The long term future of Formula One appears to be rosy with the advent of the new 2026 power unit regulations which have attracted new manufacturers Audi and Ford.
Porsche having failed to acquire 50% of Red Bull Racing have thrown in the towel though another American giant in Cadillac awaits the decision from the FIA on the application of hopeful new entrant Andretti Motorsport.
F1 targets lighter cars
With the next big regulation change coming in 2026, there’s been a lot of paddock talk recently about reducing the bloated weight of the modern Formula One cars at the same time.
The FIA president Mohammed Ben Sulayem recently reignited the debate over the weight of a ,modern Formula One car at the Monaco Rally.
“One thing I would like to see is very clear: we need a lighter car,” said Ben Sulayem.
“I believe this is better. I come from motorsport, where lighter cars are safer and they won’t use the same amount of fuel.
Hybrid engines make cars heavier
“It will be hard to achieve, but everybody wants it. So I am pushing because I come from rallying, where nothing is worse than having a heavy car.”
Whilst agreeing the weight of the current F1 cars should be on an agenda for discussion, F1’s CEO Stefano Domenicali is realistic as to the fundamental cause of the problem.
F1 CEO Stefano Domenicali said that the issue of car weight needed putting on the agenda for imminent discussions about the 2026 rules.
“One of the points that has always been a debate has been the weight,” he said. “As you know, with the hybrid engines, with the batteries, the weight is getting higher and that is something that is not really in the nature of F1. So, it’s a topic for discussion for the future.”
FIA ditch return to lighter V8’s
Since the advent of the V6 turbo hybrid F1 engine’s, the F1 minimum car weight has risen from 642kg (2013) to 798kg this season – whopping rise of 24% in around just a decade.
As Domenicali says much of this is the hybrid systems yet elements like the Halo and larger 18 inch wheels have contributed to the addition weight in a smaller fashion.
However, the FIA must shoulder their share of responsibility for this state of affairs. Prior to agreeing to continue with hybrid power units for the next generation of F21 cars in 2026, there was a lot of support for a return to the V8 or even V10 naturally aspirated engines.
The FIA felt at the time that hybrid was the future and fitted with their net zero campaign and rejected the V8/V10 with 100% sustainable fuels solution.
New 2026 cars “a bit lighter”
The new 2026 F1 power units are specified to deliver 50% of the power from the hybrid mechanism, which means bigger batteries and again more weight.
Nicholas Tombazis recently revealed that there is room for a reduction in car weight in 2026 by reducing the dimensions of the current F1 car’s footprint.
“So the net effect I hope is going to be a bit lighter, but not a massive amount,” Tombazis told The Race.
Having been let down by both Renault and Honda, Red Bull Racing decided two years ago to set up their own power unit manufacturing division focused on the new 2026 power units.
Horner claims F1 cars will be heavier
However, when asked this weekend, Christian Horner has questioned the FIA’s specification for the new drive units claiming the requirement for 50% hybrid power is “excessive.”
“You’re looking at pretty much a 30 kilogram swing on cars are already approaching sports car type of weight through the cooling that’s going to be required and so on,” claims Horner.
Whilst generally positive about the FIA’s direction of travel stating, “the sustainable fuel and so on is extremely positive.”
The Red Bull boss believes the new power units as specified are creating a monster of a chassis required to house the power unit and deliver the on track traction.
Horner concerned about “technical Frankenstein”
“We need to pay urgent attention before it’s too late, is to look at the ratio between combustion power and electrical power to ensure that we’re not creating a technical Frankenstein which will require the chassis to compensate to such a degree – with movable aero and to reduce the drag – to such a level that the racing will be affected,” argues Horner.
The Red Bull boss in concerned that because the hybrid systems will be working all the time, the tow an DRS will have no more effect.
Further Christian believes a significant part of the combustion engine’s role is been denigrated to being just a generator to charge the battery.
“I think that could easily be addressed with just tuning the ratio between combustion and electrical power,” he added suggesting the shift from 20-50% requires a rethink.
Horner calls for FIA rethink
Horner believes the chassis regulations for 2026 which are as yet unspecified are going to become slaves to the hybrid power unit requirements rather than facilitating great racing.
“I think you’ve got to look at the thing holistically from both a technical point of view but the most important thing is: what is Formula 1? Formula 1 needs to be wheel-to-wheel racing.
“We can’t afford to lose that challenge of drivers downshifting on straights to regenerate batteries. So I know the FIA are taking it very seriously, and they’re looking at it very closely as the simulations become more advanced.”
Whilst the specifications for 2026 are agreed by all registered manufacturers, each will be running simulations and bench tests on the new power units to asses their potential.
Wolff derides RBR Powertrains progress
It may be other teams agree with Red Bull Powertrains analysis to date, yet so far Red Bull’s nemesis Mercedes is deriding their observations and efforts to build an F1 power unit.
When asked about Christian Horner’s concerns, Toto Wolff mocked his rival suggesting, “I think what frightens him more is that maybe his engine programme is not coming along and maybe he wants to kill it that way.
“You always have to question what is the real motivation to say something like that,” Wolff added.
When questioned whether the FIA may indeed rethink the 2026 power unit specifications, “That’s not going to happen – Zero chance… capital letters… I don’t know why these things are coming up,” retorted Toto.
Toto: “zero chance” regs change
The Mercedes boss believes its important not to rock the boat now the new manufacturer’s are on board.
“We’ve developed the regulations over many years with all the auto manufacturers being involved, a compromise that attracted Audi to finally join the sport, and for Honda to stay in there. It’s the best possible case that one could imagine for Formula 1.
“Is it challenging? Our chassis designers are saying ‘Well, how we are going to do this?’. Yeah. Super,” he laughed. “But, zero chance these regulations are not going to change anymore.
They’re not going to be postponed anymore because the world needs to show innovation around sustainability, and we need to reduce emissions and we are super excited.”
Wolff mocks Horner’s analysis
Wolff goes on to deride Horner’s suggesting that drivers will be down shifting on the straights to regenerate the battery.
“Do you think that in all reality we are not innovative in this sport to come up with chassis, engine regulations that can avoid drivers shifting down on the straight? It just isn’t real.
“When you take today’s chassis and put the future power unit in there, there are a few tracks with very long straights where we would have massive de-rates in the power unit. That’s today’s situation.”
Mercedes seek a reduced RBR advantage
Toto does though bring some hope for those who want to see smaller more nimble F1 cars stating, “we are not bolting on today’s chassis, which are heavy like a prototype and big like an elephant.
“That’s what we need to reinvent for 2026. Whether it is some retractable aerodynamic elements, or whether the shapes of the cars are going to change in order to meet the more sustainable world, more aerodynamic efficiency,
“I think that’s great, and so spectacular as a regulation.”
Of course Red Bull are masters of the current chassis regulations, so a big change in the way these components are designed along with the new power units offer Mercedes and opportunity to shake up the current pecking order.
Unnecessary from Verstappen. That was deliberately screwing Hamilton’s lap.
— Rob Myers (@RobLMyers) July 1, 2023