A key element of Formula 1’s spectacle was found lacking as the new season kicked off at Albert Park thanks to the new, environmentally-focussed engine regulations.
The familiar scream of the previous 2.4 litre V8 engines has been replaced by a muffled howl from the 1.6 litre V6 turbos, which, coupled with the latest energy recover systems, are now being refereed to as ‘power units’.
While previous generations of F1 engines have seen fans scurrying for ear plugs, those trackside were today able to engage in the unusual experience of holding conversations within metres of the cars during the practice sessions.
Typically outspoken 1997 world champion Jacques Villeneuve echoed the sentiments of many at the circuit experiencing the category’s new sound for the first time.
“What noise? I could have a phone conversation while the cars were going round,” he told Speedcafe.com.
“The good thing is you can hear the tyres squeal when they lock the wheels and stuff like that, but it just doesn’t sound very exciting or impressive and it looks like the drivers are not pushing when they really are.
“I think its counterproductive for excitement but there are lots of things in the rules that are counterproductive.”
Fellow former world champion Alan Jones was another to bemoan the sound of the V6s, although added that the true test of the regulations will not come until Sunday’s race.
“I don’t particularly like the noise and lack of it to be honest,” he told Speedcafe.com.
“We saw the speed comparison between the V8 Supercar, road car and last year’s Red Bull and I thought to myself that’s what it is all about.
“(But) I think the noise is pretty secondary to the racing and overtaking which we will see.
“To me, seeing the guys have to work hard and hearing the tyres squeal is fantastic.
“You can’t tell a big difference in the noise on TV anyway its only in the flesh that you see the major difference.”
Current drivers have also been open about the underwhelming nature of the new engines.
“For us when we are driving the cars don’t sound as good,” said Jenson Button.
“It doesn’t sound as good as the V8s or the V10s… (but) there are quite interesting sounds going on, spinning up at stupid revs and, when you are on and of power, there are swishing noises from the turbo.”
Added Lewis Hamilton: “It’s not as impressive as what we had in the past but once you get all the cars on the track, on the grid, I’m pretty sure it will be impressive for the fans still.”
Despite the largely negative reaction, Formula 1 team principals remain adamant that the new sound will be accepted with time.
“I think people very quickly get used to what Formula 1 engines sound like,” said Williams team principal Claire Williams at the completion of practice.
“We’ve had so many changes over so many decades of motor racing and you very quickly forget what a previous engines sound like.
“I think people just want to see a good race on Sunday and I think as long as we can deliver that, any issues or contentious conversations around that may fade away.”
Mercedes team principal Toto Wolff stressed that the sound is a trade-off with pioneering greener technology.
“If you like sounds of engines, let’s go back to V10s and V12s, let’s not do any hybrid,” he said.
“This is modern technology. This is where road cars are going.
“Downsizing is the motto and I think we just need to accept that the formula has changed.
“These cars are going to go quicker in a couple of races than the old ones.
“We’re going to get used to the sounds and I promise next year you will not remember any difference any more.”