How Big Is Your Dog, Bernie?

Maybe Bernie needs to get his hearing checked? We're already into the third race of this season's F1, yet grumblings about the ...

Maybe Bernie needs to get his hearing checked?
We're already into the third race of this season's F1, yet grumblings about the diminished engine noise has not ceased. Our writer and avid F1 follower, MAC, has an advice or two for the bellyachers.

This past weekend, the F1 circus moved to Bahrain and we witnessed the practice, qualifying and the race itself being dominated by the Mercedes duo of Rosberg and Hamilton, but also we saw the Mercedes-powered Force India getting up there amongst the action with Sergio Perez eventually lining up in fourth position, his best ever start. A notable absentee from the third qualifying session was the familiar Red Bull driven by the uber talented, four-time defending champion, Sebastian Vettel, who spun out and landed in the kitty litter earlier. Vettel’s Red Bull teammate, Daniel Riccardo, did actually qualify third on the grid but got demoted due to a technical penalty picked up in the previous race at Sepang.

The controversy which has dogged the season so far regarding the noise, or should we say lack of it, shows no sign of abating either although there does seem to be a lot of strange whining coming from the teams. Formula 1 supremo, Bernie Ecclestone, weighed in on the fray again during the weekend, branding the changes as “unacceptable” to the fans and that (more) changes were required. The octogenarian Bernie said, “I don’t think that the way things are at present are acceptable to the public. People buying tickets to come here expect to see what F1 used to be.” Bernie may have a point, but I think he is being a bit of a Luddite. If the hardcore fan was that resistant to change, we would still have James Hunt and Graham Hill pottering around Brands Hatch. The sport needs to adapt to the modern environment and one simple comment that I heard whilst watching this weekend was that Force India was 8mph faster in the speed trap than any car from last year’s race! Racing is about going ever faster and the new engines seemed to have achieved that.

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The newer engines are smaller and lighter than before, giving a better power to weight ratio and, thus, it could be said that it is not the size of the dog in a fight that counts, but the size of the fight in the dog that is more important. For years I have marvelled at the big American muscle cars with their five, six, seven-litre engines that have pathetic power outputs with really miserable top speeds and inability to do anything but run in a straight line. If you are a follower of Top Gear, you will know that I am not alone with this sense of wonder. So, now we have incontrovertible proof that sometimes less is more, it would seem in this case, so very much more; with the new power plants, we could see some really great and even faster racing than before. This has to be a good thing.

Of course, Bernie is not doubting that the new engines and cars are engineering marvels that are capable of propelling at incredible speeds, at a fraction of the fuel and noise. No, not at all. What he is adamant about is that there is no place for quietness in F1; he would rather the new engines and technology be used in touring cars. Just last week, we wrote about the comments from Sebastian Vettel, who said you heard more noise in a bar than on the race circuit now. I believe he also likened the noise made by a new F1 car being something akin to a vacuum cleaner.

But I did think that Sebastian and Bernie are sort of missing the point as I sat there watching the Bahrain race from the same position that I watched the Melbourne and Sepang races, that is from the comfort of my favourite armchair in my air-conditioned home. I am a huge fan of all things racing when it’s on wheels, especially F1. I grew up in the shadows of Brands Hatch, watching at track side the likes of Hill (Senior and Junior), Stewart, Hunt, Chapman’s Lotus, Mansell, Lauda, Fitapaldi and Senna, and the list goes on and on. I remember the ear-shattering roar of the engines but I also remember the earplugs that we all wore to defend our poor eardrums from the assault of the screaming engines.

I can’t remember the last F1 I went to see in the flesh as I stopped going to the track years ago. The cost of the ticket, the car park and snacks became ridiculous, and you only get to see a very small portion of the race. It is not like the American Oval racing where you get to see all of the thrills and spills; at an F1 circuit, you only get to see the small bit of track in front of you unless you are lucky enough to be in a hospitality suite where you watch the event on a television. The fact is, F1 is not really a go-to-the-track spectator sport anymore; it is a television event, where you get to appreciate the full theatre of the race circuit. This is where you get to see the duelling cars, the thrills, spills and crashes!

So if you are missing the noise of the old V8s and V10s, here is my advice to you: if you are foolish enough to go the circuit, don’t take your earplugs, and if you are watching at home, turn the volume up on your television.



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