MPH: Push to pass and active suspension? The talk around F1’s next-gen car


Active aerodynamics and more powerful electric motors are pencilled in for the new 2026 F1 regulations. But, as Mark Hughes points out, some drivers want to see the return of active suspension

Japanese Grand Prix 2026 press conference

Drivers talk 2026 regulations at Japanese GP press conference

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The 2026 power unit regulations are being progressively anchored in place, step-by-step and the clues from what has been published so far strongly suggest that active aerodynamics are going work in close conjunction with the power delivery. This combination is intended to move away from reliance on DRS to create overtaking but instead present a more nuanced set of demands.

The exact way this will be done has not yet been defined, but what we know is that there will be a much greater deployment of electrical energy permitted above 340km/h than below it. It then cuts off entirely above 345km/h. So in that 5km/h window there will be a considerable boost in power, possibly coinciding with when the active aero flattens the wing. There will also be an override facility, similar to that seen in IndyCar, where even greater electrical boost will be available from any speed, but probably with a pre-defined maximum number of uses.

With the internal combustion engine way less powerful than currently (at around 535bhp) and the electrical power way higher (at around 470bhp), these changes in how that electrical power is deployed is going to be hugely significant.

Mercedes Japan 2024

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In Suzuka Max Verstappen and Carlos Sainz were giving their initial thoughts. “I think we’ll have to deal with some compromises on some tracks,” said Verstappen, “where you use a lot of energy per lap… I’m not sure if we should head into that direction. Hopefully, we can optimise all these kind of things. For me, it’s more important to just try and fight the weight of the cars, try and optimise that instead of all these tools and tricks to try and help the overtaking or following. There must be different ways to be able to do it. I guess, also, with the engine regulation, they kind of need to do that to create the top speed – where the battery stops deploying and stuff. So some tracks will work a bit better, some probably a bit more on the edge.”

Sainz was more measured in his assessment but makes much the same appeal for weight to be cut.

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“In the end, if you have a lot more energy requested from the electric powertrain [than now], and so you’re going to need to have active aerodynamics to compensate. And there is where it all starts to get messy with the overtaking and the active aero and how you can do that to help the car to go quicker on the straight and spend less time full throttle. Anyway, until we try them, it’s I think unfair to either criticise or [support] the regulation change.

“But if it has attracted manufacturers, big manufacturers like Audi, into the sport, I think it’s something that it has to be appreciated and put into context. My personal view is that these cars now are probably just too big and too heavy. If I would have to change something for tomorrow, it would be that. And then the suspension, I think the suspensions are becoming a big talking point in a lot of the tracks and how we brought them into some corners and how taxing it can be for the driver.

“And so if I would have to request something to the FIA for 2026, if we are going to have active aero, why not active suspension to protect the back of the drivers and to protect our own health and the safety of certain tracks. because it’s clear that right now we are asking way too many things to the tracks and to the circuits, to the organisations, to change many small bumps that before we wouldn’t even feel with the ‘21 car, and now we just can spin or have a pretty big accident because of those situations. So if I would have to ask or add one thing for the ‘26 would be something to protect us a bit on that front.”

Getting cars with such huge battery capacity to be much lighter than currently is probably not going to happen. That is a consequence of the hybrid technology. But Sainz’s point about active suspension is an interesting one – and perhaps the time has come to allow it back.