged eardrums matter more to your enjoyment of motorsport than the racing action, there are plenty of video clips you can enjoy. Maybe even at max volume.

Will Wood

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Complaints elsewhere drown out the noise about engines

The fanbase was unsurprisingly at its most vocal about their dislike of the current era of turbo engines in the season of their introduction, which was the first time they had got to experience the updated audio sensations while those working on the testbeds had spent more than a year already listening to their new V6 creations.

Engines are quieter in junior categories now too There are still complaints, but far fewer now. First of all people got used to the sounds, and on reflection their initial complaints looked like overreaction, then other detractors stopped complaining because there was no point continuing to do so. No matter how much they did, and even if they stopped buying race tickets or television subscriptions to prove to F1 that their new engine formula was making fans disengage with the sport, it was fruitless as it was never going to influence F1 into making technical changes to remedy their concerns.

Those who continued to complain then got drowned out – particularly in ever-busier online spaces – by fans and paddock members taking issue with other topics. The COVID-19 pandemic and Netflix’s Drive to Survive series helped usher in a new generation of fans, who had little reason to be nostalgic about the engines of yesteryear. And like all fans once they become passionate, they then found their own grievances with modern F1 to complain about.

In fact, so much of F1’s track and paddock action is now consumed for fans and even media from their homes that the sound from the grandstands is arguably less relevant than what the trackside and onboard microphones pick up for the TV feeds. And if F1 felt that engine noise complaints was still an issue, it would have taken little effort to do some subtle audio editing for broadcasts.

As for F1’s support series, F2 has gone down the turbocharged path and nobody is complaining about noise there, while F3 uses naturally-aspirated engines and has an audio advantage with a 30-car grid meaning in races there’s barely a quiet moment anywhere on track.

Big (and loud) engines are too costly and inconvenient to be used in most junior series, and small series often share weekend bills with touring cars and sportscars with their own mix of modern production engines that – like F1 – reflect current automotive trends.

But for the fans who do want to see and hear something a bit more ‘exciting’, event organisers do take them into account by incorporating demos from cars showcasing new technologies or from old racing cars. In 2021 I was at a GT Open race meeting at the Circuit de Catalunya where an ex-Chip Ganassi Racing IndyCar made an on-track cameo only for its brilliantly loud engine to set on fire. Thankfully the car was saved and I spotted it in a paddock again in 2022.

Ida Wood

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Over to you

Are F1’s engines too quiet? Should the series take steps to ensure its 2026 power units are louder? Have your say in the comments.

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