Work on the development of the new generation of power units continues at a rapid pace, despite the over two-year wait before the new debut. “It won’t matter to have 1000 horsepower, but who will get there first,” commented former Ferrari boss Mattia Binotto last season.
Thirteen months have passed since the approval of the first basis of the new regulations, on which the manufacturers are already working. However, there are still some outstanding issues, including a standardized measurement methodology to assess the competitiveness of individual power units.
The Alpine Case
In July, the Alpine power unit case exploded. As reported regarding the 2022 engine, the episode nevertheless constitutes a potential precedent for the 2026 regulations. The French manufacturer reports a power deficit to rivals of about 30 horsepower and has requested permission for additional developments to remedy this. The debate offers a preview of a central theme in the upcoming regulations. The 2026 regulations stipulate that if a power deficit greater than 3% from the best power unit in the field is measured, the engine manufacturer in question will be granted additional development opportunities.
The risk is that this could become a source of discord over the actual performance deficit. Even now, the case of the Alpine power unit does not have everyone in agreement, as competitors believe the Renault engine’s deficit is less than claimed. “Our engineers don’t see the same numbers,” commented Fred Vasseur before the summer break.
Enrico Gualtieri, the technical director of the Ferrari power unit area, now adds to the discussion: “It’s challenging for us. Our analysis cannot take into account all the data the FIA has. We can only conduct general analyses, from which we do not see such a performance difference.”
The debate about the Alpine power unit highlights the need for predefined measurement standards for 2026, capable of avoiding potential disputes. “This will be one of the refinements to be made,” comments Gualtieri. “In the new regulations, there is a section to identify development opportunities after someone puts a power unit on the track. This is in case a power deficit greater than the average is identified. However, this is a section that must still be refined even in the regulations, to have a robust and shared method on which to base comparisons.”
The extra development opportunities arise from the desire of the FIA and Formula 1 to avoid significant performance disparities, such as those encountered at the debut of hybrid power units in 2014, which would be detrimental to the show. The idea is to achieve balance by offering followers more room for intervention while rejecting the idea of artificially slowing down the more competitive engines. “There are all the elements to set up a process that is not a BoP,” Gualtieri’s thought. A sentiment in line with that of Toto Wolff, who has repeatedly stated that a Balance of Performance would be a catastrophe, considering it the beginning of the end for Formula 1.