Does the Grand Prix have to be so effin’ loud?

There’s an important debate going on about the net economic benefits of the Australian Grand Prix, but what I can’t get over is the noise.

The nearest point of Albert Park is 9 km as the crow flies from my house yet today I can hear it inside. It’s not loud enough to be annoying – just part of the background hum really – but I’m astounded that I hear it at all.

That makes me wonder why F1 has to be so extremely, incredibly loud. According to the cost benefit analysis published by the Victorian Auditor General on the 2005 race, the estimated peak noise level trackside reaches 125 dB(A) and 105 dB(A) at 100 metres. The report says above 70 db (A) is annoying and 115 dB (A) can cause hearing damage, although this depends on the duration and the vulnerability of the listener.

I’ve only visited Albert Park once but that was enough – I found the noise excruciating. Ditto the Gold Coast Indycar. Even with foam ear pads plus a set of those external headphone-type sound dampeners it was still plenty loud enough. At some events the organisers also send an air force jet over at low altitude, presumably to show what real noise is!

The Auditor General reckons the impact of noise from the 2005 event ‘cost’ 12,500 neighbouring households a combined $415,000 (not that they were actually compensated!).  Households within the 70 dB (A) contour suffered an estimated disamenity of $50 per week and those within the 80 dB (A) contour – where the noise level is generally regarded as intolerable – suffered $100 per week.

I’d debate the methodology but there’s some relief coming in the 2013 season when a new ‘green’ four cylinder turbo charged engine has been mandated by the Federation Internationale de l’Automobile (FIA). It will be significantly quieter than the current eight cylinder engine but it seems noise is in the DNA of the sport. F1 boss Bernie Eccelstone is at loggerheads with the FIA over the change. This week he said:

I meet people worldwide in all different walks of life – sponsors, promoters and journalists – and I think there are two things that are really important for Formula One. One is Ferrari, and second is the noise. People get excited about the noise. People who have never been to a Formula One race, when they leave you ask them what they liked, and they say ‘the noise.’ It’s incredible, it really gets to you.

With serious questions being raised about the viability of the Grand Prix in Melbourne, it’s time for Bernie to embrace this change. The Auditor General found that the costs of the event exceed the economic benefits, let alone the cash outlay. Reducing the impact on residents affected by the noise footprint might help fans retain the race. In fact the sport should go further to embrace ‘green’ thinking as I argued this time last year.

4 Comments on “Does the Grand Prix have to be so effin’ loud?”

  1. Simon says:

    F1 is an engineering competition as well as a sport, with many artificial constraints. Why not put another condition for the engineers to design to, being the noise levels. But then, I’m not a rev-head.

  2. Karl says:

    An F1 engine at 18,000rpm is a wonderful noise, a symphony of engineering.

  3. Q. Maisie says:

    I can hear it from where I live about 10kms away and it’s sort of poetic and sad sounding….in fact, as a background noise, I quite like the novelty of it but lord help those poor people stuck in Albert Park. If it was in my neighbourhood, I’d have to vacate for the duration. Am I too naive to think that the Albert Park residents get some sort of $ support to rent elsewhere while the thing is on?

  4. Alan Davies says:

    Reporters Tony Wright and Michael Lynch in The Age today on ‘the sound’ of F1:

    Ah, those glorious engines.

    If you were to search for the reasons why grand prix racing is so adored by some and so loathed by others, it is encapsulated within the sound.

    A F1 V8 engine spinning at perhaps 18,000 revs a minute is a demented thing, as if a swarm of a million or so giant killer wasps, mated with another million or so mutant cicadas, had been admitted to one’s inner ear. When 22 of these machines light up and slingshot down the track, wearing earplugs is a matter of survival.

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