2026 F1 car rendering - front

Z-mode and X-mode: How Formula 1’s new active aero will work in 2026

Formula 1

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Formula 1 will add more powerful and sophisticated active aerodynamics to its cars as part of its new technical regulations.

Although F1 cars have long used active aero in the shape of DRS, in its new form the concept will no longer be used as an overtaking aid. Drivers will be able to lower their front wings as well as their rear wings from 2026.

The FIA has chosen to allow greater use of active aero in order to maintain something close to typical F1 performance levels after switching to power units which rely more on electrical energy than today.

In the current V6 hybrid turbos which have been in used since 2014, around 80% of the power comes from the internal combustion engine, with the electrical systems making up the rest. In 2026 the split will be near to 50-50.

2026 F1 car rendering - front side
Drivers will lower front and rear wings to reduce drag on straights
A new aerodynamic philosophy was therefore needed, as the FIA’s head of aerodynamics Jason Somerville explained: “If you were to drop the 2026 power unit into a current car, given the underlying drag level, the energy required to push the car through the air is rather high, and that wouldn’t be very well aligned with the characteristics of the power unit. We would end up with a severe drop-off in speed on the typical main straights.

“So the focus for 2026 aerodynamically has been to reduce the base level of drag of the car, while trying to maintain a good level of downforce in the corners, and that’s led us towards active aerodynamics.”

The cars will have two states: ‘Z-mode’ and ‘X-mode’. In ‘Z-mode’ the front and rear wings are closed and the car generates maximum downforce for cornering. In ‘X-mode’ the drivers can open the flaps at the front and rear to reduce drag and increase their speed.

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To achieve the desired gain in speed from ‘X-mode’, the FIA found it needed to increase the drag-reducing power of the rear wing beyond what it currently allows through DRS. The 2026 rear wings will have “more moving elements, which move to a greater degree,” said Somerville.

But when it simulated this more powerful rear wing switch, drivers found it tipped the car’s handling balance so far forwards it became too difficult to control. The FIA therefore decided to make the front wing adjustable too, through two moveable elements.

“From our simulation work with the teams and their drivers, as soon as you have a rear wing that moves to reach the target drag level, it was clear that you needed to have an active front wing to match the balance characteristics,” said Somerville. “There were certain conditions where the drivers didn’t feel comfortable with a large forward aero balance, meaning lots of downforce on the front and not much downforce on the rear. So that led us towards the need to have an active front wing, as well as an active rear wing.”

Unlike today, drivers will be able to switch between closed and open wings – ‘Z-mode’ and ‘X-mode’, respectively – regardless of how close they are to another car. (A new power boost system has been added to recreate the lost DRS effect.) However they will only be allowed to use the low-downforce ‘X-mode’ at certain points on the track, and are likely to be forbidden from activating it in wet conditions.

“X-mode is our terminology for the low drag mode and that gives you your high top-speed,” Somerville explains. “That’s the state you’d be in when you’re on a straight or past exiting a corner. As you approach the braking zone, you’d then pop into Z-mode, which is where the downforce is required to get through braking and around the corner.

“So we have these two modes that would be set up in terms of zones around the lap, and the drivers would be able to switch between these two modes when permitted. There may be Sporting Regulations that, for example, prevent use in wet conditions, but otherwise we would expect the drivers to have access to both modes around the track for every lap.”

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“At pre-defined points around the lap, a driver will be able to switch to a low-drag mode to give them the performance down the straights where they’re not grip-limited,” Somerville added. “Then, as you approach the braking zone, you’ll switch back to your high downforce mode.

“Each car would have the ability to switch between these two modes, entailing moving the rear wing and readjusting the front wing, and any following car would do the same.

“This is an active system that’s controlled by the driver, although he will get a trigger, in the same way that he gets a trigger now, to indicate when he can activate the low drag mode. And the system will switch back to high downforce mode either under driver control or via brake pressure.”

By allowing drivers to switch between the two modes, F1 expects to be able to make the best use of its new power units.

“When the power unit has plentiful amounts of energy we will be in the high downforce mode, which gives us the high cornering speeds,” said Somerville. “And where we don’t need the grip from the aerodynamics, we deactivate the wings, giving us a low drag mode and that gives us the ability to sensibly use the energy that we have from the electrical systems on board for the duration of the straights.”

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Keith Collantine
Lifelong motor sport fan Keith set up RaceFans in 2005 - when it was originally called F1 Fanatic. Having previously worked as a motoring...

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24 comments on “Z-mode and X-mode: How Formula 1’s new active aero will work in 2026”

  1. I was quite intrigued, but after reading that, it’s another band-aid solution, but this time not for overtaking (or lack thereof), but for the 50-50 engine/electric split. The final straw for me was then finding out it’s just DRS again (‘pre-defined’ points on the track. Ergh).

    Thumbs down.

    1. Agree. It sounded amazing until I read that part. I was imagining which drivers would have the courage to use X-mode flat our through Eau Rouge or Parabolica. That wouldve been epic. But under this system, we’ll never get to see it.

      1. aren’t they allowed already to use free DRS during qualy? you can already see who’s daring to open it soon enough at Parabolica.

        1. Someone, somewhere
          6th June 2024, 22:50

          No. Although that was originally the case, it was changed some years ago and now they are only permitted to use DRS in FP and Q sessions in the same DRS zones as in the race.

      2. aren’t they allowed already to use free DRS during qualy? you can already see who’s daring to open it soon enough at Parabolica.

    2. Yeah, I don’t like this. 50/50 on the power? Give me a break. Bring the V-10’s back and stop greenwashing auto racing. I don’t think these changes will be popular.

  2. This just all sounds unnecessarily complicated.

    Just imagine David Croft trying to explain this multiple times every weekend. That right there will be enough to turn off the more casual audience.

    And all because they felt the need to ditch the MGU-H (The most interesting part of these power units) in order to appease Audi & Porsche.

    And so we have ended up with Frankenstein cars that have had to be designed around the deficiencies of the engine formula which they have created themselves in order to get Audi. What a sad state of affairs.

    1. It really is a complete and utter mess. I’m shocked at quite how badly they’ve got it.

    2. Well put @roger-ayles, I get it, the MGU-H is unliked and has gained a reputation (quality media, and Ecclstone, Horner etc from the start of the era) for being complicated and heavy, but in reality it gave the current PU’s a superb efficiency, without which you need more fuel, or refuelling and/or have less power. (And also, I recently posted an article about Porche! adding one to a hybrid 911, to keep it small but still have an effective PU, so yeah road relevance, lol).

      Maybe they should start be acknowledging that that same group of voices lead us to the wider heavier and bulkier cars we got after 2016, which seems to have accentuated all the bad points of the existing formula (but looked ‘cool’), and which weren’t actually fixed by the 2022 regulation, and think about what that means for the future. Less knee-jerk, more strategic what is important for F1 (and no, neutered hybrids that are behind what a 911 Porche will have don’t seem to be it I don’t think).

  3. Pat Ashworth
    6th June 2024, 15:21

    Is this similar in concept to the weight jacker in the Indy 500? Nose up on the straights for less downforce, nose down in the corners for max downforce.

  4. Did Y leave the chat?

    Anyway, jokes aside, this sounds complicated even for avid F1 followers and new to formula 1 followers may find it even more complicated. What can’t the regulations focus on making the cars lighter? Surely that would result in faster lap times and better racing.

    1. Did Y leave the chat


      A guess would be:
      X-mode = configuration optimised for X axis delta-V
      Z-mode = configuration optimised for Z axis delta-V

      Y-axis delta-V being minimised, unless you’re going for a pilots’ licence.

      1. Hah, thanks for that SteveP, that might well be the explanation for that. At least they didn’t do a marketing pass for the terms the tech people came up with I guess :)

  5. Why mode.
    Lose the damn wings. Peugeot proved you can perform at a decent level with ground-effect and no wing. And most F1 rear wings just have the team name on now, so they’re not advertising anything.

  6. Coventry Climax
    6th June 2024, 15:59

    In the current V6 hybrid turbos which have been in used since 2014, around 80% of the power comes from the internal combustion engine, with the electrical systems making up the rest. In 2026 the split will be near to 50-50.

    That is what the FiA is telling everyone and how it’s ‘sold’, but it’s a downright lie.

    The energy store (fancy name for battery) can hold an FiA set (sigh), maximum amount (sigh) of energy. Do the calculations, and you’ll find that based on that battery size, on battery alone, the cars wouldn’t even be able to complete a single, full lap, any circuit, and not even at a speed that’s about half of what they do now.

    Enter active aero – somewhat diminish energy lost due to air resistance.

    Anyway, apart from a possible pre-charged battery at the start of a race, all of the energy to get the cars going around for all those laps, comes from the fuel they carry. Again: All of it, which, in my book of non-commercial speak, equals to 100%.

    What’s really happening, is that they’re recuperating even more energy from what was initially burned by the ICE, to be used by electrical motors.
    That’s called raising fuel effiency, and not splitting the energy used to 50-50 between fuel and electric.

    So in reality, this is a further move to reduce the ICE to the sole function of range extender.

    I’ll leave it up to you all to decide whether this is good or bad for a sport called F1.
    I have a simple question about it though: Why isn’t the FiA telling you the simple, transparent truth about it?

    1. Your point is good, that we should watch out for mis-selling, but in the case of the quotation you presented, it is technically correct, as it’s talking about 50% power, not 50% energy. But of course many don’t understand that distinction, and will interpret it as 50% energy, achieving the greenwash aim.

      I’m curious to know how the % thermal efficiency of the 2026 power units will compare with today’s. I’m not really sure whether the increased kinetic recovery contributes to thermal efficiency, but in either case, I wouldn’t be surprised to hear the 2026 power units will be less thermally efficient than today’s.

  7. The pre-defined zones don’t necessarily have to be like DRS activation zones & limited to the same straights or full-throttle sections but cover all or more full-throttle sections per track as well as their entire lengths, given the driver ahead, can also use active aero simultaneously rather than only the attacking driver, not to mention on all (green-flag) race laps.

  8. So, what happens when they bend it into Raidillon and the wings fail to close?

    1. They’ll fly

    2. They’ll change the zones to disallow it there, I’d say @clayt, which is probably part of the reasoning behind those zones. Recall how that worked with DRS (and before it, the f-ducts) being freely usable in qualy, which was changed for safety reasons.

  9. A new power boost system has been added to recreate the lost DRS effect

    I’ve used this exact mechanic in Mario Karts, great fun!

  10. A complete reset of aero on the cars.. Seems like a pretty good time to hire the services of a certain Adrian Newey

  11. Paul (@frankjaeger)
    6th June 2024, 20:36

    So the increased electrical power output, and in turn decreased ICE, isn’t powerful enough so they need to fiddle with the aero of the cars?

    1. No, because the MGU-H currently works to make that the most efficient, and losing it just means you can store a bit more power per lap, but as Coventry Climax writes above, it all does have to come from the fuel, now less efficiently, so you have to carry that weight penalty around anyway, or allow refuelling.

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