The 2026 power unit regulation has already been published, but the definition of the chassis and aerodynamics rules are still under discussion. It is interesting to note that some of those who were sitting at the negotiating table for the engines may not enter Formula 1 anymore.
Porsche had pounded its fists on the table to obtain certain concessions from the manufacturers already present in the sport and then was “expelled” in a bad way after not being able to reach an agreement with Red Bull.
The German manufacturer is still looking for a way to return to Formula 1, but the scandal linked to the budget cap has made the VW Group rethink its plans, as Porsche wanted to join the sport precisely because of the cost management and budget cap.
The current ground-effect single-seaters are “monumental”: the safety regulations have made them authentic “tanks”, very heavy (798 kg), wide (2 meters) and long (over 5 meters).
The idea for the new regulation cycle that will start in 2026 is to significantly reduce its size and for this reason a debate has begun that will have to lead to the definition of a written regulation at the end of 2023, so that the teams can begin to study basic solutions from 2024.
It should not be surprising, therefore, if several proposals were made to have a more compact car with an internal combustion engine of only four cylinders and moreover mounted transversely, like the transmission.
A bizarre concept that immediately found Ferrari’s refusal, after the Maranello team already vetoed this idea before the beginning of the hybrid era, but also the other manufacturers in F1 had not welcomed such a proposal that, fortunately, was never implemented, because we would have had mechanics very shifted towards the rear wheels, making it difficult for the car to balance in the front.
And, then, it may be interesting to try to outline what the cornerstones of Formula 1 2026 could be, taking into account that the power unit will have very prescriptive rules that will lead to the creation of incredibly similar engines and with a very restricted packaging.
The introduction from next year of the budget cap for engines (95 million dollars per season) forces a simplification that will tend to have internal combustion units with simpler and less extreme solutions than the current ones, fixing fractionation (6 cylinders), architecture (a V of 90 degrees) with fixed center distance and also identical pistons in single supply.
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The research will be aimed at the combustion chamber to develop e-fuel (synthetic fuel with very low emissions) which will represent one of the lines of research to target for performance, just like the hybrid whose role will grow by helping to produce the 50% of the power with electricity.
With these premises, it will become strategic to direct the rules towards chassis and aerodynamics that can be very captivating. The first important aspect, according to Motorsport Italy, is that the wheelbase could be reduced by about 300 mm. If we consider that with the ground-effect F1 the wheelbase was defined between 3,400 and 3,600 mm (with the tendency of all towards a long wheelbase), given that previously there had been excesses (Mercedes dominated with cars of 3,738 mm to separate the two axles), the 2026 car will be much more compact.
The idea of reducing the wheelbase is back on the table (up to 2016 they were 1,800 mm and then the F1 was more muscular) and it cannot be ruled out that we will have much slimmer cars in terms of shapes. Not only that, but the debate is reopening whether it is the case to widen the use of mobile aerodynamics: the intention is to aim with greater efficiency at significantly reducing consumption (it is also necessary to lower the excessive minimum weight), designing tanks with smaller capacities than the current 110 kg.
The topic is destined to trigger very strong discussions: on the one hand there is the need to follow the developments of the already much more advanced technology in the automotive sector and on the other the fear of harnessing the talent of the drivers in electronically controlled solutions. Because it is clear that the return to active suspensions is called for, which was rejected in 1993 for safety and cost reasons. We are still in the initial phase of rules for which we will not have to be conditioned by some fancy flights, such as the transverse 4-cylinder engine, but this can also be the beauty of Formula 1: letting your imagination run wild in search of innovative solutions …