FIA at an impasse over F1 2026 regulations. Formula One at times is a bit like ‘The grand old Duke of York’ who marched his men to the top of the hill and then marched them back down again. All for no particular reason other than to create some activity.
The FIA trumpeted the announcement of the upcoming Audi/Sauber partnership last autumn as a success to their endeavours to attract new manufacturers into Formula One. Yet in reality the search had been long and forlorn and had failed to deliver new participants or a new power unit for the originally proposed year of 2021.
New manufacturers finally show up for F1
Of course we now await with baited breath for the New York based Red Bull 2023 livery launch in two days time. Expectations have been field there will be a co-announcement with Ford of another future Formula One partnership.
Andretti Racing are now favoured by the FIA to join F1 since they declared to have the largest US car manufacturer, General Motors in their corner for 2026.
The reality is, if we see three manufacturers joining Formula One in 3 years time it will be nothing short of a miracle.
In fact it is less than 3 years before the new power units must be completed and ready for on track testing. This seems like plenty of time but given the FIA and the teams are now logged down in the details of the 2026 regulations in reality time is very short.
Time is short to agree 2026 F1 rules
In broad brush terms the specifications are agreed and were signed off by the World Motor Sport Council in August last year.
The problem is it is not just the power unit regulations that will change, but the next iteration of F1 car designs have yet to be agreed which may affect significantly the design of the power trains.
The latest meeting in January of the FIA’s working party on the 2026 regulations ended in logjam and whilst the FIA can simply enforce the regulations the teams want the matter to be approved by the F1 commission where they are represented.
The original 2026 engine proposals by the FIA were for a 4 cylinder turbo hybrid which would weigh less than the current V6 arrangement.
Proposed F1 4 cylinder power unit rejected
However, this was rejected and with the electrical power being upped o 350kw – around half the total output of the power units – a heavier battery and recovery systems will be required for the cars.
Further, the cars will need to start charging earlier and on the straights to generate more electric power which will compromise top speed.
Whilst the teams in principal agree the cars should be lighter, the FIA’s proposal of smaller car footprints is being challenged.
Mercedes 2022 car had a wheelbase of 5.5m and a width of 2m. The FIA have proposed a maximum width of 1.9m and a wheelbase of no more than 3.5m, which is a huge reduction.
Big reduction in size of F1 cars proposed
The teams dispute whether they can build an F1 car with the necessary safety elements and fit the power train into a car with those dimensions.
Another area of contention is the size of the fuel tank. Formula One is switching to 100% non-carbon based fuel in 2026. This will initially burn less efficiently as the technology is developed and the realistic possibility of having a tank of just 80 litres is questionable.
Part of the problem is the FIA is setting itself the task of ‘saving the world’ from itself.
As Pat Symonds described, “We’re working on an E fuel where the carbon circle is completely neutral so the carbon utilised to produce that fuel is the same quantity as the carbon emitted from the internal combustion engine. It means that the engines do not add anything to the carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.
FIA want to design bio fuel for 2bn cars
“The great appeal is when we find this solution, you can use it in your road car, without making any changes to the engine. We will have close to two billion internal combustion engines on the planet and whatever electric solution we find, whatever hydrogen solution we find, there’s still going to be two billion cars.
The FIA has further proposed that there will be active aerodynamics to help the cars overtake more easily, but there’s no agreement yet as to how these will work or where they should be allowed on the cars.
What is true is the FIA driven 2022 ‘ground effect’ car design regulations were hailed as a victory for F1’s governing body in terms of delivering cars that could follow each other more closely with out destroying their tyres.
Yet it seems the thorny problems of the next big F1 rule changes are mired down in dispute when the ultimate solution should be a simple ruling from the FIA that the teams must follow.
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I wonder what’s wrong with the 4-cylinder alternative.