Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Catching Rubber in Fifth Gear

These are, of course, the lyrics to The Sound of Silence by Simon and Garfunkel ...

Hello darkness, my old friend,
I've come to talk with you again,
Because a vision softly creeping,
Left its seeds while I was sleeping,
And the vision that was planted in my brain
Still remains
Within the sound of silence.

In restless dreams I walked alone
Narrow streets of cobblestone,
'Neath the halo of a street lamp,
I turned my collar to the cold and damp
When my eyes were stabbed by the flash of a neon light
That split the night
And touched the sound of silence.

And in the naked light I saw
Ten thousand people, maybe more.
People talking without speaking,
People hearing without listening,
People writing songs that voices never share
And no one dared
Disturb the sound of silence.

"Fools," said I, "You do not know –
Silence like a cancer grows.
Hear my words that I might teach you.
Take my arms that I might reach you."
But my words like silent raindrops fell
And echoed in the wells of silence

And the people bowed and prayed
To the neon god they made.
And the sign flashed out its warning
In the words that it was forming.
And the sign said, The words of the prophets are written on the subway walls
And tenement halls
And whispered in the sound of silence.

I only bring them up a) because when was the last time you thought about Simon and Garfunkel? and b) because of an unusual outcome of the switch to the new bread-box-sized F1 engines.  Those who were in Melbourne testify that you can actually attend the race without ear protection.  This I don't believe.  But it's clear that the engines sound different.  Not just an octave or two lower, but gnarlier.  Like they were made of rubber.  Or they were running underwater.  Or something I can't put my finger on.  Very odd, but at the same time surprisingly potent.

There's a car adage favored by muscle-car aficionados that goes something like "The more your car sounds like a boat, the cooler it is."  The new formula sound a bit like boats.  The old formula sounded like F-16s and if you were within fifty yards of one without rubber in your ears you risked injury to your hearing.  It is impossible to describe how loud those cars were, and the change has caused a good deal of moaning and hand-wringing amongst the F1 commentariat.

That said, another truly interesting thing has happened:  the combination of the internal combustion engine and the electric motor that's strapped to the thing combine to create a lot more torque than previous formulas.  This means that if you're not careful you are still catching rubber in fifth gear.

Catching rubber in fifth gear.  Think about that for a moment.

This renders the cars significantly more difficult to control.  The sight of guys like Vettel and Alonso and Hamilton furiously sawing at their steering wheels as they exit a turn makes me smile a little bit.  They used to be cool as cucumbers.  I'm thinking of going to Austin and examining all this for myself.  Plenty of time to reflect -- it's not until November.

In acknowledgment of the start of the new season I taped, then watched, Grand Prix.  Starring a ridiculous James Garner (roughly the size of two actual F1 drivers), directed by John Frankenheimer, set in the mid-Sixties (back when men were men and they didn't even wear seatbelts), it's thought to be the definitive Formula 1 movie.  At least until Senna came along, which is a documentary and might not count.  And then Ron Howard's Rush.  Which was outstanding and not a documentary.  

The reason I bring it up is that the opening live shot of Grand Prix is the end of an exhaust pipe, perfectly centered on the screen.  Then the engine starts and you hear the sound of the thing.  Dude, I've got goosebumps just typing this.

So sound matters.  

And because appearance matters as well, here's a picture of Lewis Hamilton applying the clampers a bit to vigorously, back when F1 cars were still ferociously beautiful ...

It's almost enough to make you move to Europe, just so you could buy a Vodafone.  

The current crop of cars are so ugly I don't even want to share a photo.  You'll just have to take my word for it.

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