From Day One they have all been saying that the noise of the new Formula One is rubbish,” an exasperated Niki Lauda said in Malaysia, “and it was [F1 ringmaster] Bernie [Ecclestone] who started it all. I just don’t understand it!”
Who else but the Austrian warrior, who came back from the last rites after his famed accident at the Nürburgring in 1976 and went on to win two further world championship crowns, could so trenchantly challenge the conventional wisdom of the past few weeks, in which Ecclestone and world champion Sebastian Vettel both criticised the change of pitch of the new V6 engines, though the former later backtracked on his view.
Few people in the paddock have Lauda’s depth of insight, and nobody has his candour. And he has no qualms in defending the latest engines whose aural signature has been likened to that of a leaf blower. “I don’t understand this ridiculous discussion,” he says. “If people don’t like the new noise, take the earplugs out; the television people at home, turn the volume up.
“I just had this meeting with Bernie where he told us all his problems, how no organisers want to continue with F1 . But who are they? Only the guy from Australia who runs their race, Ron Walker. He’s upset that he has to pay so much money to get the race there. He uses any excuse, and now says the lack of noise destroys his business. But I know that the Melbourne numbers were very good, all the people attending. And [Australian Daniel] Ricciardo was the best thing that could have happened to them from the marketing perspective. So the end result was financially a very good race. And to start this argument about the noise after one single race, I find so stupid and unprofessional, like you don’t believe. I hate it.
F1 2014 car launch - The era of the 'anteaters'
F1 2014 car launch - The era of the 'anteaters'
1/17 McLaren - MP4-29
The Woking-based outfit launched their MP4-29 on January 24, with drivers Jenson Button and rookie Kevin Magnussen joined by reserve driver Stoffel Vandoorne. However, the main talking point was the absence of team principal Martin Whitmarsh following the return of Ron Dennis
2/17 Williams - FW35
Williams were the first to unveil their car, albeit a computer-generated design. The real thing is yet to roll out of the garage at Jerez, with some last minute adjustments holding up its debut. Former Ferrari driver Felipe Massa joins the team to try and return them to the top of the sport, and he will partner Valteri Bottas who is retained from last season
3/17 Ferrari - F14T
The Italian manufacturers have pushed Red Bull hard in the past few years, but they hope the F14T will finally surpass their rivals and give either Fernando Alonso or the returning Kimi Raikkonen another World Championship to add to their collection
4/17 Ferrari - F14T
Raikkonen gets reacquainted with the Ferrari cockpit after a four-year absence from the prancing horse, but...
5/17 Ferrari - F14T
His joy is short lived as he becomes the first to suffer from unreliability as his car stops on track, requiring a lift back to the pit lane. He certainly won't be the last though
6/17 Sauber - C33-Ferrari
Sauber have followed the 'anteater' nose design for 2014, and hope for a more successful year than last with Adrian Sutil joining Esteban Gutierrez at the wheel
7/17 Lotus E22
Lotus launched their 2014 challenger, the E22, on the same day as team principal Eric Boullier left the team, with Gerard Lopez replacing him at the helm. With Romain Grosjean now the team leader, many will be watching how he and livewire Pastor Maldonado get on this year. Thta's if they turn up, as their absence from Jerez doesn't bode well
8/17 Mercedes - W05sup
Nico Rosberg and Lewis Hamilton unveil the Mercedes W05sup at Jerez, which thankfully avoids the 'anteater' nose
9/17 Mercedes - W05sup
Many are tipping Hamilton and Rosberg to take the fight to Red Bull this year with the W05sup undoubtedly one of the nicer looking cars on this season's grid, but will it be as fast?
10/17 Red Bull - RB10
Sebastian Vettel and Red Bull are going for a record-equalling fifth straight drivers' and constructors' championship. They have also avoided the 'anteater' nose, and rival Mercedes for the best looking car of the year award. Is there anything Red Bull don't want to win? Daniel Ricciardo makes the step-up from Toro Rosso to replace the now absent Mark Webber
11/17 Toro Rosso - STR9
Toro Rosso's design sure isn't pretty, but they have taken a step into the unknown with rookie 19-year-old Daniil Kvyat. The Russian impressed in practice towards the end of last season, but how will he get on against his more experienced team-mate Jean-Eric Vergne?
12/17 Toro Rosso - STR9
The 'anteater' nose of the Toro Rosso SRT9, likened to a sex toy by lingerie makers Ann Summers
13/17 Force India - VJM07
The ever-impressive Nico Hulkenburg returns to the team he left at the end of 2012 having missed out on a seat at Ferrari, Lotus and McLaren. The German will have a point to prove once more, but he'll have a difficult enough time to beat team-mate Sergio Perez first
14/17 Caterham - CT04
After a short delay which saw their early morning unveiling cancelled, Caterham eventually rolled out their CT04 in the afternoon, with another rookie in Marcus Ericsson at the wheel, while the returning Kamui Kobayashi took the picture
15/17 Williams - FW36
Williams finally got their FW36 running after a delay on day one of testing at Jerez, with Valteri Bottas taking to the track
16/17 Marussia - MR03
Two days later than scheduled, Max Chilton eventually left the garage in the Marussia MR03 for its first run at Jerez
17/17 Marussia - MR03
Chilton brings the car back in after completing an installation lap
“It is completely the wrong direction – and the really stupid thing is that we are starting it. If some other people start it, who we can’t control, fine. But we do it ourselves and tell the world, and some idiots who don’t know anything jump on it. Everybody talks about the noise in a negative way, and it’s our own fault. So what I’m saying is, wait four or five races and then we won’t worry any more.
“And the most important thing is that we, the Vettels, the Bernies, whoever, should not destroy our own sport by making stupid comments about the fucking noise.
“If Vettel would have had a Mercedes engine and been winning the Melbourne grand prix, he would not complain, even if he doesn’t like the noise. In life we can’t have everything perfect. We will get used to it.”
Lauda isn’t spitting razor blades, just applying his forthright Austrian logic in the same way he did when fighting for his life nearly 40 years ago. And as the chairman of Mercedes’ F1 effort he sees a deeper picture that perhaps escapes some fans. He believes that F1 had to change to survive.
“Look, it’s a simple explanation: now is the perfect start for this era of the hybrid fuel-efficient engine. Why? Because Mercedes, Ferrari, Renault and Honda, from my opinion, will not be for a long time in F1 if they cannot have valid expression for their engineering philosophies. If we had kept the old noisy eight-cylinder engine, this vital step would not have been done, and in the long run that would have finished F1. Thank God with this new engine rule all the big manufacturers are highly motivated because the new technology is relevant to their road cars. And it’s inevitable that turbocharged engines have less noise. Every kid knows that.”
The other big talking point from Melbourne was the fuel-flow rule designed to showcase efficiency, where teams have to complete a race on 100 kg of fuel (140 litres), with a maximum flow rate of 100 kg per hour. That hit the headlines when Red Bull’s Ricciardo was disqualified for exceeding it, and Lauda is in agreement with that.
“The 100 kg of fuel flow is exactly the direction that every road car needs to go, to save energy, to save oil, all this bullshit. We have to be in step with that. It’s the law which was introduced by the FIA, but written by the engine people. So there is no discussion about it. You cannot flow more than 100 kg an hour. Why? Because you only have five engines a season. If you don’t have this fuel flow you can have 5000 bhp for one lap, but your engines aren’t going to last. So it’s very clever because it keeps the power range under control.”
Far from bleating about the noise and the fuel flow, Lauda believes F1 should be celebrating the excellence of its engineering that enabled 75 per cent of the field to finish the first race, but he says he is far more concerned about the future of the sport’s management.
“My biggest worry, honestly, is if Bernie one day for whatever reason will leave us, because he is the combination of the perfect businessman, no question, and an ex-team owner. For me he always had the right compromise what he has to give back to the investors and what he has to leave for the sport. Everybody always complains it’s not enough, but Bernie always found the right means to please who he’s working for and getting all the teams together to develop what needs to be developed for the sport. This is his talent.
“He is the master of all this success, and everything is in his head. So he has to continue, otherwise this business that is worth six billion dollars will go down very quickly. All this will be destroyed in no time.”
Lauda believes that CVC Capital Partners, the venture capitalists who own the sport, would struggle to replace Ecclestone, the ringmaster often cast as villain or semi-benign dictator. “If he leaves, there will be a huge hole. And the teams will fall into it because nobody will co-ordinate them, and already they are fighting like you wouldn’t believe. So I am worried about that. Really worried. Right now, as chairman of a major manufacturer in F1, I say thank God that Bernie is here.”