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SBD Global/March 28, 2014/Events and Attractions

Malaysian Grand Prix To Honor MH370 Passengers As Engine Debate Rages On

Germany's Sebastian Vettel has been outspoken over F1's quieter engines.
F1 "will pay tribute to the passengers on missing flight MH370 at Sunday's Malaysian Grand Prix," according to the BBC. Drivers "are expected to carry messages on cars and helmets and there will be a minute's silence before the race." Mercedes driver Lewis Hamilton said, "It's devastating to hear about it. All you can do is pray." Fellow Briton and McLaren driver Jenson Button added, "It's good that the whole of the paddock are running tributes." Sepang Int'l Circuit CEO Razlan Razali said, "The world will be on us to see how fragile or how strong [we are]. So we have a huge responsibility to put on a good show" (BBC, 3/27).

ENGINE DEBATE ROLLS ON: The BBC's Andrew Benson reported Mercedes driver Nico Rosberg has defended F1's new format "in the wake of criticisms of the spectacle and the sound of the new engines." Rosberg said, "It's been all good for F1. It's changed around the pecking order. That's definitely good for everybody because the same guy winning [so much] last year, we needed a change to that." Ferrari's Fernando Alonso said that "it was too soon to judge the new rules." Alonso: "This is a very uncomfortable matter to speak about because if I say I like it, I will be criticized because this is not F1 any more for most of the fans; if I say I don't like it, the fans criticize because I say I only like it when I win." Button said that if some drivers were unhappy with the rule changes "then they should consider leaving F1." Button: "Go and race something else if you are not happy. As drivers we don't have an opinion of where the cars are in terms of sound and feel. When you cross the finish line first you have won a grand prix. You don't care what it sounds like or what it looks like" (BBC, 3/27).

VETTEL LASHES OUT: In London, Kevin Eason reported when asked what he thought of the sound of the new generation of F1 cars, world champion Sebastian Vettel "reached for a suitable expletive." Vettel: “It is sh**.” Vettel "had plenty of time to take in the noise from the new hybrid V6 turbo-charged engines in Melbourne a fortnight ago because his Red Bull car lasted barely a handful of laps of the Australian Grand Prix." Vettel: "I was on the pitwall during the race and it is [quieter] than in a bar. I think for the fans it is not good" (LONDON TIMES, 3/27). Also in London, Daniel Johnson reported Vettel said that he believes the sport "has lost some of its magic with the departure of last year's V8s." Teammate Daniel Ricciardo, whose expulsion from the Australian Grand Prix is being appealed by Red Bull, "was more sanguine." He said the sound is “alright,” and “something different to get used to” (TELEGRAPH, 3/27).

BUSINESS PARADOX: In N.Y., Brad Spurgeon reported what had not been foreseen, however, "was a furor over something delivered with the switch to more environmentally friendly hybrid engines: a lack of noise." The new 1.6-liter, 6-cylinder, hybrid engines "have two forms of energy recuperation, from braking and from exhaust heat." They are so quiet compared to their 2.4-liter, 8-cylinder, normally aspirated predecessors that "spectators no longer need the earplugs commonly used amid the roar and scream at the pinnacle of auto racing." One visitor even likened the sound of the new engine "to that of a golf cart." This means "a business paradox" for F1. In order to attract car manufacturers and sponsors, it "has created a cleaner, more environmentally friendly engine system." But in so doing, "it risks alienating fans attracted by the visceral excitement of racing enhanced by the heightened noise level." The move to develop clean engines was pushed through the series’ regulatory process by FIA President Jean Todt. But for F1 CEO Bernie Ecclestone, the notion of small, quiet engines "had long represented a potential nightmare." Ecclestone said after the Australian Grand Prix, "I was sorry to be proved right with what I’ve said all along. These cars don’t sound like racing cars" (N.Y. TIMES, 3/27).

TICKET SALES DOWN: In Malaysia, Lim Teik Huat reported Razali said that ticket sales "were down by half over the corresponding week before the race and it will be hard to improve on the previous record attendance" of 123,000 spectators. Razali: "Ticket sales are not great. We have sold around 60,000 tickets since the start of the week and this may be due to the distraction because of the tragedy, but people are not in the mood to celebrate, really” (THE STAR, 3/27).

MAJOR DISTRACTION: In London, Kevin Eason wrote so far, there are no signs that the Malaysian Grand Prix "has been affected by the national suffering after the disappearance of Malaysia Airlines flight MH370." This could be the one time that F1 "is called on to stop thinking about itself, with its internecine warfare and backbiting, to consider the relatives of the 239 people aboard the missing Boeing 777 jet." There "seems little appetite for the razzle-dazzle of the sport amid such grief and uncertainty, though." Kuala Lumpur "has always been a hard sell" to a crowd who know little of and often care nothing for F1, but this year "there is a new and serious distraction from the pointless circulation of cars around an asphalt track" (LONDON TIMES, 3/27).
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