The Race Track: Possibly the Noisest Place on Earth!

In international circles, virtually nothing gets the blood boiling like Formula 1 (F1) Racing. Taking in a Formula One Grand Prix live is a sensational experience. The vibrant colors of the racing cars, the shrieking of the engines, the hair-raising, audacious moves of the best drivers in the world, and the reactions of tens of thousands of F1 aficionados must be experienced at least once in a lifetime at trackside.

Spectators have their favorite drivers and cars and watch for the drama as the races go by, be it the Indy 500, or one of the 20 other major World Grand Prixs elsewhere in the world.   Some may ask what is the formula for a Formula 1 race car. Napolitano (2004) notes that immediately after its creation in 1904, the Federation Internationale de l’Automobile (FIA), the international Formula 1 sporting authority, became obliged to formulate restrictions to ensure the safety of the drivers and spectators, as well as guide motor sport in a direction benefiting the development of road cars.

From 1907 to 1939, almost every possible formula was attempted. The minimum weight, maximum weight, consumption and bore were each restricted at some time, but the formula most frequently used, even after 1939, was to limit the cylinder capacity of the engines. The current formula restricts the cylinder capacity of the engine to 3 liters, prohibits supercharging and sets a minimum weight of 600 kg, including the weight of the driver and his race equipment.

Harris (2011) tells us that when the French held the first grand prix in 1906, the race organizers, the Automobile Club de France, couldn’t have guessed how big their motor sport would become. That first race featured 32 cars on a 65-mile course near Le Mans and took two days to complete. The average speed of the winning car, a­ Renault driven by Hungarian Ferenc Szisz, was 62.887 mph.

Now the average speeds are over 250 MPH (Napolitano, 2004). These days Formula One is quite different than those early years. Next year there will be 20 different countries hosting Fromula One races at tracks and cities around the world. Harris (2011) states that Formula One is also one of the most popular sports in the world. Each Grand Prix draws more than 120,000 spectators to the track. Another 30 million people in 150 countries watch the race on television.

In comparison, average paid attendance at a regular-season NFL game is about 66,500. A Formula One race, however, is not regular in any way. If anything, it’s like the Super Bowl. And, like the Super Bowl, a Grand Prix can be an expensive for fans. For starters, general admission tickets cost about $150 (US). But for most Formula One fans, the rewards far outweigh the costs. And those rewards are pure and simple: Witnessing first-hand all of the agony and ecstasy that result when the world’s fastest race cars compete for victory.

The noise level in the cockpit of an F-1 race car withthe driver seated right in front of the engine is as high as 140 dB, making it one of the noisiest places on Earth.

Driver is seated directly in front of the engine
 

Audiologists around the world are, of course, concerned about the hearing health of the drivers of these cars and the spectators who follow the sport. It is reasonable to surmise that noise has been a part of auto racing since it began. But with people at the time believing that the noise was not harmful, it was overlooked until the modern times.

The Indy Star (2011) reports that the noise level in the cockpit of an F-1 race car with the driver seated right in front of the engine is as high as 140 dB, making it one of the noisiest places on Earth. The British Formula One star Jensen Button (2009) confirms that the sound levels in the cockpit of a Formula 1 race car do measure around 140 dB and that virtually all the drivers wear special ear protection to protect themselves from the considerable noise exposure. Before drivers put on their  helmets, they insert special earplugs that not only protect their hearing but also enhance their communication with the pits and sidelines during the race. Collantine (2008) asks of Formula One fans, “Where do you all stand on the controversial question of earplugs? Are they an essential part of an F1 weekend, or do they ruin the exhilarating blast of noise from 20 F1 V8

F1 Driver Fernando Alonzo inserting earplugs prior to qualificationfor the Singapore Grand Prix, September 25, 2011

engines?”

Drivers, mechanics, and the pit crew working the races and on the cars realize the importance of wearing earplugs and do so routinely. But for fans who probably only get to see F1 cars in the metal once a year, and are several meters away behind high fences, are earplugs really necessary?

Collantine (2008) says yes, and he tells race goers, “I always wear ear defenders at F1 racers. 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.”

To audiologists, of course, there is no question on this issue. Many of us appreciate the roar of a V-8 just like the other fans, but we know that the noise levels at a Formula One race will cause hearing loss, tinnitus and other issues for those who choose to listen with naked ears to the full whine of 20 or so V-8 Engines simultaneously.

Earplugs specially designed for F1 Spectators

There are many different types of suggested plugs for the spectators where noise levels can get as high as 120+ dB and lots of web sites where they can be obtained. A couple of popular ones are the Red Bull Racing team plugs and the McLaren Racing Team plugs. When you are looking for Formula 1 Grand Prix tickets on the internet, you will find that not only do you obtain a pass for the day to a seat of your choice but earplugs are included…All our orders include the following free services including a FREE key cord, ticket holder and ear plugs.

 Enjoy the races around the world and other noisy events, but remember to tell your patients to take their hearing protection devices.

References

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

About Robert Traynor

Robert M. Traynor, Ed.D., MBA is the CEO and practicing audiologist at Audiology Associates, Inc., in Greeley, Colorado with particular emphasis in amplification and operative monitoring, offering all general audiological services to patients of all ages. Dr. Traynor holds degrees from the University of Northern Colorado (BA, 1972, MA 1973, Ed.D., 1975), the University of Phoenix (MBA, 2006) as well as Post Doctoral Study at Northwestern University (1984). He taught Audiology at the University of Northern Colorado (1973-1982), University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences (1976-77) and Colorado State University (1982-1993). Dr. Traynor is a retired Lt. Colonel from the US Army Reserve Medical Service Corps and currently serves as an Adjunct Professor of Audiology at the University of Florida, the University of Colorado, and the University of Northern Colorado. For 17 years he was Senior International Audiology Consultant to a major hearing instrument manufacturer traveling all over the world providing academic audiological and product orientation for distributors and staff. A clinician and practice manager for over 35 years, Dr. Traynor has lectured on most aspects of the field of Audiology in over 40 countries. Dr. Traynor is the current President of the Colorado Academy of Audiology and co-author of Strategic Practice Management a text used in most universities to train audiologists in practice management, now being updated to a 2nd edition.