2026 F1 car concept and 2024 RB 01

Compared: How the cars racing this weekend differ from F1’s next generation

Formula 1

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The FIA’s head of future regulations, Paul Drewery, says that Formula 1’s upcoming technical regulations for 2026 will offer a “smaller, lighter car with no compromises to safety.”

For the first time, the governing body offered a detailed look at its vision for the future of Formula 1.

Following a bold return to ground effect aerodynamics in 2022, the reception to the current generation of F1’s cars has been mixed to say the least – both in terms of the way they drive and the racing they generate. But how will cars change when the sport introduces major new technical regulations alongside heavily revised power units following the end of next season?

Weight

With F1 cars having gradually increased in weight over time since the Overtaking Working Group regulations were first introduced in 2009 from just over 600kg to just under 800kg without fuel. But in 2026, the sport will see its first reduction in minimum weight in over 30 years.

F1 cars will lose 30kg in 2026 compared to current models

Despite falling 30kg to 768kg, the next generation of F1 cars will still be heavier than those which raced in 2021 – and they were already the heaviest the series had seen at the time.

Naturally, reduced weight is key to the concept of a “nimble” car, as a lighter machine will demand from the power unit, tyres and gravity itself to round corners. But if Fernando Alonso was hoping to see cars return to more like his world championship-winning Renaults of the mid-2000s that he demonstrated in Abu Dhabi a few years ago, he will be disappointed – the 2026 cars will still be around 170kg heavier than those he and Lewis Hamilton raced.

Length

Current Formula 1 cars at around the longest they have ever been. For 2022, with the introduction of the current ground effect regulations, the FIA introduced a new maximum wheelbase length for the first time.

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Expect slightly shorter cars for 2026

As it stands, the regulations say that the total distance between the centre of the wheels on the front and rear axles must not exceed 3,600mm (3.6m) – that is almost in itself as long as Ayrton Senna’s 1991 championship-winning McLaren MP4-6.

That will change for 2026 – but not by much. The maximum wheelbase will reduce, but only a 20cm reduction to 3,400mm – a reduction of only 5.56%.

Width

Cars will be 10% narrower in 2026

Cars in 2024 are already narrower than they have been in years by. Back in the early nineties, cars were as wide as 2,120mm (2.12m). Eventually they slimmed down to just 1,800mm by 1998, but returned to their former two-metre widths in 2017. For 2026, they will be reduced by 5% to 1,900mm.

Although that may not sound like much, it does add up to 40cm more track room available on track when two cars are side-by-side. That is more than the length of a typical classroom ruler, which could add up to a big difference out on the track in tight racing scenarios.

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Downforce and drag generation

After being banned from Formula 1 back in the early eighties, ground effect aerodynamics finally returned to the world championship in 2022. The concept was brought back in order to take the emphasis away from over-body downforce in order to reduce the ‘dirty air’ effect which has plagued modern grand prix racing for decades.

There will be narrower front wings for 2026

However, despite the concept managing to produce downforce levels and comparable to the previous generation of F1 cars, there have been downsides. Drivers have to contend with extremely stiff cars and low ride heights which are punishing on their bodies. The second main concern has been that following behind other cars remains difficult, with drivers increasingly complaining about finding it more challenging to run behind other cars.

The 2026 cars will aim to address these two problems with a series of elements. The new cars will have flatter floors and revised rear diffusers to reduce the overall ground effect and encourage softer suspension settings and higher ride heights.

Lando Norris, Charles Leclerc, Jeddah Corniche Circuit, 2024
Analysis: DRS out, “Manual Override Mode” in – F1’s new overtaking aid explained
They will also address the dirty air effect of the current cars by removing the current wheel arches and introducing new compulsory bodywork which will help to channel air from the wheels in a more efficient manner from the back of the car. With a significant reduction in downforce and increase in drag expected, the new cars will have actively adjustable elements in the front and rear wings to switch between high and low drag states.

Front wings will be 100mm narrower than those on current F1 cars. They will have dual adaptive flaps on them which will be critical to the ‘Z-mode’ high-downforce, high-drag and ‘X-mode’ low-downforce, low-drag specifications.

The rules will force changes up on the design of the endplates. These have been brought inwards, leaving two wide, flatter sections in front of the wheels. The endplates are more curved, losing the blunt, straight tops seen since the 2022 regulations arrived.

Another significant change from the 2022 rules is the deletion of the wheel arches which were added to control the powerful aerodynamic wake generated by the rotating front tyres. New bodywork around the wheels is defined by the rules to control this airflow and, the FIA hope, allow cars to follow more closely.

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Power Unit

Formula 1’s 1.6-litre V6 turbo hybrid engines were a major revolution when first introduced a decade ago. Incredibly efficient but incredibly expensive, they attracted only four manufacturers to produce power units for F1 – Mercedes, Ferrari, Renault and Honda.

Audi will become the sixth power unit supplier in 2026
The new power units for 2026 will retain the 1.6-litre V6 formula but will lose the expensive MGU-H element. However, the MGU-K will become far more potent, with the electrical element of the power unit accounting for a maximum of 350kW of the overall power output – almost as much as the internal combustion engine.

There will be at least six manufacturers making power units for the 2026 season: Mercedes, Ferrari, Alpine, Red Bull (through their partnership with Ford), Honda and newcomers Audi.

After introducing increasing amounts of biofuel into the racing fuel mixture of current cars, the new power units will also run on “fully sustainable” fuels.

The new power units will be set by the regulations to reduce power output gradually once cars reach at least 290kph. However, like the current DRS, drivers who are chasing rival cars ahead will be permitted to use a ‘manual override’ which will allow them to continue to use up to full capacity of their hybrid elements beyond that limit to assist them in attempting to pass.

Safety

Safety has long been integral to any revision in Formula 1’s technical regulations. While the next generation of F1 cars won’t bring anything as striking as the Halo, there will be some important, largely invisible differences.

Guanyu Zhou, Alfa Romeo, Silverstone, 2022
Zhou’s Silverstone crash has led to improved roll hoops
In the aftermath of multiple fatal accidents in single-seater series below Formula 1 where drivers suffered consecutive major impacts within a matters of seconds – offering them greatly reduced protection from secondary collisions – the 2026 cars will feature a new two-stage frontal impact structure in a bid to ensure that drivers retain a major element of protection in the event of a crash in case of further impacts. Cockpit protection from foreign objects penetrating through the monocoque have doubled, with the governing body claiming they will achieve this without adding more weight onto cars.

Following the frightening accident at the start of the 2022 British Grand Prix in which Zhou Guanyu flipped and skidding along on his roll hoop, the new 2026 cars will also sport reinforced roll hoops designed to cope with greater loads than the one that failed on his Alfa Romeo. They will now be built to withstand 20G, increased from the previous 16G, and will be tested under greater forces than before during safety tests.

NB. Images are not to same scale

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Will Wood
Will has been a RaceFans contributor since 2012 during which time he has covered F1 test sessions, launch events and interviewed drivers. He mainly...

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13 comments on “Compared: How the cars racing this weekend differ from F1’s next generation”

  1. Captain_Slow
    7th June 2024, 9:06

    Great comparison – really interesting stuff!

  2. Wellbalanced
    7th June 2024, 9:14

    Delighted they are removing the bodywork over the front wheels. Otherwise, not bad looking. Like the cleaner looking rear wing.

    1. Me too, hate the current melted vase rear wing. Starting to look like a proper racing car again.

  3. I don’t want to start a cynical discussion about the decision making, but I genuinly don’t understand how these designs come about.

    For the 2022 designs the following elements were vital to reduce the effect of dirty air:
    – No endplates at the rear wing, the outwash of dirty air should be to the side and not directly to the back to improve close racing
    – The design of the front wing is also aimed at shifting the dirty air to the side rather than to the back by making the front wing wide in the middle and low to the side
    – Wheel covers on the front wheels to reduce the effect of dirty air of the rotating wheel

    But now I see the renders of the new car and all three of these elements to reduce dirty air have been scrapped. Does that mean that the effects were countereffective or that the FIA now focus more on other aspects than dirty air?

    1. This is a great question I’d love to get an answer to. I really miss when Brawn joined FOM and for a few years having someone that could sensibly explain what F1 leadership is thinking holistically. Symonds was kind of half there and provided some insight but can really only guess at the theory behind the changes.

      We don’t even have good high quality press like back in the day with magazines where they would dive deep into it all. Just got to like piece bits together from social media and technical forums and hope whoever’s speaking has some genuine insight.

    2. Back in 2005, one of the proposals to reduce the dirty ir problem was the “CDG Wing” (Central Downwash Generator), which was a split wing, i.e. wing over each rear wheel with a gap in the middle. The main point of this wing was that it left clean airflow for following cars. A lot of people were in favour of it, but the teams were against it. The alternative they eventually came up with is DRS. It didn’t have to be an either/or. I’m sure we could have both CDG wings and DRS on a single car, but the concept of CDG seems to have been quietly buried. Cynics might think it was because the you cannot get as much advetising on the car.

  4. Is the width of the new cars not 1900 mm rather than 1800? That’s what yesterday’s article said. Or maybe that was incorrect?

  5. I like the look of the cars but I’m totally lost on the moveable aero. If they all have it, then what’s the point? Why have it at all?? Fast down the straight and then more downforce in corners. But they will all be the same?

    Am I missing something?

    We have the manual override now, seemingly replacing DRS, so what’s the aero about?

    1. It’s to account for the reduction in power. They want to ensure F1 still has decent straight-line speed and overall lap time. Moveable aero is the rather crude solution.

  6. The rendered image certainly looks better and more racy than the present car does to me.
    But how it looks isn’t really important, is it. Only an idiot buys a car because they like how it looks.

    We are going to have to wait and see how the new DRS replacements affect things.
    There are already dozens (probably hundreds) of designers and strategists trying to manipulate and twist the new regs to give their car an advantage … legal or otherwise.

    I will just wait, and hope that Newey joins Aston Martin and builds a rocket ship for Fernando.
    Lance might do a bit better then as well ;)

  7. Scotty (@rockonscotty)
    7th June 2024, 16:36

    Any way to get the 2026 car in the photo slider tool?

  8. Shame they got their design so wrong that they have to change it so soon.

    1. Normal timeline… the 2014 regs lasted until 2016 (3 seasons). The 2017 regs lasted until 2021 (5 seasons, was supposed to be 4 but was extended due to covid). The 2022 regs will last until 2025 (4 seasons).

      Racing has never been closer. Red Bull has been so far out in front for much of this regulation cycle, but the field behind is tighter than it’s ever been.

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