I like the ‘SOUND’ of the FIA’s meeting on future F1 engines

If you listened to our recent interview with NBC Sports F1 broadcaster and championship-wining F1 mechanic, Steve Matchett, you’ll know we discussed the very topic of today’s news from the sport’s governing body, the FIA. The question? What will the next Formula 1 engine iteration or formula be in 2021?

If you’ve followed any of my editorials since 2014, you’ll know that I, as a CTO in the AV technology industry, have beat my chest over the press and pundits of their immediate change in the choice of words they chose to use when trying to support and promote this current engine formula.

I have, on many times, highlighted that it is easy to spot the Melissa McCarthy eco-warriors amongst the press as they immediately replaced the word “sound” with the word “noise” back in 2014 which moved the conversation from what is truly a visceral part of F1 to something that instantly fans were to associate as a negative element of the sport. It was heavy-handed, pervasive and shocking to me how quickly this happened and how ham-fisted it was from a brand perspective given that millions of fans found this element one of the most compelling. 

Even today’s news has been placed in the eco-correct word machine and the headlines from the press are still using the word “noise” when the FIA themselves—in their own press release—have reverted to what it has always been—SOUND.

In my interview with Steve Matchett, you’ll recall that I asked him about improving the sound and he said the only way he can see that happening is to remove the turbo and brilliantly, he also noted that it isn’t just sheer decibel levels (he’s obviously correct) but the frequencies in which the exhaust note carries which is spot on. I’ve been arguing that since March 2014.

The FIA met with manufacturers to discuss what the future engine of F1 should be and they list four real goals.

  • a desire to maintain F1 as the pinnacle of motor sport technology, and as a laboratory for developing technology that is relevant to road cars
  • striving for future power units to be powerful, while becoming simpler and less costly to develop and produce
  • improving the sound of the power units
  • a desire to allow drivers to drive harder at all times

Notice the reversal from other FIA communications referring to it as noise? Now it’s sound which it has always been. Now go take a look at some of the articles about this meeting and spot the uses of “Noise” and you’ll discover very quickly who is where on this issue.

The meeting included VW which has started more Audi-to-F1 rumors but hey, who knows…it could happen. FIA president Jean Todt said:

“I was very pleased with the process, and the fact that so many different stakeholders were able to agree on a direction for the FIA Formula One World Championship in such an important technical area,” said Mr Todt.

“Of course, now we must sit down and work through the fine details of exactly what the 2021 power units will be – but we have begun on the right foot, and I am looking forward to working through the process to come up with the best decision for Formula One into the future.”

Will the FIA ditch the turbo? That’s a tough call if you’re still seeking road relevancy for road car manufacturers. The fact is, these current engines are engineering miracles producing between 900 and 1000 horsepower, while saving 30 per cent on fuel consumption compared to previous generation engines, and approaching the magic 50% thermal efficiency number – a figure that was unheard of three years ago.

Still, all of this is somewhat diluted if it doesn’t produce better racing and entertainment and this is the innovation block that Formula One Management’s Ross Brawn wants to impact. Determining the next engine is wonderful but it has to be couched in the desire to create the most entertaining racing it can, not just lure and retain road car manufacturers.

There was an interview that Sky Sports F1’s Martin Brundle did with Brawn in which he intimated an engine format that could find independent engine manufacturers back into the sport. Companies such as Cosworth or others who could be critical suppliers for independent teams such as Red Bull, Toro Rosso, Force India, Sauber, Haas F1, Williams or McLaren.

In my mind, the new format needs to be exactly what the FIA are seeking. Road relevant for any manufacturer who may want the rapid-prototyping crucible of F1 in which to develop technologies quickly for their consumer products, less expensive and much better sounding. It would be nice to see Mecachrome and Cosworth back in the sport as well as VW/Audi, Toyota, BMW or others. I like the “SOUND” of that a lot.

Hat Tip: FIA