Sidepodcast - All for F1 and F1 for all

Can you hear what I hear? - Formula One is noisy, and you should take care of your hearing

Published by Mr. C

A few minutes ago, I was busily running back through all of the live comments we missed out on during the weekend, when I came across a short sentence from Scott posted during Friday's first session. The statement left me completely gobsmacked and admittedly I reacted quite strongly, so much so in fact I thought I needed a full post on the subject.

Quite loud

This year, Christine and I attended our second ever Formula 1 race, Christine also attended her first F1 test just last week. Occasionally in the past we've also been present during a number of F1 demo runs. All of these things are important, because they involve exposure to either a running V8 or a running V10 engine and those things can be quite loud.

How loud? Well roughly speaking, at full pelt a modern F1 engine creates between 120 and 140 decibels of loudness. By comparison a normal conversation measures approximately 60 decibels. According to the UK Noise Association, human hearing can be damaged through sustained exposure from levels over 85db (although it can vary depending on the situation and the individual).

What this means is that standing close to a Formula 1 car whilst it's running at full speed can very easily cause some form of hearing loss, whether temporary or more permanent. The more frequently you attend races, tests or demo runs and the closer you get to the action, the more damage you're likely to be doing.

Given this information, it should be obvious that every single person attending a Formula 1 race should use ear protection. In fact on the reverse of this weekends entrance ticket the following advice is provided:

You are advised to wear hearing protection during races...

Although admittedly it's written in such small text, it's unlikely you'd ever notice it unless you were specifically looking for it as I just was.

Say what?

Regardless of how much noise an F1 car makes, in my opinion the biggest danger to your hearing at a race is other members of the public brandishing air horns.

I don't want to come across as a great big party pooper, but air horns are one of the most foolish and annoying inventions ever to grace this earth. They're loud, obnoxious and entirely pointless and we're seriously thinking of starting a campaign to ban them from the face of the Formula 1 planet.

I cannot imagine what goes through the mind of any human being who decides to pay good money to make everybody else's life miserable, but I'm damn sure they must be some pretty sick and twisted individuals.

The above information alone however, shouldn't be enough to warrant a reaction from me that involves insulting a commentor on this site, so let me give you my story.

I must be hearing things

A very long time ago, when I was maybe 15 years old, I tried out for a band. It was the sort of band that played chart music and as I was playing the Bass guitar it meant the main focus of my attention revolved around the drummer. A small drum kit happens to be quite loud too, approximately 100db or thereabouts.

We practised for a couple of hours in a small room, and at the end of the rehearsal it was announced I was good enough to join the fray and thus I became their new Bass player. However, a couple of hours after our first meeting I noticed a distinct ringing in my ears that wasn't there previously. It sounded a bit like a very high pitched, albeit distant kettle boiling and to cut a very long and protracted story short, it turns out I had Tinnitus.

If you're not aware of this phenomenon, you can read the full details on Wikipedia. What I will say though is it's bloody annoying and I wouldn't wish it on anyone especially if it can be avoided due to plain common sense.

Say that again

So, what has this to do with F1? Well a drum kit, played intermittently between much discussion, simply wrecked my hearing, probably for life. A drum kit is 20db quieter than a single F1 engine, let alone 20 of the things running past in close quarters.

Exposing yourself to the noise of these cars is self inflicted noise trauma, and could very likely damage your hearing either temporarily or forever. Repeated exposure produces cumulative hearing loss and if 20 cars zooming past for the best part of 90 minutes isn't repeated exposure, I don't know what is?

Self preservation society

Protecting yourself at Formula 1 races is simple. You can purchase ear plugs (usually small pieces of foam), or ear defenders (which look like oversized headphones) from any hardware store prior to a race. Additionally some stands sell these inside the venue, although at vastly inflated prices.

Sadly safety equipment manufacturers insist on making both of the above look unsightly (often luminous) due to their usual employment in the industrial trades. I really wish teams would take a proactive stance in this area and start producing branded plugs / defenders so that fans can buy these things along with their caps and t-shirts. It might help take a vast amount of the stigma away that's associated with wearing these things.

The initial effects of my Tinnitus have subsided a little over time, mostly because these days I am super careful about these things and literally carry ear plugs (plus spares) everywhere I go. Additionally I've versed Christine in the dangers and try to carry spares for her too.

I apologise if this post comes across as preachy or condescending. I don't know why I haven't tackled it sooner, and I apologise to Scott for jumping off at the deep end. Your comments and experiences, as always are very much welcomed on this subject.