F1's radical new 2026 car: active aero, smaller cars and auto crash prevention


F1 could be set for significantly different cars in 2026, with the championship's chief technical officer Pat Symonds revealing what might change

Ferrari of Carlos Sainz

F1 cars have changed significantly this year, but the alterations could be even greater in 2026

The next generation of Formula 1 cars are set to be smaller, with active aerodynamics for lower drag, reduced fuel tanks, and car to car alerts to prevent crashes, when they are introduced in 2026.

After an F1 Commission meeting on Monday, the FIA stated its aims for wholesale rule changes which will come into effect in 2026, including reduced drag, reduced mass and the use of sustainable materials.

Speaking to Motor Sport, F1’s chief technical officer Pat Symonds expanded on what ideas he thought could possibly be pursued to achieve this, whilst stressing that this was not necessarily discussed in the F1 Commission meeting.

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“It’s active aero – absolutely,” said Symonds when asked how the low drag targets – and therefore greater fuel efficiency – could be achieved. “You can’t just reduce drag to cut fuel consumption because the car won’t go round corners.

“So it’s all about active aero – having two modes to the car effectively. So rather different to DRS, there’s a mode where the car has high downforce and consequently high drag when it’s in the corner, and a mode where it has low drag when it’s on the straight and consequently low downforce.

“That’s a simplistic view [and] there are variations to that, but that’s essentially the real basis of what active aero for future F1 is about.”

Symonds also expanded on an area which has seen increasing criticism from both fans and drivers in recent years, but which F1 and the FIA is working to change.

“One of the things we want to do is make the cars a little smaller because they’ve grown massively over the last few years,” he revealed. “We’ve put a limitation on wheelbase for the 2022 car, which in my view was was generous. My 2014 Williams was actually shorter than the current regulations require, so it can be done [though] it needs a little bit thinking about. Our aim is to make quite a significant [further] reduction in wheelbase [in 2026].”

Michael Schumacher chases Fernando Alonso in the 2005 San Marino GP

The FIA aims to reduce the weight of F1 cars in a bid to both make them more efficient and exciting to watch

Damien Meyer/AFP via Getty Images

Symonds highlighted an approach which could reduce the 2026 cars’ size, linking this to the 2026 engines and aero package.

“The fuel carry for the race will be less, so that also helps by taking some volume of the fuel tank away,” he says. “The amount of hybridisation is increasing – the power of the internal combustion engine is going down and the power of the electrical machines is going up, so immediately you are using less fuel.

“Most significant though is the drag reduction, because that’s where the majority of the power is going i.e. dragging cars through the air.

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“There will be a reasonable reduction in fuel consumed during the race – my estimate for the moment be 20 per cent, maybe even 25 per cent, less than when we are using at the moment.”

The former Williams, Renault and Benetton tech chief highlighted F1’s push to start reusing materials in a bid to become more eco-friendly and sustainable – rather than focusing on bringing in more sustainable materials which cars are built from in the first place.

“Cars are built the way they are, because that’s the best way to do it.” he says. “There are certain materials where we really do need to think a lot about recycling, because of difficulty of getting them and the conditions around those, like nickels and cobalts.

“In the batteries we think there’s a lurking concern there. It’s all very well, people saying, ‘When batteries come out of a road vehicle they can be second purposed,’ but that only goes up to a point.

“We believe that it’s really important that recycling is an important part of the whole electrical system for the next generation of cars, so we’ll be doing quite a lot of work in that area.”

McLaren of Lando Norris with flow vis paint at 2022 Bahrain F1 testing

McLaren is using an eco-friendly carbon-fibre replacement for its driver seats – but Symonds says emphasis should be more on recycling materials already used

Diederik Van Ver Laan / DPPI

Symonds also revealed the new technology the FIA is investigating implementing in cars to prevent accidents, whilst emphasising the difficulty of reducing car size whilst maintaining their safety.

“One of the areas we are looking at is car to car communication,” he says. “A car know will if there’s a car in front of it travelling slowly.

“Secondary safety is about absorbing energy which needs length and distance to deform in, so it is quite a tricky thing.”

As F1 cars have become heavier in recent years, fans have complained that the spectacle has been lost some what from grand prix racing – today’s heavy machines appear glued to the road, far from the twitchy V10 animals of the ’90s and ’00s. Symonds stresses this is a priority for the technical team.

“We’d like the weight to come down but we’re way away from [achieving] that yet. However, we absolutely must make sure it doesn’t grow.”