The new Formula 1 goes green. That has to be the goal if the sport wants to survive politically and get car manufacturers on board. By October 15, Audi, Ferrari, Mercedes, Renault and Red Bull Powertrains will also have committed to building and using a hybrid engine from 2026. Honda may also join the action in time.
Porsche rather not. After the quarrel with Red Bull, the German company lost its appetite for Formula 1. Also because it has no alternatives. If they are late, they still have until June 30, 2023 to register for the 2027 season. That could then be interesting for companies like Hyundai and Ford, which are said to be looking into entering F1.
Everyone has a task that is harder than it looks. Although the new engine regulations are designed to reduce complexity and costs, in the end the goal determines the effort. And for political reasons, Formula 1 made the task more difficult than it actually should have been.
60 instead of 52 percent efficiency
The green concept is manifested in two key points: The combustion engine is operated with 100 percent climate-neutral fuel. And the electric engine should contribute half of the power. The target is 350 kilowatts (475 hp) each from the combustion engine and from the battery. The thermal engine is to be brought to an efficiency of 60 percent. Formula 1 engines are currently at 52 percent efficiency, which is already a world record.
The lower part of the engine is heavily regulated. This means that engine manufacturers will mainly develop conventional drives in the cylinder head. When it comes to fuel, Formula 1 is open to technology. Both purely synthetic fuels from the laboratory and those based on biological waste are permitted. For this, the octane number is reduced to 102 octane. More is currently difficult to work with in the laboratory.
The much bigger problem is providing the electrical power. At the moment, the electric reserve delivers 120 kilowatts (163 hp). With the power units of the future, it should be almost three times as much, which is nice when the battery is full. But how do you get enough energy into the storage lap after lap so that the 475 hp can be used for more than just a few seconds? An expert fears: “The cars will be snails just like the first hybrid power unit in 2014. You have to let off the gas halfway through the straight to recover.”
Rejection of the front axle recovery
With the current power units we still have the MGU-H, which does not convert excess exhaust gas into boost pressure, but uses it to operate a generator to generate electricity. But the MGU-H will be removed from 2026. This technology proved to be too difficult for series production and too complicated in general. Instead, the plan envisaged recovery of the front axle when braking in the future. That would have easily compensated for the loss of the MGU-H.
However, the simple solution struck suspicion among established engine manufacturers. It was feared that Audi and Porsche would have gained an advantage in this area with their Le Mans experience. “Completely unfounded,” says Formula 1 technical director Pat Symonds. “The plan was a near-standard generator up front to limit development at that point.”
In order to understand why Formula 1 sometimes makes life unnecessarily difficult for itself, you have to delve into the genesis of these engine regulations. At the very beginning, the idea was of a transversely installed four-cylinder in-line engine with transversal transmission, a tank volume of just 81 liters (60 kilograms), a wheelbase of 3.20 meters and energy recovery on the front and rear axles. This concept was intended to make the cars more compact and lighter, according to Auto Motor und Sport.
At a board meeting, a car company spoke out firmly against recovery at the front. The majority rejected the four-cylinder. “The most important thing for them was a regulation that massively saves costs. And that the electric engine is rated higher,” reveals Symonds.
Burn fuel to generate electricity
With the death of the four-cylinder, some other plans also died. Sticking with the V6 and doing without the front-axle alternator also meant that the desired tank capacity could not be maintained. According to Pat Symonds, the tanks will be 100 liters (75 kilograms), only marginally smaller than they are now.
The manufacturers have to come up with a way of reliably bringing the maximum permitted amount of energy of nine megajoules per lap into the battery. The only way to do that is with a little politically correct trick. You have to burn extra fuel to charge the battery. The “virtue guards” reassure that CO2-neutral fuel will be burned there.
From 2026, the MGU-K will not only convert kinetic energy into electrical power when the combustion engine is being used. On the straights, it will switch to charging mode much earlier than it is now and, under full load, will not convert the power directly into propulsion at every point, but will use it to store energy in the battery.
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Aerodynamics & active suspension
Clever software for energy management can be a match winner here. Symonds reassured the naysayers: “We don’t expect any losses on a qualifying lap. In the race, the lap times will certainly increase a little at first.”
So that the top speeds don’t drop too low, the air resistance of the cars has to be drastically reduced. On the one hand, this should be done by reducing the frontal area. It is quite possible that the 2026 cars are only 1.90 instead of two meters wide.
And active aerodynamics are allowed. This is not just limited to adjusting the flaps of the front and rear wings. It could also mean the return of active suspension, which always keeps the car in the most aerodynamic position. As low as possible on the straights to leave as little area as possible in the wind.