The 2014 Formula One season is the sport’s greatest era of technological change, the year in which the top tier of single-seater motorsport has gone from noisy gas-guzzling V8 engines to a quieter, more complex hybrid V6 power unit with the emphasis on fuel economy and energy recovery.
But to read the complaints made by fans, drivers, and even F1 ringmaster Bernie Ecclestone, there are many who would prefer to see the sport remain in the technological dark age.
|6||N Hulkenburg||Force India||18|
|7||S Vettel||Red Bull||15|
The FIA F1 race director Charlie Whiting, despite the negative comments, has confirmed that the teams have been largely positive about the technical challenges they currently face.
“I think they’re all struggling to come to terms with the complexity of it all,” Whiting told Al Jazeera at the Sepang International Circuit in Malaysia. “It’s a good thing but it’s far more complicated than the cars were before.
“What’s very difficult and time-consuming now will become easier as they get used to it. Apart from a very few exceptions, everyone’s quite excited by the new rules. I’ve heard very little negativity from the teams themselves.”
There has, however, been some negativity from the fans with many missing the high-pitched wail of the old V8s. Some of those who arrived in Malaysia expecting to be disappointed by the sound of the new era have been pleasantly surprised.
While Ecclestone’s back-tracking on the noise complaints has been widely publicised, Whiting points to a more personal encounter to prove his point.
“I am seeing increasing amounts of positive responses to it. We met four guys who were here for this race and were there in Melbourne too. I said to them jokingly, ‘you were in Melbourne and yet you still came here?’ and they said, ‘oh yeah, absolutely – we love it’.”
Sound vs sight
For whatever complaints fans have about the noise, the visual spectacle has improved, especially with onboard footage showing drivers wrestling with their cars, pushed to get the most out of this new generation of infinitely more complex beasts.
It’s changed the pecking order around which is definitely good for everyone
Even the drivers agree.
“I definitely enjoy driving them,” Caterham’s Kamui Kobayashi said. “Of course it’s not easy at the start but I remember there were similar headlines in the past too.
“After a few months, everybody forgot so I don’t think it’s a big problem. But for us, we’re still enjoying driving. It’s more challenging to drive in dry races, so I’m pretty happy.”
Mercedes’ Nico Rosberg, winner in Melbourne, agreed with Kobayashi’s thoughts.
“I think it’s been all good for F1,” Rosberg said. “It’s changed the pecking order around which is definitely good for everyone because the same guy winning last year, we needed a bit of a change to that. The cars are great to drive, so I think it’s all good.”
Whiting was also keen to highlight the challenge inside the cockpit, keeping in mind the hurdles the drivers faces while on the track.
“The cars are fast – they’re faster, in fact. They’ve got more power and are harder to drive. So it’s got all the right ingredients if we can just get past this ‘no noise equals boring’ bit. You may not hear as much engine noise but you’ll probably hear different noises that you’ve never heard before.”
And for those lucky enough to see the new technology in situ, F1’s 2014 powertrains are proof of the sport’s technological genius.
“They’re absolutely incredible things to look at,” Whiting added. “The powertrain itself and how they are packaged is absolutely remarkable, as are the differences in the packaging. They have really ingenious inlets to the compressor. Then some have air to air intercoolers, some have water to air intercoolers, and all that is different from car to car.
“I am in awe of how they can put that car together, actually make it work and go round the track.”