I was at the Grand Prix today and forgot my earplugs. Every time a car went by I thought, “There go another few thousand [cochlear hair cells]…” It reminded me of an article I wrote on the F1 a few years ago. I hope this finds you before you head to the track.
To fans, there’s nothing quite like the noise of Formula 1 engines as they scream past in a flash of carbon fibre and rubber. With a sound so powerful it creates palpable excitement as it reverberates through the bodies of onlookers, it’s no surprise engine noise is an integral part of the magic of the sport.
The racetrack has been dubbed the loudest place on earth by acoustic engineers, as pit crew and drivers can attest. It’s become stock standard to hand out earplugs with tickets. Sound levels reportedly exceed multiple standards for daily noise exposure limits within moments of the race.
Experts warn any stretch of road that requires drivers to speed up after slowing down poses the greatest threat to hearing. The quietest position is usually at the beginning of an ‘S’ turn where drivers are slowing down.
Engine changes introduced in 2014 have left F1 cars decidedly quieter than before, to mixed reviews. Driver Sebastian Vettel and bigwig Bernie Ecclestone are amongst the vocal detractors. Ecclestone strongly believes replacing the V8 engines with V6 hybrids in an attempt to make the renowned race more environmentally friendly could turn off spectators used to having their ears pummelled by a barrage of noise.
The FIA, the governing body for world motor sport, report that the sound pressure level for the new cars is 11 decibels lower than before – that’s 134 decibels instead of 145 decibels. Acoustic general rule of thumb dictates that a 10 decibel sound change sounds like a halving of loudness. This could be why less event attendees have been seen bothering with the ear protection since the big change. Sadly, damage is still being done.
Wearing a good pair of ear muffs should be mandatory when visiting a Formula 1 racetrack. That said, with the inordinate sound levels of the track, hearing protection can only do so much.
So listen to your ears. If you experience pain or ringing, immediately distance yourself from the source of loud noise. If you’re not sure if the sound you hear is damaging, smartphone apps like deciBel, TooLoud? and dB Volume Meter can be good general guides.