Just like Ferrari, Formula 1 is trying to avoid past mistakes. This is the brief introduction regarding the thorny power unit issue in a future context. Reflecting on this topic inevitably brings to mind the year 2014. A season that will go down in the history of motorsport’s premier category, not just for the shock related to the absence of noise from the new engines. That annoying mosquito-like sound that stirred quite a debate. Almost a decade ago, we witnessed one of the biggest blunders ever observed within the Circus.
A new regulation where the debut of the hybrid architecture caught everyone unprepared except Mercedes. The reasons are well known to us, and there’s no need to recall them. However, for this very reason, many discussions are still pending in the time frame required for defining the 2026 regulatory framework for power units. A scenario in which almost everyone seems to have a say, and the FIA, by necessity, must listen. In this context, the so-called “clever ones” are not lacking. This is the general feeling in the Circus regarding the Alpine case.
Yes, because in the eyes of most, as confirmed by the voices of paddock protagonists, Renault’s engine engineers have produced a loud complaint that no one is willing to dismiss. The 30 disputed horsepower. A gap that Alpine would like to close to avoid this handicap over the next two championships and, consequently, prevent starting at a disadvantage when the new regulations come into play in 2026.
After all, there is a paragraph in the technical regulations that roughly reads, making it more conversational: “To those who suffer a performance deficit exceeding 3% compared to the considered best engine supplier, a greater development will be granted, subject to verification, to align with competitiveness.” In principle, the whole argument is not incorrect. An argument that seems to extend into the near future when heavily revised power units take the stage.
F1, Power Unit, the Significant Genetic Mutation
Another epochal change is rapidly approaching. Alongside the reintroduction of ground effect, Formula 1 is gearing up to face perhaps the greatest challenge in its history on the engine side. The overhaul of the hybrid and endothermic aspects in 2026, in fact, in addition to dividing the teams on how to “set it up properly,” a context in which almost all teams are trying to have an influence for their benefit, involves truly significant changes. A clear change in architecture and fuel supply.
The MGU-H, which recovered just over 80 horsepower by converting exhaust gases produced by the cars into energy, will no longer be present. Nor will the possibility to mitigate the tedious turbo-lag phenomenon. Meanwhile, the MGU-K, which recovers kinetic energy during braking, will be directly connected to the battery pack. Its capacity will undergo a huge increase, generating around 480 hp. All of this to compensate for the declining performance of the internal combustion engine, which will drop to a power output of around 500 hp. An essentially equal distribution.
But the technical challenge doesn’t stop there, as from 2026, F1 cars will be powered by biofuels or synthetics. This is the first step in a genetic mutation that will lead to “zero emissions” by 2033. Following the introduction of E10 fuels, named after the percentage of bioethanol (10%) in its chemical composition, the use of E-fuels and Bio-fuels is expected.
The first is a synthetic product derived from the synthesis of carbon dioxide and hydrogen, capable of creating molecules similar to those of traditional gasoline. Through electrolysis from water, hydrogen (H) is obtained, which then undergoes a chemical transformation thanks to the presence of a large amount of electrical energy, which, once again, must necessarily be extracted from renewable sources such as wind, solar, hydro, or geothermal. In the second phase of the process, carbon dioxide (CO2) is taken from the atmosphere and combines with hydrogen, giving life to an energy carrier with the help of a high-pressure catalyst.
The second (Bio-fuel) is nothing more than a product derived from biomasses, industrial processing waste, chemically processed to create biological fuel. Ethanol, for example, arises from processing sugarcane cultivation residues. To initiate this process, alcoholic fermentation is carried out, where yeast converts the sugars into ethanol. Avoiding the use of food elements, the focus is on optimizing biomasses through a key element, lignocellulose, a polymer that cannot be synthesized by the human body.
Ferrari “Objects”: Performance Balancing on Power Units Not Considered
Understanding the issues currently prevailing within the paddock about the “clear complexity” of a system that must be finely calibrated to work as intended, requires us to look at the future point. The International Federation is considering a form of performance balancing that, however, does not meet the favor of the historic Scuderia Ferrari.
After the disastrous start to the hybrid turbo era, Ferrari’s engine department has now reached the elite. Currently, the PU 066/10 can be considered the most powerful among the lot. For this simple reason, although the changes will undoubtedly be radical and one can never predict what might happen, the Prancing Horse has a very clear stance on the matter and has no intention of accommodating the FIA and other teams on issues that do not align with its principles.
According to internal sources, the red team has “paid its dues” regarding the power unit gate. From this point, with the arrival of Fred Vasseur and the departure of Mattia Binotto, work is underway to reverse the trend and regain the political power that, let’s face it, always ends up in the hands of the victors. This marks the beginning of the climb to the top, winning battles on paper before demonstrating, of course, the necessary competitiveness on the track. Enrico Gualtieri’s words, responsible for Ferrari’s power unit project, are just the appetizer. A first course of a menu ready to be served with authority, if necessary.
Recovering political power is among the aims of the clandestine effort led by John Elkann, who, although often appears seemingly distracted when stepping into the paddock, coupled with attire that often raises questions, is quietly working in this field to change the passive attitude towards the FIA. For this reason, the opportunity for further development following the identification of a performance deficit might exist, but only under specific conditions, according to the Scuderia. The same applies to the definition of certain points in the upcoming technical regulations, on which Ferrari, it seems, “objects.”