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A look at the FIA's Formula 1 regulations for 2026

By Jim K 06/24/2024
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2026 F1 car render

Image: FIA

The FIA's 2026 regulations are designed to align the sport with future technological and environmental goals. However, the rules also look to the past. Smaller sizes, lighter chassis, and simpler power units all feature. Here's everything we know and what we think of F1's latest direction change.

Power Unit Evolution

2026 F1 car render

Image: FIA

The 2026 power unit will undergo a transformative redesign, with the internal combustion engine's power output reducing from ~550kW to 400kW. A notable increase in the battery's electrical power to 350kW (up from 120kW) should balance this reduction. Nonetheless, keeping the energy generation similar to today will keep engineers busy until the 2026 season-opening round.

The intention here is to keep the power performance at a level near today's while committing to a more sustainable sport whose technology is relevant to road cars.

2026 F1 car render

Image: FIA

With Audi and Ford joining F1 as a manufacturer and an engine partner soon, the sport knows it must align itself with the goals of these global powerhouse names with their colossal consumer market size. Many governments are introducing emission reductions, and F1 will seek to be the incubation site for new ideas.

F1 becoming more sustainability-focused will help develop the technology in future products from existing and new manufacturers. It goes without saying that each brand's marketing department will benefit from demonstrating their F1 counterpart's cutting-edge breakthroughs, too.

Aerodynamic Adjustments and Chassis Changes

Perhaps the focal point for existing fans is the 2026 cars moving to a new breed of active aerodynamics. Today's rules allow for the Drag Reduction System (DRS), which opens a flap on the rear wing in 'DRS zones' when within a second of the car in front. While this is technically active aero, the implementation has often faced criticism for being an overtaking band-aid.

2026 F1 car render

Image: FIA

This won't be the case in 2026. The new rules will propose simpler front and rear wings that will move throughout the lap, regardless of proximity to rivals. Dubbed 'X-mode' and 'Z-mode,' each driver can switch to a low-downforce aerodynamic setup (X-mode) on a straight and then to a downforce-generating configuration (Z-mode) when cornering.

Along with adjustments to the front wing width, removal of the arches over the front wheels, and simplification of the floor bodywork, the tweaked rules should see drastically different driving from today. Reducing 'dirty air' and ending DRS should, in theory, allow the cars to fight closer than before and provide an even battleground.

2026 F1 car render

Image: FIA

The rules also reduce the area for aerodynamic alterations. A smaller wheelbase of 3.4m is 20cm shorter than the current rules, with a 10cm width reduction to 1.9m also featuring. This change goes hand-in-hand with a 30kg minimum weight drop to 768kg and narrower tires (reduced by 2.5cm and 3cm to the front and rear wheels, respectively).

Sustainability and Safety

You'll note the frequent use of 'sustainability' throughout this article. The FIA outlined a net zero commitment by 2030, and the creation of the regulations unquestionably had that date in mind. Yet there's more to this than the changes to the power units' focus on electric power.

2026 F1 car render

Image: FIA

Sustainable fuels will be part of the 2026 cars in a move that the FIA and F1 hope to lead the way in reducing global CO2e emissions. The work has already begun here. 2022 saw fuel at a 10% sustainable level and has continued scaling up to fully sustainable for this regulation change.

By demonstrating that the fastest cars on the planet can race at high speeds without further harming the environment, the governing body will look to show the vehicles in viewers' driveways could do the same. They refer to the new fuel regulations as 'drop-in,' meaning that existing internal combustion engine vehicles can run on the same fuel without costly changes. Elsewhere, there are multiple safety enhancements that each regulation set always includes.

Though not as eye-catching as other parts of the rules, features that will improve the car's resilience during a crash, such as the roll hoop, side intrusion, and front impact structure, will all keep drivers safer than today. Some mentions of brighter LEDs and repositioned GPS antennas also appear, showing the constant iterative nature of safety rules.

2026 F1 car render

Image: FIA

These 2026 regulations will see a sweeping change in racing between the teams and drivers thanks to the move away from DRS. Whether that means closer racing, though, is far less certain. Theory suggests this should be the case, but F1's great irony is that regulation changes often usher in a period of domination.

2014's turbo-hybrid introduction saw Mercedes go unchallenged for the title. Red Bull Racing is still riding the high of 2022's rule change. Closer racing is always the aim of a regulation switch, and reducing the dirty air was also front and center of the current formula. For the most part, the racing is far better than in the previous era, so there is a risk that these 2026 rules might undo that progress.

At the time of writing, the rules exist in a proposed state. However, while some adjustments are inevitable, the broad strokes will become regulations in 2024's summer. As ever, time will tell how successful rules will be. Cautious optimism is where Fortloc stands, hoping that the wheel-to-wheel action thrills in the future.


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