FIA fail to regulate smaller F1 cars again as Formula 1 makes a big mistake; Formula One cars have changed beyond recognition over the 8 decades since the sport began in 1950. The regulations were light for the early cars and innovation and technology saw rapid change in both the design and shape of F1 machines. However in recent years the sheer size of F1 cars has been repeatedly criticised by F1 tech writers and fans alike.
The bigger and heavier a car is, the more downforce and grip it has so it is more stable and then quicker. This is why many of the lap records on historic F1 circuits are held by the modern era cars.
The problem of big, heavy F1 cars
However, the bigger and heavier cars are problematic because they require so much downforce even with the new 2022 ground effect regulations the old fashioned slipstream is less effective. Further as the sheer size of the cars on street circuits like Monaco often make overtaking simply impossible.
While there is no regulated limit on the length of the cars, the width must not exceed 2 metres. During the 2017 season Mercedes experimented with a longer wheel based which saw their car come in at a monstrous 5.7 metres in length – bigger than their S Class limousine.
The smallest F1 cars in history
F1 cars shrank in the 1960’s mostly due to Colin Chapman’s focus on reducing weight to increase speed and carry less fuel.
The Porsche 804 was typical in terms of F1 car dimensions in the 1960’s and came in at a mere 455kg and at a length of 3.6 metres, now the cars weight a whopping 798kg.
The size and weight of an F1 car changes the way they can be driven especially in the corners. With smaller and lighter cars the quickest cornering method is to brake late and attack the apex of the turn which gives the impression that the limits are being pushed.
Big F1 cars require different driving style
However, the focus for modern F1 driver in the master machines is to find a way to maximise exit speed. This often means the line tight to the apex is not the quickest as the drivers brake, turn then start to straighten the car before accelerating.
So the fastest cars in history don’t give the same impression that the drivers are on the limit as their smaller lighter predecessors.
The next big step in F1 regulation changes will be for the 2026 season. This will see the next generation of power units introduced with hopefully more auto manufacturers entering the fray too.
FIA promise to reduce size of cars for 2026
However, the FIA promised to also find a way to reduce the size and weight of the cars to overcome a number of the issues discussed.
Formula One cars “will be shorter and lighter” in 2026 revealed the FIA’s Technical Director Nikolas Tombazis at 2022 season finale in Abu Dhabi.
This should please Lewis Hamilton who has been critical of the direction of travel allowed by the FIA regulations. “These cars are so heavy and cumbersome that in the low-speed corners we’re really much slower than before,” revealed Hamilton.
Hamilton dislikes the modern large F1 cars
Lewis explained that the lap times were not really affected because the engines are continually evolving more power.
“Of course, the new  regulations brought back ground effect downforce, so we’re going way faster through the faster corners, but in the slow bits these cars are no fun at all to drive,” Hamilton revealed.
Yet despite the promise from the FIA to make the 2026 cars smaller and lighter the reality is the reductions will be relatively small.
“It is realistic to make the cars a bit lighter, but not a massive amount,” explains Tombazis.
F1 car weight broken down
“We have to consider that the difference in weight since 2000, is about 200kg, which is a massive number. And out of those 200kg, about one hundred comes from the Power Unit. from the electrical parts, batteries, turbos and so on. That accounts for half of this big weight increase.”
The sheer complexity of the new V6 turbo hybrid power units led many to believe the FIA would scrap them in 2026 for something more simple, cost effective, and weighing less. However, F1’s governing body failed to grasp the nettle over this and the V6 units will remain with some tweaks here and there.
FIA refuse big F1 engine rethink
Tombazis argues that part of the reason for this is down to road car relevance. “It it is necessary to keep Formula One relevant to the directions of society. While a petrolhead would like a V10 and end of story, we know we have to go in the direction we’ve gone and there’s no turning back. So, that counts for about half of the weight increase.”
Around 50kg of the extra weight gained over the past two decades is due to safety developments including the halo, stronger chassis and better driver protections.
“So again, nobody would want to compromise that”, says the FIA delegate, “and there’s about 15-20kg because of more complex systems on the cars.”
Maybe just a 10% reduction in weight now possible
So this leaves a mere 30-35kg which is due to the increased dimensions of the cars compared to 20 years ago. The Renault R2 from 2001 was almost a metre shorter than the 2017 Mercedes W8
Tombasis continues, ”and we believe in the car dimensions there lies an opportunity. We would want 2026 cars to be quite a lot shorter and probably maybe a bit narrower as well and all of that is going to contain the weight increase.
On the other side, there is a battery increase because we are going more electrical which is adding a bit of weight.”
“So the net effect I hope is going to be a bit lighter, but not a massive amount”, concludes the FIA single seater officer.
Nimble exciting F1 cars consigned to history
In failing to revise the 2026 power units significantly the FIA has failed again to regulate for smaller nimbler, more exciting cars for the drivers and fans alike.
The FIA has chosen to focus F1 power being run on fully sustainable fuel and has added 3 times more electrical power. This means less fuel will be burned.
In 2013, 160kg of fuel was used in a race and by 2020 that had been reduced to just 100kg. F1 is targeting just 70kg for the new sustainable fuel power units to run the same distance as at present.
F1 engine cost cap looms
To prevent the repeat of a single power unit manufacturer doing a Mercedes and spending billions on building the best new generation power unit, the FIA have said they will regulate with an engine cost cap. Further dyno hours will be restricted although the engineers will be allowed to innovate around the electrical systems in a technically unlimited fashion.
Of course the restriction of 3 power units per season per driver will in effect mean unlimited changes cannot be made on a regular basis.
FIA’s green agenda
Many will feel the FIA has failed to focus on making the on track racing better and sacrificed this for a green agenda as their vision on formula1.com explains.
“Formula 1 is committed to keeping more materials above ground as it targets environmental responsibility. Recycling options will be mandated for batteries while, at the end of the MGU-K’s life, materials such as cobalt will be recycled.
“With these new power units the future of F1 will be just as fast and exciting as ever, but more sustainable, relevant and responsible than ever before.
2022, it’s a wrap 🎬
— Scuderia Ferrari (@ScuderiaFerrari) December 29, 2022