Formula One (F1) Racing is an electrifying sport that ignites passion and stirs emotions among international fans. Attending a live Formula One Grand Prix is a breathtaking experience. The vivid colors of the racing cars, the ear-piercing sound of the engines, the audacious maneuvers executed by the world’s best drivers, and the reactions of tens of thousands of dedicated F1 enthusiasts create an atmosphere that must be witnessed at least once in a lifetime from the trackside.
Fans have their favorite drivers and teams, eagerly following the races and savoring the drama, whether it’s the iconic Indy 500 or one of the other 20 major World Grand Prix events held around the globe. But have you ever wondered about the formula behind a Formula One race car? According to Napolitano (2004), the Federation Internationale de l’Automobile (FIA), the international governing body of Formula 1, had to establish regulations from the outset to ensure the safety of drivers and spectators while also guiding the sport’s development in a way that benefits road car technology.
Between 1907 and 1939, various formulas were experimented with, including restrictions on minimum weight, maximum weight, fuel consumption, and engine bore. However, the most commonly used formula, even after 1939, involved limiting the cylinder capacity of the engines. In the current era, the formula restricts the engine cylinder capacity to 3 liters, bans supercharging, and sets a minimum weight of 600 kg, including the driver and their racing equipment.
As Harris (2011) highlights, when the French hosted the first Grand Prix in 1906, the organizers at the Automobile Club de France could not have anticipated the monumental growth of their motorsport. The inaugural race featured 32 cars on a 65-mile course near Le Mans, taking two days to complete. The winning car, driven by Hungarian Ferenc Szisz, achieved an average speed of 62.887 mph.
Fast forward to today, where average speeds in Formula One have surpassed 250 mph (Napolitano, 2004). The sport has evolved significantly, and each year, 20 different countries play host to Formula One races at renowned tracks and cities worldwide. Harris (2011) states that Formula One is now one of the most popular sports globally, attracting over 120,000 spectators to each Grand Prix event. Additionally, approximately 30 million people across 150 countries watch the races on television.
To put things into perspective, the average paid attendance at a regular-season NFL game is around 66,500. However, a Formula One race is far from a regular sporting event. It is akin to the Super Bowl in terms of grandeur. While attending a Grand Prix can be an expensive endeavor, with general admission tickets priced at approximately $150 (USD), the rewards far outweigh the costs for most Formula One enthusiasts. The opportunity to witness firsthand the triumphs and tribulations that unfold when the fastest race cars in the world compete for victory is an unparalleled experience.
Hearing Health Risk from Noise Exposure
Yet, amid the thrill and excitement of Formula One, audiologists worldwide express concerns about the hearing health of both the drivers and the spectators. It is reasonable to assume that noise has been an inherent part of auto racing since its inception. However, the potential harm caused by excessive noise was largely overlooked in the past due to a lack of awareness.
The Indy Star (2011) reports that the noise level in the cockpit of an F1 race car, with the driver seated right in front of the engine, can reach up to 140 dB, making it one of the loudest environments on Earth. British Formula One star Jenson Button (2009) confirms that the sound levels inside the cockpit of a Formula One race car do indeed measure around 140 dB, and as a result, drivers consistently wear specialized ear protection to shield themselves from the intense noise exposure. Before donning their helmets, drivers insert earplugs designed to safeguard their hearing while also enhancing their communication with the pits and sidelines during the race.
It is not just the drivers, mechanics, and pit crew who understand the importance of wearing earplugs; Formula One fans also need to prioritize their hearing health. Although fans may only have the opportunity to see F1 cars in person once a year, and from a distance behind high fences, the use of earplugs remains crucial. As Collantine (2008) emphasizes, “I always wear ear defenders at F1 races. Partly for the benefit of my hearing, but also so I can plug in earphones and listen to the race coverage on the radio so I can hear what’s going on.”
From an audiological standpoint, there is no debate on this matter. Many audiologists appreciate the thunderous roar of a V-8 engine, just like any other fan, but they also recognize that the noise levels at a Formula One race can lead to hearing loss, tinnitus, and other hearing-related issues for those who choose to expose themselves to the full power of 20 or more V-8 engines without proper hearing protection.
So, whether you’re a die-hard Formula One enthusiast or attending your first Grand Prix, make sure to prioritize your hearing health. Grab a pair of earplugs, soak in the exhilarating atmosphere, and revel in the extraordinary spectacle that unfolds when these incredible racing machines vie for victory on the world’s most prestigious tracks.
Enjoy the races around the world and other noisy events, but remember to tell your patients to take their hearing protection devices.
Atlas (2011). How to watch a formula one race. Atlas.com. Retrieved from the World Wide Web September 24, 2011: http://www.atlasf1.com/99/feb17/live.html
Collantine, K. (2008). Do you wear ear plugs at F1 races? F1Fanatic.com. Retrieved from the World Wide Web September 24, 2011: http://www.f1fanatic.co.uk/2008/07/03/do-you-use-earplugs-at-f1-races/
Napolitano, R., (2004). The speed of a formula one car. The Physics factbook: Glenn Elert. Retrieved from the World Wide Web September 24, 2011: http://hypertextbook.com/facts/2004/RobertNapolitano.shtml
Harris, W., (2011). How Formula 1 works. Howstuffworks.com. Retrieved from the World Wide Web September 24, 2011: http://auto.howstuffworks.com/auto-racing/motorsports/formula-one.htm
Indy Star, (2011). One of the noisiest places on earth. Hear-it.com. Retrieved from the World Wide Web September 24, 2011: http://www.youth.hear-it.org/page.dsp?page=5033
Phonak, (2009). Formula one star gives green light to celebrity health campaign. Hear-The-World.com. Retrieved from the World Wide Web September 24, 2011: http://www.hear-the-world.com/fr/press/current-press-releases/detail/back/1091/read/formula-one-star-gives-green-light-to-celebrity-health-campaign.html