When F1 chiefs decide on what engines the sport will use in 2021 it’s clear that they’ll have to pay attention to the sound they make. That’s because the hybrid units introduced in 2014 have taken massive amounts of flak from fans for sounding…well, a bit pants. For many the noise of an F1 car is a unique part of the experience, and throughout a variety of engine regulations there have always been some that sound absolutely sensational. Here are eight of the best.
Ferrari built some pretty glorious 12 cylinder engines over the years, but perhaps the best sounding of the lot was the very last one. The 3-litre V12 in the 1995 412T2 generated surely one of the most amazing noises to ever come out of an F1 car and it really stood out from the V10s that had become commonplace.
Sadly Ferrari too went to the more efficient V10 layout for 1996 and the unique sound of a 12 cylinder engine was lost to F1 for good.
For its first Formula 1 car, BRM opted to go with the ludicrous option of building a 1.5-litre V16 engine with a supercharger. It was an incredibly powerful engine, capable of putting out upwards of 600 bhp, but it was also very complicated. Reliability was often an issue and by the time it was sorted out the car it was designed for had been replaced.
Still, it did manage to score some points in 1951 and also had some success in non-championship races, but the real legacy of the engine was its stunning sound. Just listen to it!
The Matra V12 saw use in both F1 and sportscar racing and for teams such as Shadow, Ligier and Matra itself, but it didn’t matter what track it was at or what car it was in, one thing was for sure: it sounded awesome.
It first appeared in 1968 and was constantly updated to the point where the Ligier team was still using a Matra V12 in F1 as late as 1982.
For many the V10-era of F1 was the zenith in terms of sheer sound, and when you watch back videos from the early to mid-2000s and hear those engines scream, it’s hard to disagree.
Before the V10 engines made way for V8s in 2006 they were pushing out well over 900 bhp and revving to over 19,000 rpm and the noise was verging on brutal. Of all the manufacturers it was probably Honda that made the best-sounding one – it certainly sound incredible in this video of Takuma Sato at the Nurburgring. Those upshifts!
BMWs 1.5-litre, four cylinder unit used in the mid-1980s is the most powerful engine in F1 history. In qualifying spec it pumped out a whopping 1500 bhp…probably. The thing is, BMWs dynos couldn’t accurately measure past 1000 bhp, so they had to estimate. All those pops and crackles on the overrun sound superb – proof (if ever it was needed) that turbo engines don’t have to sound bad!
Four cylinder turbos not your thing? Then how about this V8 turbo! Alfa Romeo was the only engine manufacturer in F1s first turbo era to go with an eight cylinder configuration and it didn’t exactly work out. It was unreliable, underpowered and incredibly thirsty, but damn did it sound good!
No, not the one McLaren used in the early 1990s (though that does sound amazing), but the original Honda V12 from when the company first went Grand Prix racing in the 1960s.
This was a time when F1 had rather bizarre regulations requiring engines no bigger than 1.5-litres. They weren’t especially powerful and weren’t particularly liked at the time but damn, did they make some serious noise. Honda’s V12 was the most powerful of the era and pumped out 230 bhp – that doesn’t sound much today, but 50 years ago they were serious figures from such a small engine. It produced a cracking sound, too!
It’s easy to forget Lamborghini was ever involved in F1 at all, but between 1989 and 1993 they could be powering a few of the teams lower down the grid, such as Larrousse, Minardi, Lotus and Lamborghini’s own Modena team.
As an engine it was reasonably powerful, but also a touch unreliable. McLaren even came close to using it at the end of 1993 after finding it to be much better than the Ford engines it had at the time, but ultimately decided not to and instead went with Peugeot for 1994. It’s a shame the engine gets forgotten about though because…well, just listen to it! It’s just so smooth and makes such a rich sound.
What are some of your favourite sounding F1 engines? Let us know in the comments!