It had been talked about for years and finally they have been put in black and white. The technical regulations for the next generation of power units that will animate Formula 1 from 2026 are in the public domain, allowing you to venture into their reading to draw a picture of the Circus to come. The balance that emerges after having dealt with the pages of FormulaPassion.it the cornerstone of the regulation is that of a revolution, or evolution, if you prefer, animated by the intention of returning to the original soul of motorsport, as a technological training ground for the mobility of tomorrow. However, it is surprising how precisely in those aspects in which one could and should have dared more, the already existing ties have actually been tightened, which have already aroused a fair amount of distrust in the public.
It is positive to see how Formula 1 from 2026 will turn decisively towards sustainable fuels, an adjective that, due to the attention paid to every aspect, from production to use, does not turn out to be just a facade. Petrol arriving by the end of the decade should not be confused with alcoholic fuels such as ethanol and methanol, already used in motorsport and on the road especially in Latin America. The sustainability of the latter is in fact questionable, considering how the low energy content forces them to be used in larger quantities, affecting the weight of the cars and the environmental and economic impact of the production chain. The new generation fuels, on the other hand, will be a mixture of synthetic and biocomponent gasolines, whose possible sources estimated by the regulations take into account a low environmental, social, food and local ecosystem impact. Equally encouraging is the desire to affirm the technological relevance of these solutions, imposing characteristics that allow them to be injected into production engines without further modifications. The obligation to find new fuels on the market proceeds in this direction, but the minimum limit of an annual production capacity of 5,000 liters appears negligible and could have been much higher.
It is also good that the generic composition of the fuel will be regulated, but not the method and energy sources to achieve this composition, implying the desire to regulate the end and not the means, an approach that has always favored research, creativity and competition. For the first time in a long time, FIA and Formula 1 are encouraging technical differentiation among its participants, in this case the partner companies supplying fuels, by estimating gasoline with different energy content and thus replacing the limit to the mass flow rate of gasoline with that of the energy flow entering the engine. In fact, the energy content is not the only parameter through which a fuel can make a difference. Finally, the path of alternative petrol is positive as it affirms a technological identity of Formula 1 in the current motorsport panorama, avoiding to conform to the electric one of Formula E or to hydrogen arriving at Le Mans.
However, some of the badly exploited opportunities of these regulations cannot be overlooked. In this regard, it is appropriate to call into question the intuitive comparison drawn by Pino Allievi between the Formula 1 of 2026 and the Indy Car with two engines with little differentiation. In Indy Car it has long been chosen to standardize almost all of the single-seater, consciously deciding to give maximum prominence to the sporting aspect of piloting and preparation by the teams. Formula E’s strategy, on the other hand, was to encourage the development of electric mobility, freezing the chassis and aerodynamics to focus research on powertrains, a real area of interest for manufacturers. On the other hand, in its DNA, Formula 1 has always had the total development of the car in its entirety, a road which, however, has become less and less viable over the years. The potential fields of research have proliferated dramatically, from aerodynamics to hybrid, through electronics, control software and more, with a consequent exponential increase in costs. Therefore, the idea of a partial standardization of some areas should not be rejected, provided that more freedom is left elsewhere, depending on what the current priorities of Formula 1 are, priorities well decided by Indy Car and Formula E.
With this in mind, the intention is to freeze the development from 2027 onwards of components with less impact on performance, such as the engine block, the upper part of the cylinder head and the camshafts. However, one wonders why, if alternative fuels will be the true technological fulcrum of the new course of Formula 1, so many constraints persist in the areas relating to their combustion. Why not open, for example, to a different number and arrangement of cylinders or to technologies already known such as turbines with variable geometry and variable valve timing? Why do the geometric parameters of the individual components continue to be constrained to the millimeter or fraction of a degree? And above all, because, if to guarantee fair competition there will already be the limit to energy flow, do you add other flattening tools? The heat engine, which should have been at the center of the new fuel revolution, was also deliberately affected in its performance, limiting its potential. All this is accompanied by limited research and development opportunities, since the updates will only be introduced in alternate years. It could be said that everything is born as a function of cost containment, for which however there will also be the budget cap. We therefore arrive at a point where either the organizers reveal difficulties in monitoring the costs for the major manufacturers or, if there is confidence in the means of control, the engineers are left free to choose which aspects to invest in.
In contrast to all this, there continues to be ample freedom of research on batteries, a field in which Formula E is instead struggling to grant development to manufacturers with the awareness that this field would monopolize investments, and where the Electric GT, next unborn child, will grant free assembly of batteries with standard supply cells only. Formula 1 on the other hand, which does not promote full-electric mobility, chooses to open up to the development of accumulators, generating new investment costs that could have instead been redirected to the optimization of combustion engines with new fuels. It is also worth asking what purpose the hybrid system has been strengthened to in a category that instead aspires to distribute new generation gasolines. The hybrid has always been used to improve energy efficiency, reducing fuel consumption which in the field of competition translates into lighter cars, while on a global scale it turns into a lower load on the gasoline production chain and emissions. . Therefore, if efficiency is at the origin of everything, it seems counterproductive that with the 2026 regulations the MGU-H, the second electric motor generator coupled to the turbo, is no longer valid. Once again the choice comes from costs and the desire not to put the new entrants Porsche and Audi at a technical disadvantage compared to the engineers already present, problems that could have been partially contained with standard MGU-H (and batteries) for all. A standardization that is difficult for fans to digest, but that would have been better accepted if it had led to greater differentiation on the other areas of the power unit.
What derives instead is an apparent design freedom, granted in every component and at the same time in none, except in the search for fuels. All this is accompanied by the mechanism that will grant opportunities for extra development for the engineers who have been certified as having a power deficit from the competition. Strategies that guarantee effective competition on the track are necessary, of course, under penalty of reliving situations such as that of 2014. However, between extra development for the pursuers, limit to the flow of energy, geometric constraints and predetermined power supplies a redundancy of similar balancing mechanisms emerges, betraying an anxiety and a conviction of Formula 1 that the spectacle derives only from balance on the track. The show, however, also comes from cars with a soul, distinctive, capable of immediately capturing the collective imagination. The show is the creativity of the engineers, thanks to which the teams with less resources, the underdogs, manage to have better on the giants of the industry, staging a tale in the style of David against Goliath. The show also derives from letting the emotions of the paddock protagonists emerge, be they drivers, engineers or mechanics, whose stories and sacrifices turn into goals, satisfactions and meritocratic results. that are not flattened by an external balancebut are the exclusive result of the individual path of each actor.
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