The new Formula One car design regulations which came into force in 2022 saw a seismic shift in the balance of power within the sport. Mercedes who have donated the sport for almost a decade were relegated to a midfield team and for a while Ferrari were in the hunt with Red Bull for championship glory.
A year and a half later it is clearly Red Bull who have mastered the new under floor aerodynamics and the rest who are playing catch up.
Such is the gap to the rest of the field, some technical F1 writers believe the team will remain on top of the F1 pile until at least the start of the 2026 season when the new engine regulations come into force.
The World Motor sport Council approved the new regulations last August and since then the manufacturers old and new have been bench testing their combustion engine designs and simulating how the rest of the package will come together.
The FIA nailed its colours to the mast in its pursuit of the net carbon zero for 2030 agenda when it decided to continue with hybrid power unit concepts.
This of course was influenced by automotive manufacturers who believed the hybrid power unit solution was the way the majority of new road car technology would progress given the green agenda’s of most western governments.
A return to V8/10 combustion engines was proposed but using 100% sustainable fuels. This of course would benefit the 2 billion vehicles across the globe which already are fitted with combustion engines and will be around for three to four decades after the global car companies stop producing them.
The problem with the hybrid power solution is the weight of the non combustion engine components. Further, there FIA has specified that the current 20% electrical power must rise to 50% of the overall output the new 2026 engines produce.
This will require far larger batteries which again will increase the weight of the cars.
Almost all the F1 drivers are on the record stating the current crop of F1 cars are too heavy and this yer both the president of the FIA and F1’s CEO have called for lighter cars.
While the chassis specifications are not agreed for 2026 it is believed they will be reduced in length and width thus making the footprint of the cars smaller.
Even so, the FIA’s head of single seaters Nicholas Tombazis has gone on the record stating the reduction in the footprint of the cars will merely offset the extra weight the new hybrid power units require.
“It is realistic to make them a bit lighter,” Tombazis told The Race. “Not a massive amount.”
The FIA official went on to list the theoretical weights for the carious components and concluded an absolute maximum of 35kgs could be shed from the current weight of the cars.
“The net effect I hope is going to be a bit lighter, but not a massive amount,” concluded Tombazis.
Max Verstappen has now come out and criticised the FIA’s new power unit regulations having spent some time in the Red Bull simulator.
The Dutch world champion believes the extra weight of the batteries which will need to deliver 250% more power will significantly affect the aerodynamics of the cars.
“I’ve been talking about that as well with the team and I’ve seen the data already on the simulator as well,” said Max.
“To me, it looks pretty terrible.”
It appears the Red Bull simulations suggest the new F1 car’s internal combustion engine (ICE) will not be powerful enough relative to the electrical drive to both power the car forward and recharge the batteries on the car.
There is a risk the ICE becomes merely a mobile generator. Verstappen reveals are rather shocking simulation from a circuit with long straights and constant high speed.
“I mean, if you go flat-out on the straight at Monza, I don’t know what it is, like four or five hundred (metres) before the end of the straight, you have to downshift flat-out because that’s faster.
“That’s not the way forward.
Verstappen fears a return to the early hybrid era from 2014 onwards where Mercedes threw an alleged billion dollars at research and development of their power unit.
The result? Mercedes dominance of Formula One for several years while the rest played catch up.
“The problem is, it looks like it’s going to be an ICE competition – like whoever has the strongest engine will have a big benefit,” continued Verstappen.
”I don’t think that should be the intention of Formula 1 because then you will start a massive development war again, and it will become quite expensive to find, probably a few horsepowers here and there.”
Of course there is a cost cap – limit yet to be agreed – that will be applied to the development of the new F1 power units. However as the current cost cap is proving, the teams appear to find ingenious ways to bury spend outside their official Formula One operations.
Christian Horner also called for the FIA to rethink its specifications for the 2026 power units before its too late.
“I think that perhaps where we need to pay urgent attention, before it’s too late, is to look at the ratio between combustion power and electrical power,” he said at the Austrian Grand Prix.
“[We need] to ensure that we’re not creating a technical Frankenstein, which will require the chassis to compensate to such a degree with moveable aero and reduce the drag to such a level that the racing will be affected – and that there will be no tow effect and no DRS because effectively you’re running like that at all points in time.
Analysis of Red Bull’s simulations suggest that a shift down from 50% to 45% battery power could make all the difference and significantly affect the chassis designs required which are not yet specified.
Alfa Romeo’s team principal Alessandro Alunni Bravi agreed with the Red Bull boss that tweaks may be required.
“On the matter of ratio? It is difficult to say, but what Christian said, I agree that we need to have a holistic approach. It is not just a matter of PU, it is a matter of the overall package, the chassis and the engines.”
However Mercedes boss Toto Wolff ridiculed Christian Horners analysis claiming:
“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.
Toto Wolff claimed earlier this year he lived in his rival team bosses head “for free”, yet such a paranoid response from the Mercedes boss suggests it is probably the other way around.
When asked whether the FIA would reconsider tweaking the 2026 power unit regulations Wolff retorted, “That’s not going to happen – Zero chance… capital letters… I don’t know why these things are coming up.”
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