As the new Formula One engine era approaches in 2026, questions are being asked whether the FIA has made a fatal error of judgement. The V6 turbo hybrid power units were due to be replaced in 2021 though a lack of interest from new manufacturers together with Mercedes lobbying to retain the Formula has seen the current era extended to 12 years.
While the FIA are committed as part of the 2026 mini revolution to making the F1 cars smaller, as TJ13 explained in Huge mistake by F1 the actual weight reduction due to dimensions will probably be no more than 25-30kg.
The F1 power unit too complex and heavy
The issue is the 1.6l turbo hybrid power units are responsible for almost half the increase in the weight of the cars over the past two decades.
Despite clamours among the teams for Formula One’s next generation of power units to be less complicated with even a return to the V8 configuration mooted, the FIA decided to plough on with the behemoth style of power units which power the cars today.
The 2026 power units will most probably be even heavier given that 50% of the power will be electric. This will require even larger batteries than at present which will more than compensate for the weight loss gained by scrapping the MGU-H.
Ground effect means weight now more noticeable
Prior to the 2022 design regulation changes which means the current F1 cars now derive a significant amount of downforce from “ground effect”, the issue of weight was largely ignored by the drivers. The heavier the cars became was compensated for by just adding more power yet the advent of ground effect makes that more difficult in the slow speed corners.
The cars now are less sophisticated in their set up. Ride height and the stiffness of the suspension are the key drivers and establishing the optimum set up for the current crop of cars.
This means the drivers now have to respect the kerbs much more given they have less travel in the low profile 18 inch Pirelli tyres and less suspension adjustment aswell.
Russell: “Its like crashing a bus”
George Russell who is a director of the F1 drivers’ collective known as the grand prix drivers’ association now speaks out to motorsport.com about the dangers of the heavy modern F1 cars.
“The big one [issue] is the weight,” said Russell, “the weight is extraordinary. At the moment, the low-speed performance is not great.
“We keep making these cars safer and safer, but obviously the heavier you make them when you have an impact it’s like crashing with a bus compared to a Smart Car.
“You’re going to have a greater impact if you’re going the same speed with a car that weights 800-odd-kgs or over 900kgs at the start of a race, compared to one 15 years ago when they were at 650kg.
F1 Safety has added weight
“And I’m sure there’s analysis going on about striking that right balance because I don’t know where the line is drawn.
“If you just keep making it heavier, heavier, heavier, stronger, stronger, stronger – actually you get to a point where you cross over that [line] that too heavy is actually not safer.”
Of course the once controversial halo added weight to the design of an F1 car and the new roll bar construction following the extraordinary crash of Alfa Romeo’s Guanyu Zhou at Silverstone last season should put another or kilo or two on the final number.
Power unit weight locked in to 2032
Yet it is the power units which are public enemy number one when it comes to slimming down the size of modern F1 cars.
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. Yet this can only be by a marginal amount.
The FIA is obsessed with F1 becoming carbon neutral by 2030 and so the focus for the new engine formula is improving fuel efficiency and scrapping all carbon based fuels.
Obsese F1 cars here to stay
The problem has been highlighted with the introduction of the new “ground effect” cars as Lewis Hamilton describes:
“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.”
Most of the drivers say they prefer the pre-2022 cars to drive, however given there impact “ground effect” design has had on the racing and overtaking in particular, these cars are here for the long term – and so is their monstrous weight.
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25-30 kg would be perfectly welcome, given even the 2 kg reduction from last season to the next is positive.
Yes, 2021 was the original target when the hybrid era began, but Mercedes isn’t the only responsible manufacturer but all current ones equally.