Race Weekend Central

Slipstream Saturdays: Teams Somewhat Bullish on 2026 FIA Regulations

This week, the FIA publicly revealed the 2026 Formula 1 car regulations, confirming multiple rumors and statements of them while also inspiring a tepid response from some teams.

As has been the expectation, Formula 1 cars will run on 100% sustainable fuels, with now 350 kw of the total 750 kw output being from the electronic battery. This means that although the engine power output is being lowered, the battery’s increased use along with 30 kgs. of weight taken off the car will mean that the cars will actually produce more speed.

The FIA has cut the wheelbase and the width of the car, meaning the trend that began decades ago of cars slowly getting bigger and bigger has come to an end.

With the last two F1 races having occurred at Imola and Monaco, two old school racetracks that were not built for cars as big as the current regulations call for and produced the parade racing one might expect due to it, this is a welcome change.

Downforce will be reduced by 30% and drag by 55%, so the cars should be slower through corners but faster on straights. Combined with active aero that will now automatically move flaps on both wings instead of just the rear, overtaking on straights should be easier than before.

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How the active aero will work will be dependent on where the car is on track. “X mode” will be when the car has flaps open that reduce drag for higher straight-line speed, while “Z mode” will angle the flaps a different way to allow the car to be faster in corners. Copse corner at Silverstone, which is taken flat out, will likely be the best example of a high speed Z-mode corner, while the straights proceeding and following it would be X-mode straights.

The most startling change in these regulations is that Formula 1 is essentially getting an NTT IndyCar Series-style push-to-pass system to replace DRS. For more details, our IndyCar team dived into their system in this column a year ago. The F1 system will work more or less the same, except that it can only be done when within one second of a car in front like with DRS.

Also, it is not called push-to-pass in F1. No, it will officially be called manual override mode. Yes, MOM. All I know is that I love MOM more than DRS, both the new engine mode and the person (if she’s reading this).

Although the response to the rules seemed to be fairly positive among fans and media members, teams have taken a more tepid response. There will be a meeting held on June 8 between F1 CEO Stefano Domenicali and team principals about this very topic.

Per Autosport, teams are concerned that it will be impossible to cut weight with the new regulations as they are now without spending a lot of money. They also think the cars will be too slow, due to the battery frequently running out of power and without the downforce that plants the cars into corners.

McLaren’s boss in particular, Andrea Stella, was quoted as saying that “the cars are not fast enough in the corners and too fast on the straights. These two aspects needs to be rebalanced.”

What’s more is that everybody is now working on a very tight timeline, as all technical regulations must be approved by June 30, or about 20 months before they come into effect, per FIA rules.

Why did the FIA reveal these rules now instead of waiting to fully hash it out with teams prior to the deadline? I’m sure part of it is to see public response, but the main reason why is likely to try and force approval past the finish line.

A lot of things in these regulations should be crowd pleasers. People have wanted to find a better system than DRS for years, anybody who has seen the current F1 cars next to an older one can see just how big they are now and why nobody can pass anymore at Imola. Very few people outside of Daytona Beach, Fla., like the idea of more downforce and more aero drag in racing.

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Now that the genie is out of the bottle on these things, it will be very hard for it to be wedged back in. It’s a similar strategy that Andretti is employing for its F1 bid, and one that seems to be more or less working when it comes to public perception.

The most important aspect of these regulations is to be bullish on how well they work, like the teams are. The current regulations, introduced in 2022, seemed to work very well the first year or so they were in effect. It got to the point where there were serious conversations as to if DRS should still even be a thing.

But in 2023 and 2024, teams have found all the downforce that was thrown out in 2022 and the cars are now very hard to make passes with, especially at the aforementioned Imola. DRS trains and dirty air, things that were dirty words to rally against in the buildup to 2022, are now at the worst I have seen in F1. And the races have been very indicative at that.

These regulations seem to be a step in the right direction. But we’re really not going to have any idea until a couple hours after lights go out in the 2026 Bahrain Grand Prix. Let’s keep the excitement more in check until then.

About the author

Michael has watched NASCAR for 20 years and regularly covered the sport from 2013-2021, and also formerly covered the SRX series from 2021-2023. He now covers the FIA Formula 1 World Championship, the NASCAR Xfinity Series, and road course events in the NASCAR Cup Series.

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