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F1 2026 Regulation Changes: Explained

Explained: Formula One 2026 Regulation Changes

June 8, 2024

The FIA has formally revealed the regulation changes that will come into play for the 2026 Formula 1 season.

Regulation changes are commonplace in F1, with major changes occurring every few years, sometimes as the technology evolves or sometimes to just level the playing field. 

The latest significant overhaul will see a new era dawn at the pinnacle of motorsport with a raft of significant changes to the aerodynamic, chassis and engines.

Power Unit

First proposed in August 2022, the power unit regulations will bring about the biggest change in the sport. Building on the foundations of the hybrid engines currently used in Formula 1, the 2026 power units will be even more powerful than the current PUs. 

While the power derived from the ICE element drops from 550-560kw to 400kw, the electric power coming from the battery increases massively, from 120kw to 350kw – an almost 300% increase in electric power. Performance is therefore maintained, while sustainability is increased even further.

By simplifying the power unit through the removal of the MGU-H and the expansion of electrical power, the 2026 power is the most road relevant yet seen in Formula 1, and in tandem with 100% sustainable fuel provides a forward-thinking platform for transferrable future innovation.

Additionally, the amount of energy that can be recuperated during braking is doubled, resulting in a total recuperable energy of 8.5 MJ per lap. 

However, the worry for the FIA is that by prioritising more efficient cars on the straight there will be so little drag, and cars will be running at such high speeds on the straights, that overtaking will be even harder.

The FIA believes that the drag characteristics of the 2026 cars will still generate a decent tow effect, but the DRS effect will be reduced compared to what it is now.

For this, a “Manual Override” mode has been included to create improved overtaking opportunities. While the deployment of a leading car will start to taper off after 290 kph, reaching zero at 355 kph, the new cars will benefit from MGUK Override providing 350kW up to 337 kph in straight speed and +0.5MJ of extra energy. 

Designed to attract new manufacturers to the sport, the regulation changes have led to commitments from existing suppliers such as Ferrari, Mercedes and Renault, while the return of Honda as a manufacturer and the arrival of Audi and Red Bull Ford Powertrains makes it six engine manufacturers for the 2026 season and beyond.

Chassis

Designed to be smaller and lighter than the current generation of cars, the upcoming car dimensions will have a lot of alterations to adhere to the ‘nimble car’ concept at the heart of the new rules. 

For instance, the wheelbase drops from a maximum of 3600mm to 3400mm, while the width has been reduced from 2000mm to 1900mm. Similarly, the maximum floor width will be reduced by 150mm.  

For many years, the FIA has struggled to bring down the weight of F1 cars. Thus, reduction in weight has been a key goal, with the 2026 cars having a minimum weight of 768kg – down 30kg on their counterparts from 2022. Moreover, both Downforce and Drag have been reduced by 30% and 55% respectively.  

The 18-inch wheel size introduced in 2022 is being retained, though the width of the front tyres has been reduced by 25mm and the rears by 30mm but with minimal loss in grip.

Aerodynamics

The 2026 cars will also benefit from the all-new Active Aerodynamics systems. The system, involving movable front and rear wings, will result in greater cornering speeds with standard Z-Mode deployed. On straights, drivers will be able to switch to “X-Mode”, a low-drag configuration designed to maximise straight-line speed. 

A three-element active rear wing will also be adopted, while the lower beam wing has been removed and end plates have been simplified.

The front wing will be 100mm narrower than currently and will feature a two-element active flap. 

Moving into 2026, front wheel arches from the current cars will be removed, and part of the wheel bodywork will be mandated, to help achieve optimal wake performance.

Besides, in-washing wheel wake control boards will sit on the front of the side pods to assist with the control of the wheel wake. 

The cars will feature a partially flat floor and a lower-powered diffuser, which will reduce the ground effect and reduce the reliance of the cars on ultra-stiff and low set-ups.

Safety

The 2026 regulation changes sees the FIA continue to uphold its pursuit of safety with some new proposals already being agreed upon by both parties. 

The first of those is a revised front impact structure regulation, introduced as a two-stage structure to avoid incidents in recent years where the front impact structure (FIS) has broken-off close to the survival cell after an initial impact, leaving the car unprotected for a subsequent impact. 

Side intrusion protection has also been increased. The new specification will give improved intrusion protection around the cockpit and more than doubles the protection given by the side of the fuel cell. Additionally, the improved intrusion protection will be achieved without adding weight.

Roll hoop loads will see an increase from 16G to 20G in line with other single seater formulas and test loads increased from 141kN to 167kN. 

Moreover, Rear wing endplate lights will also become homologated and significantly more visible/bright than current ones. While lateral safety lights will also be introduced to identify the ERS status of a car stopped across the track.

The FIA has also discussed repositioning the GPS antenna to improve sensitivity and to allow for future developments in active safety.

Sustainability

From 2026, Formula 1 power units will run on fully sustainable fuel, underscoring the commitment to environmentally responsible racing and setting a new standard for motorsport.

This fuel will be ‘drop-in’, meaning it can be used in almost any ICE-powered vehicle, offering a potentially game-changing solution to greenhouse gases in the transportation sector. 

By 2030, there will be 1.2bn ICE cars on the road worldwide and the fuel developed for Formula 1 could be used to reduce emissions on an industrial scale. 

Sustainability will be enhanced through greater use of electric power in the 2026 power units and a shift towards a 50% electrical and 50% thermal power distribution.

The 2026 regulations are in line with the FIA objective of reaching Net Zero carbon by 2030.

Rahul Saha

An engineer taking the road less taken. I love writing, live and breathe football, and am always up for a tactical conversation.

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