Mark Hughes: The complications facing F1 as it draws up new 2026 regulations

“There will be a far bigger electrical contribution to an F1 car’s total power”

We are getting a clearer picture of the 2026 Formula now that some tweaks have been made to the published technical regulations.

Essentially this is a rejigging of the current hybrid formula to incorporate a massively bigger electrical contribution to the total power and a reduction in that from the internal combustion engine. The current 1000bhp will be retained but instead of it being split 84/16% between engine and battery, it will be more like 53/47% respectively. At the same time the ERS-h function will be deleted (deemed too complex to attract new automotives, a change pushed by the VW Group) and the harvesting power of the ERS-k (from deceleration) greatly increased.

This all brings with it some complications concerning weight and aerodynamics. The latest tweaks have shown how these complications are going to be addressed.

A much bigger battery will be capable of deploying around 470bhp (up from 160bhp). The internal combustion engine will be limited by a lower maximum fuel flow speed. The harvesting rate of the MGU-k was initially to be increased to 9MJ (from the current 4MJ), but this has been modified slightly to allow it to be tailored to individual track layouts, ranging from 8MJ-9MJ.

The aerodynamic regulations – yet to be defined – will give a much lower drag coefficient than current cars. Because this would make DRS far less effective, there will be an active aero component within the regulations. This will be combined with an override function within the power unit.

The concerns around this ruleset were:

● The internal combustion engines would be used essentially as generators for the battery and therefore would be running at high revs on slow corners feeding the battery, with the battery providing the power to the wheels.

● Because the battery can deliver full power instantly (unlike the internal combustion engine), and the cars will therefore be more accelerative, straightline speeds could get beyond safe limits for the current circuits.

● Reducing rear wing drag beyond that of   the current DRS could make the cars aerodynamically unstable.

● The power unit will weigh around 35kg more in total than currently in a car package which is already considered too heavy.

It is true in essence that the engines will be used as generators to fill the batteries if the circuit layout doesn’t allow the harvest rate of the MGU-k to do that fully in the absence of the MGU-h. But the rule makers are endeavouring to limit the worst excess of that via the increased power of the MGU-k. The more efficient the harvesting systems the teams can make,   the less fuel the engines need. But the prospect of changing down on the straights – which was revealed in initial simulations – should no longer be necessary.

The concern about straightline speeds is being addressed by progressively reducing the battery’s deployment level after 180mph, down to none at all by 214mph. But to prevent this giving a hazardously sudden effect, it will be combined with active aerodynamics which will reduce the drag level at the same time the power is reducing to give a speed profile down the straights pretty much the same as current cars.

Because the regulations are set to cut the drag of the cars to such an extent, the current DRS would not be anything like as effective. To get around that, there will be an override to the standard curtailment of the battery deployment whereby the following car’s battery continue providing full power beyond 180mph all the way to 209mph, after which it would taper to nothing at 221mph. Because the sporting regulations for the new formula have not yet been defined, it’s unknown if there will be a limitation on how often and for how long the override function can be used.

The active aerodynamics used to control the straightline speeds (not too fast an end-of-straight speed combined with not too sudden a curtailment of acceleration) will be automated and not in the control of the driver. As the rear wing reduces its angle of attack, so the front wing will do the same, to prevent the aero balance moving too far towards the front and making the car unstable as the driver moves out of another car’s slipstream.

“Wheelbase size will shrink from the maximum of 3600mm to 3400mm”

These are all ingenious ways around a self-created problem, associated with the decision to increase electrical power. But a much more intractable problem is that of the associated increase in weight. Batteries are heavy, as are the extra cooling systems they require. So the regulations will attempt to nibble away at the weight in other components. The wheelbase of the cars will shrink from the current maximum of 3600mm to 3400mm, they will be 1900mm wide, down from 2000mm. The wheels will be 16in rather than 18in, smaller in both diameter and width and it’s possible that if the downforce produced from the low-drag regs is reduced as much as expected, then suspension and other components can be lighter. The current estimate is that the whole car will be 10-15kg lighter than currently.

Early days, and doubtless unforeseen complications to come. The teams are not allowed to begin work on their chassis until the beginning of next year and the aero regs are not even properly defined yet. But that’s a snapshot of where F1 is heading.


Since he began covering grand prix racing in 2000, Mark Hughes has forged a reputation as the finest Formula 1 analyst of his generation
Follow Mark on Twitter @SportmphMark