While the focus of the Formula 1 technical departments is aimed at finalizing the 2023 single-seaters which will be unveiled in just over a month, there is a silent dispute over the rules regarding the 2026 power units. A battle that does not concern the architectural structure of the future power units, but the economic advantages recognized to subjects interested in entering the sport as engine suppliers.
The new technological platform has so far convinced only Audi to accept the challenge in the top category of motorsport, after the lack of agreement between Red Bull and Porsche. The International Federation had initially set the deadline for the adhesion of power unit manufacturers to the new technical regulation for 15 October, subsequently extended to the end of November. However, from the beginning, the ambiguous “nature” of the Red Bull Powertrains division has led to concern for various competitors.
The possibility that the new structure dedicated to the management of Honda’s turbo hybrid units could register as a new power unit manufacturer has been vigorously opposed above all by Scuderia Ferrari. Due to this position it seems that the management of the Prancing Horse was not invited to the SOW (Statement of work, nda) of the Engine Advisor Committee held on 15 December. To date, the engine manufacturers that have agreed with the 2026 regulations are Audi Formula Racing, Alpine SAS, Honda Racing Corporation, Mercedes AMG High Performance Powertrains and Red Bull Powertrains (RBPT).
To understand the Maranello-based team’s reluctance to sign on as a power unit manufacturer from 2026, it is first necessary to clarify the definition of a “new manufacturer” according to motorsport’s governing body. A new supplier is considered as such if: “it has not homologated a power unit in the period 2014-2021 or if it has not received significant intellectual property from a power unit manufacturer that is not new”.
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At first sight the passage on intellectual property should rule out the possibility that the Red Bull Powertrains division could be considered a new manufacturer. In fact, the 2026 regulation also introduced the possibility that a manufacturer could be recognized as “partially new” in relation to its infrastructure, know-how of the internal combustion unit and electrical components.
The governing body is fully empowered to classify the a supplier as new or partially new. A compromise option that seems to frame the particular status of the world champion team’s engine division. This thesis is supported by the unexpected registration of the Honda Racing group which has formalized its commitment starting from 2026, separating its competitive future from that of the Milton Keynes team, at least on paper. But what are the economic implications regarding the status of new engine manufacturers?
The financial advantages offered for new PU manufacturers include the possibility of investing to a greater extent than the manufacturers already present in the sport. For example, Audi will be able to invest 10 million dollars more in the development of the 2026 power unit in 2023 and 2024 than Ferrari. An additional amount that will decrease in 2025 to “only” 5 million dollars more.
It is clear that for a “rookie” manufacturer the possibility of investing more is a benefit aimed at achieving the level of competitiveness necessary to challenge the giants who have been competing in Formula 1 for years. But it is a completely different matter if a manufacturer already present in the sport in “ambiguous” guises could access these concessions.
The fears of the historic Italian team lie in the all-British ability to exploit the gray areas of the regulations, whether they are of a technical or financial nature, as amply highlighted also in the recent controversy over the “Budget Cap Gate”. It seems entirely unlikely that Ferrari will not be at the starting line for Formula 1 in the foreseeable future. However, the attitude of the Maranello team finally seems worthy of its tradition and its role as the guiding star of Formula 1, which for too long has been overshadowed.