Porsche and Audi are attracted to Formula 1 and could decide to enter the sport with the introduction of the new power units in 2026. The two brands of the Volkswagen Group have asked for a simplification of the engines for which the elimination of the MGU-H has been discussed, the very expensive and complex electric motor that has not, so far, found an impact on the series product.
The goal is to halve the costs of power units, reduce emissions with green fuels, while maintaining current performance. An unrealistic scenario, but useful to push research towards times that could have an immediate impact on the automotive sector. The budgets invested will not be an end in themselves for racing, but will be well spent in an attempt to revive the clean internal combustion engine as a credible alternative to electric throughout the ecological transition phase.
The major manufacturers present in Formula 1 (Mercedes, Ferrari and Renault) together with Red Bull, which will become a manufacturer of engines replacing Honda, agreed at Monza some key points on how the power units of the future should be, debating issues that will be re-discussed in the first week of November, when Presidents and CEOs should meet again to define the basis of the 2026 regulation on which work can begin next year.
If at the level of principle some points of convergence would have been found, when it comes to talking about the individual solutions in practice, there are still major difficulties to overcome and different views.
The internal combustion engine will remain the 1.6-liter 6-cylinder with turbo, but compared to today the engine will not be able to express the current 500 horsepower for two reasons: first, they want to reduce fuel consumption to 80 kg per GP (against the 110 kg granted today); second, environmentally friendly fuels will be adopted which will not have the same energy efficiency as current fuels.
The problem to solve is: how can you get to a thousand horsepower power unit without MGU-H and with a fuel that is certainly more ecological, but also less performing? The topic is on the discussion table, but the solutions are not simple.
The German manufacturers had proposed to introduce two electric motors at the front in addition to the MGU-K, taking up the concepts already seen on the Prototypes at Le Mans. The idea could represent a good escape route, but it has some serious flaws: it would distort the concept of a single-seater with a wider chassis in the front and would produce yet another weight gain, turning F1 into more battleships than they are.
Although the German proposal has not yet been removed from the table, the project of the front electric motors does not find consensus and the idea of enhancing the MGU-K takes shape, returning to the KERS concept, but with a much greater ability to produce and store electricity.
In 2009, F1 made optional a KERS that produced 60 kW (about 80 hp) for a usage time of about 6.67 seconds thanks to an electrical availability of 400 kj per lap. Now the MGU-K produces 120 kW (about 160 hp) with a use of 2 MJ per revolution, while the energy destined for the battery can be 4 MJ per revolution. The energy that from the MGU-H is directed directly to the MGU-K has no regulatory constraints.
Looking ahead to 2026, there is talk of an MGU-K capable of delivering 350 kW equal to about 470 horsepower, a limit that is perhaps too generous to reach and with many complications in terms of reliability.
It is therefore more likely that an intermediate solution of 300 kW will be reached, however, obtained in two stages: there will be an electrical power that we could define as automated (200 kW) available over the entire lap with a constant power in function of the opening of the accelerator, while combined it could be added a second level of power (50 kW) to be used strategically in certain points of the track and as a push-to-pass to attempt overtaking.
It is evident that it remains difficult to reach a total power of the engine that can replicate the current thousand horsepower and for this reason there are those who are thinking of exploiting other parts of the car to obtain performance: there are those who speak of introducing a sort of mobile aerodynamic package that allows you to reduce drag or increase downforce, going well beyond the limited use provided by the DRS today, or to introduce active suspension.
The doubts concern the new power unit in the launch phase, because as the new ecological fuels find the lost performance with the search for oil tankers, it will be possible to derive the powers that are sought from the engine. And if at the beginning of the cycle of the new engines we were to start with tanks of 90 kg instead of 80, we would still have a significant reduction in consumption compared to today’s standard and there would be time to reach full capacity without creating traumatic imbalances made of failures and breakages …
Ultimately, it is right to highlight a certain positive aspect: the elimination of the MGU-H will produce a very different sound, with a “musicality” more similar to the penetrating one of other units that have made Formula 1 history …