As the delicate human ear continues its long struggle against the indelicate din of Formula One racing, the poor ear remains a decided underdog.
That much proves clear whenever Andy Shiach's company checks the hearing of those who work around an F1 team, as it does annually for conscientious Renault.
"It's very concerning because most of the people we test have noise-induced hearing damage, and the average age is probably around 40," Shiach said by telephone from the UK, where he has spurred his hard-won passion for audiology into founding and managing Advanced Communication Systems Ltd.
"I can't tell you about individuals," he said, "but we see people that are crew, that have been working in motorsport all their lives, and they get to 40 or 45 and they have really severe hearing issues. Socially, their lives are pretty disabled."
As another F1 season heads toward its finale in Abu Dhabi on November 14, evidence of the ear's losing streak abounds in those who drove long before Yas Marina Circuit existed.
Three feted racers - Sir Stirling Moss, Sir Jack Brabham and Sir Jackie Stewart -have navigated retirement while straining to hear it properly. The American Nascar driving star Richard Petty, 73, long has worn hearing aids because of the damage. The four-time Indianapolis 500 champion Al Unser Sr, 71, would arrive at Victory Lane unable to hear reporters' questions.
"I'm having a hard time hearing you," he said during an Indy Racing League teleconference in 2007. "I'm hard of hearing anyway because of the race cars."
Jeff Gordon, 39, still a mainstay in Nascar, told The Orlando Sentinel last year of his diminished hearing since starting out among thundering engines in his teens.
In a 2006 interview with The Daily Mail in England, Moss, who raced in F1 from 1951 through 1961, said, "I used to stuff my ears with cotton wool to muffle the sound and make me more comfortable. But after every race, I'd have a sound like a rushing waterfall in my ears. It went on for days, an annoying noise in the background. Then you'd be on to the next race.
"After a while, the noise just never went and it remained always in the background. I know now this was tinnitus, a warning sign that my hearing was being damaged."
While acknowledging the "wonderful existence" he had plied, he told of languishing with high- and then mid-level frequencies, such as women's voices, and with American accents.
Effects blare beyond the cockpit and through the close-by workers and all the way into the audience. The venerable F1 commentator Murray Walker became a spokesman for an English hearing centre after years of exposure ransacked his aural cells. Two scientists from the US National Institute of Occupational Safety and Hazard, Thais Morata and Chucri Kardous, studied three American tracks upon request from a Nascar racing team and unleashed some recommendations.
"Crew members should be afforded the same hearing protection currently provided to drivers, that of custom-moulded earplugs with built-in speakers," they wrote. "Workers at race tracks and spectators should also be made aware of the noise problem through education and informational campaigns. Most spectators assume that a few hours of recreational noise exposures are harmless, but data from our research suggests otherwise."
The amount of havoc "is all dependent on how far away from the cars you are," said Dr James E West, an acoustician who co-invented the foil electret microphone in the 1960s and is a research professor at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore in the US.
For cockpits, decibel (dB) estimates have run up to 130 even while they are hard to measure because, Shiach said, "The forces on the equipment just shake to pieces" the measuring devices. Conversational speech, said West, is 60 decibels.
He likened 130 decibels to "a 757 jet taking off from 300 feet" away. Shiach estimates the average decibel level through an F1 day at 106. Both Schiach and West remind that decibels are measured logarithmically, so 130 comes in as exponentially louder than 60 rather than slightly more than double.
By European workplace standards, Shiach said, 85 decibels rates safe for eight hours, 88 for four, 91 for two and 100 for 15 minutes. Those frequently in the proximity of F1 engines risk more hazard than those in other loud professions from music to factory work to construction. Even public relations sorts, he said, "ought to be looking after their hearing".
Asked if he encountered any surprise a decade ago after Lucent Technologies consulted him to improve sound quality between Formula One pit crews and drivers, West said, "Yes. It was the calmness and ability of the drivers to be cool and collected in an environment that would drive most of us crazy."
Of course, for many an aficionado of any racing circuit, noise indispensably augments thrill. When the American scientists presented their findings, some cranky Nascar fans went to their blogs to pillory them for wasting money on the allegedly obvious.
And West, who at 79 carries earplugs routinely in the careful preservation of his own hearing, said, "There's no doubt about it, the sound of those engines really creates excitement.
"Not only what you hear, but sometimes what you feel too, because those frequencies are low enough to cause parts of the body to vibrate."
For November 14 on Yas Island, though, he prescribes: "You can buy at drugstores these soft, malleable ear-protectors. I would certainly strongly suggest that spectators use something like that."
The drivers of the 21st century, of course, do much better than cotton wool. Even if motorsport does lag about 20 years behind popular music in the implementation of protections, Shiach said, the earpieces have become standard equipment.
Yet when asked if the drivers of today could expect fine hearing come retirement, West said, "No." He explained: "It's the same effect musicians have. You can put ear protections in but if you have 100 or more dB of noise and 20 dB of attenuation, then as you race you're probably going to get exposure that is going to cause permanent hearing loss.
"Even the good ones, the ones that seal the ears very tightly, you're not getting more than a 20-dB reduction in the noise."
All of this matters to Schiach because of what happened to him at age 19. A single burst of noise in a studio in 1975 quashed his fervent aspirations toward a musician's career. He felt "nearly suicidal". He "did not sleep for six months". The telltale ringing seared on.
His hearing annexed some of the qualities reported by drivers whose maimed ear cells made crowded restaurants unbearable. "I could hear too much," he said. "Somebody spitting in a teacup would be painfully loud to me." In motorsport, improvement in this area has come in devices which help drivers discern noises without having to crank radios madly above the engine din.
In those barren days, people tended to tell Shiach just to pull himself together, but he ultimately dedicated his energies to the delicate ear, founding his company in 1994. "It's the most complex organ in the body," he said. "What it has to contend with and how it processes sound is unbelievable. And it's like everything, isn't it? We don't think about it until something goes wrong."