The official presentation of the technical regulations for the next generation of power units which are expected to make their debut in the 2026 Formula One season has already raised the first questions. One of these is how the FIA and Formula 1 have achieved the weakening of the thermal engine, while keeping intact the architecture of 6 cylinders with a displacement of 1.6 liters. The power of the electric part has in fact almost been tripled, but the organizers have announced performances in line with the current ones, thus assuming a decrease in performance by the combustion engine.
The second MGU-H electric motor coupled to the turbo disappears from the 2026 power units, while the MGU-K electric motor, which delivers power directly to the transmission line and wheels, will be re-evaluated. Its power will in fact rise from the current 120 kW to 350 kW, the equivalent of about 476 horsepower, which however will only be available up to 300 km / h, since at higher speeds the regulation imposes a progressive limitation up to 150 kW from 340 km / h forward. The MGU-K will thus undergo a considerable weight increase, the minimum value of which will go from the current 7 kg to 16 kg, with a consequent increase in volumes as well. All this will create packaging problems, i.e. installation on board the car in that complex interlocking game that must also take into account the external aerodynamic needs. To complicate everything, there will be the obligation to combine in a single battery block, inverter and electric motor, which must be enclosed in a single casing to better ensure electrical isolation and the safety of the driver in the event of an accident.
Faced with such an increase in electric power, enthusiasts soon doubted how that of the combustion engine was limited to balance performance. Simplistically assuming a peak power of the present power units of 1000 horsepower, being known the current maximum power of the hybrid of 163 horsepower, one obtains a limit power of around 840 horsepower for the thermal engines of 2022. Assuming maintenance of the 1000 horsepower overall also in 2026, as announced by the organizers, if the MGU-K rises to 475 horsepower, it goes without saying that the thermal unit will have to drop to 525 horsepower, a decrease of 315 horsepower equal to approximately 37% compared to to current values.
In 2026, Formula 1 will switch to new-concept fuels, obtained from a blend of bio-components and synthetic fuel. A great freedom will be granted to the partner companies of the teams which are specialized in the development of fuels, without imposing a highly restrictive chemical composition as instead defined in the current regulations, so much so that the density can range between 720 and 785 kg / m3.
FIA and Formula 1 have therefore estimated a relative chemical differentiation between the different fuels on the grid in 2026, intended to encourage research, so much so that there is no pre-established value of energy density in the regulation. On the contrary, the chemical energy contained for each kilo of fuel will have to fall within a window of between 38 and 41 MJ / kg, with the possibility that some engine manufacturers may therefore use gasoline that is more energetically dense than the competition. To ensure fair competition, the FIA has therefore decided to abandon the current approach that regulates the maximum amount of fuel injected into the engine per unit of time, equal to 100 kg / h over 10500 rpm. In its place, a limit will be imposed on the energy flow entering the combustion engine, equal to 3000 MJ / h over 10500 rpm. The Federation will always measure the mass flow rate of fuel through the flow meters and will estimate the corresponding energy flow using the energy density values of the fuels measured in the laboratory. In fact, the regulation states that “in verifying compliance with the energy flow, the mass flow of fuel will be recorded by the flow meters and will be converted in the standard control unit into energy flow using the energy density and the latent heat of evaporation of the fuel measured by the FIA “.
Since the limit to the energy flow entering the engine starting from 2026 is known, it is possible to make a comparison with the current framework. In fact, assuming an energy density of 41 MJ / h, the maximum allowed by the 2026 regulation, on the new engines the mass flow rate entering the engine cannot exceed 73 kg / h, a value well below the 100 kg / h injectable in 2022. By doing so, approximately 70 kg of fuel will be sufficient to complete the race, contributing to a reduced weight of the racing cars. To this it must be added, however, that the fuels currently exploited are energetically more dense than the fuels arriving on the next generation of power units. According to a recent report from Carlo Platella for FormulaPassion.it, it is estimated that overall the injectable energy in the engine in 2026 will be about 30% lower than that exploitable on the engines currently in use.
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The decrease in the mass flow rate of fuel and its energy density are therefore the main causes of the decrease in performance of the thermal engine, but not the only ones. In fact, going through the regulations, you learn how the turbo boost pressure, that is, the compression of the air entering the engine, a parameter closely related to its performance, will be limited to 4.8 absolute bar. Currently there are no regulation restrictions, but as learned by FormulaPassion.it it is customary to use boost pressures between 5.5 and 6 absolute bars, ensuring that the pressure drop in 2026 will be significant and close to 20%. Finally, on the new thermal engines the compression ratio will be reduced, a parameter indicative of the volume spaced from the pistons in the cylinders and closely connected with the performance of the thermal, which will go from 18 to 16.
In summary, less power of the internal combustion engine was achieved primarily by the decrease in the flow rate of injectable fuel in the engine, which is accompanied by a partial decrease in the energy content of the fuel itself, in the boost pressure of the turbo and in the compression ratio. The impression is that the measures taken could lead to an immediate decline of more than 37% estimated, making it necessary to research the engineers to recover performance up to 1000 overall horsepower. At present, however, there is still little information available to the teams and the Federation to predict exactly what the technological framework will be between now and 2026, with the fog that will clear up along the way with the start of more detailed bench tests and simulations.
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