The latest big Formula One regulation changes impacting car design in 2022 had a huge impact on the sport. The previously dominant Mercedes car philosophy had ruled the roost winning eight consecutive constructors’ titles but the move towards ‘ground effect’ downforce on the new cars saw them drop in dramatic fashion down the pecking order.
The FIA used to switch up the F1 car specifications on a more regular basis than in recent years, however the big spending teams today resist regular significant change due to the investment they make in both power units and car design.
Given the dominance of Red Bull with the ground effect cars, many are looking to 2026 for the next change around in the performance stakes to level the playing field – yet with two more years of Red Bull success on the horizon, the current plans from the FIA for the future beyond then some argue are chaotic with ‘pointless’ regulations which could embarrass the sport.
Agreement F1 cars ‘too big’
One of the problems with Formula One is mostly that change requires consensus. The Concorde agreement binds tightly what the FIA, the teams and Formula One can and cannot do without the agreement of other partners and this includes the introduction of new power units and new car designs.
The next big step change in the power units and the cars will arrive for the 2026 season and despite Audi and Ford announcing they will join the sport as engine suppliers, the details of the 2026 regulations are still being worked through.
Its almost universally accepted by drivers, teams and the bosses of the sport that the current generation of cars is way to big and heavy. Much the growth in weight over the past decade came with the introduction of the V6 power unit and its associated electrical components and this 100kg of weight will mostly remain for the new 2026 power unit design.
However, Formula One’s new day to day boss – since Mohhamed ben Sulayem announced he would concentrate only on the strategic direction of the sport – Nikolas Tombazis claimed last year that for 2026, “It is realistic to make them a bit lighter.”
Just “35kg” weight saving realistic says FIA
The unfortunate analysis from Tombasis revealed the decision to remain with the V6 turbo’s meant only about 35kg can be taken out of the current weight – which is just about 3% of the fullylfuel laden car before lights out.
However Tombasis made a commitment to reduce the footprint of the current F1 cars which are the largest they’ve ever been.
“There’s about 30-35kg [saving] on car dimensions. So cars being much longer and wider, bigger tyres and so on.
“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.”
Minimum weight could go
In terms of the weight increase Tombasis mentions, the battery store will be around three times larger than at present so the move towards net zero as always is a compromise.
Despite dropping the highly complex MGU-H which recycles heat in the V6 Unit, the new PU will weight around 23% more than the current one does.
Today German publication AMuS reveals the FIA will fail to meet a number of their targets with the new sustainable fuel power units. They had a target of reducing the car weight by 50kg but Pat Symonds (F1 Tech Director) now considers this figure very optimistic and suggests it will most likely be a 20kg reduction.
Currently the FIA are considering ditching the minimum weight requirement which would force the competitive nature of the teams ton find solutions to drastically cut the hefty nature of the cars. However there are concerns teams may reignite the spirit of Colin Chapman who looked to weight save everywhere and at times in ways detrimental to safety.
Car dimensions marginally smaller
In a desperate attempt to save face on their new 2026 project the FIA is applying the red pencil to every conceivable part of the new cars.
Under consideration is reducing the gearbox from 8 to 6 gears; smaller tyres despite the recent introduction of the 18 inch wheel rims.
The width is to shrink from 200 to 190cm and the wheelbase from
360 to 340cm. Pat Symonds has pushed for 330cm but certain teams whose car designs rely on a longer wheelbase have pushed back on this regulation.
Hybrid EU road car manufactures prefer
Even with these modifications to the dimensions of the F1 cars, the difference to the causal eye and TV viewer will be negligible.
The mistake the FIA made was being bounced into retaining the hybrid technology rather than returning to a V8 power unit using wholly sustainable fuel.
During the early negotiations where the FIA was keen to attract more engine suppliers the European manufacturers were pushing hybrid technology given the future road car legislation allowed these internal combustion engine driven cars but was to ban those without the hybrid systems.
This meant the change for Mercedes et al was significantly less than had the EU decided to address the needs of the billions of cars on the roads today, which will never be fitted with hybrid systems. Meanwhile China is going all out for electrical road cars.
By focusing on hybrid technology the manufacturers could argue they were green but make relative small changes to their production processes.
Further, even with the new sustainable fuels the new power units are farcical. 30kg of the 100kg fuel allowance at the start of the race will be used to charge the battery.
Christian Horner recently described this as a “Frankensteins monster.”
ICE merely charging battery
This exposes the ridiculous notion behind the development of the hybrid technology where the fuel may have been used more efficiently to merely power the internal combustion engine directly.
Horner has called for the FIA and teams to reconsider the amount of theoretical battery power the new cars require, suggesting if it is reduced from 50% of total output, the cars can be made much lighter and smaller.
Yet the farcical notion claiming ’50% of power is from the electrical systems’ when in fact the ICE is just charging the battery for 30% of the time – like a generator – is no more cutting edge future technology than you find on most RV’s from the 1960’s.
F1 has seen its future direction driven by European car manufacturers whose technology will be out of date before its even launched.
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With the exception of McLaren’s Zak Brown and Alpine, the other eight teams have made their view clear that…READ MORE ON THIS STORY