Explained: The 2026 engine regulations set to seriously shake up Formula 1

Uros Radovanovic
Start of the 2023 Belgian Grand Prix.

View from behind of a grand prix start.

In 2026, we will experience significant changes in regulations, mainly impacting the power units. The last major step was taken in 2014 when the FIA decided to introduce hybrid systems in F1.

But, the real questions are: What do the new rules bring? Are they good for the sport, and most importantly, will racing be more exciting in 2026?

Let’s dig into the technical details of the new engine changes and explain how they will affect racing.

Max Verstappen’s concerns about the new rules

The 2026 regulations were announced a year ago, but at that time, these changes went somewhat unnoticed. However, recently, Verstappen, along with Red Bull’s team principal Christian Horner, expressed some strong comments and sparked new debates.

It seems that the Red Bull team members are not happy with the new regulations. Max was highly dissatisfied with the new rules, claiming that the team with the most powerful engine will also be the fastest one on the track. He also added that drivers will have to downshift on straights to recharge the battery.

Horner also spoke about how the new rules need to be re-evaluated, expressing doubt about their benefits for F1.

But let’s have a look at what the new rules entail and analyse the whole situation from a technical perspective.

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F1 2026 engine rules explained

We have highlighted several points regarding the new power units that we feel are the most influential and essential pieces of information:

1. New Fuel: A significant step forward in the 2030 “Net Zero Carbon” project is the introduction of a new carbon-free fuel, which will be in effect from 2026. The new fuel will be 100% carbon-free, meaning no new fossil fuel carbon emissions.

2. Increased Electric Power: The MGU-K unit will now be three times more powerful than before. We are transitioning from 120 kW to a motor generator with 350 kW, bringing even more electric power.

3. No More MGU-H: As well as the MGU-K, F1 cars currently use the MGU-H (Motor Generator Unit – Heat) as a means of recovering lost energy, working together with the battery and electric motors. Due to its complexity and cost, FIA decided to remove this part to help new engine manufacturers.

4. Reduced Fuel Allowance: Another crucial technical detail in the new regulations is the reduction in the allowed amount of fuel for one race. Today’s cars consume about 100 kg of fuel, while in 2026, this will drop to around 70 kg. Although the engines will be much more efficient, the FIA claims that their power will be approximately the same as now.

Potential challenges of a stronger MGU-K

As mentioned earlier, the Motor Generator Unit – Kinetic will be three times more powerful than today. This means that drivers will have to pay more attention to when they recharge and discharge the battery, considering the greater electric motor boost available to them.

However, what’s interesting is that the battery capacity will remain the same. This changes things significantly. Currently, with a full battery in an F1 car, the electric motors can provide a maximum boost for about 30 seconds. With the new MGU-K being three times more powerful, drivers in 2026 might have only about 10 seconds of maximum electric boost.

This is what concerns Verstappen. They will have to be very careful when choosing where to use the additional electric energy. Max also claims that drivers may intentionally reduce engine speed to recharge the battery faster and use it later on straights.

All these are, of course, guesses and we cannot say with certainty that the drivers will have exactly this amount of electric boost. Many other parameters will play a significant role there, so you shouldn’t take it for granted what Max said…yet.

Will the engines be weaker in 2026?

A critical detail in the new rules, which somewhat went unnoticed, concerns the fuel flow through the engine. Current regulations set a maximum of 100 kg of fuel that the engine can consume per hour. However, the new regulations will change this to an energy limit of 3000 MJ (from fuel) per hour. When converted to engine power, the output will be much lower compared to today’s F1 units.

The FIA claims that despite this change, the engines will still be equally powerful. It will be intriguing to see how engineers extract energy given this limitation, especially considering the cost cap era we live in, which will undoubtedly make things even more challenging for the teams.

The truth about carbon-free Formula 1

The introduction of new fuel in Formula 1 is undoubtedly a significant step in the fight against planetary pollution. However, its actual impact on the world around us will likely be minimal, if at all. The main contributors to environmental harm are the hundreds of thousands of fans traveling from different parts of the world to attend F1 races. Additionally, teams transporting all their equipment and staff also contribute significantly more pollution than a single F1 race.

Still, this transition to a new type of fuel sets a positive example and could inspire other sports and companies to pay more attention to the problem. Moreover, Formula 1 has always been a hub of innovation, with advancements often being applied to everyday cars. Just look at the proliferation of hybrid cars worldwide after F1 adopted such technology.

Maybe that’s why this is the right thing to do. We will witness how the technology in our everyday cars changes in the direction that F1 takes it.

The return of turbo lag?

The MGU-H, or Motor Generator Unit – Heat, is arguably the most complicated element in today’s F1 cars. It utilises energy from exhaust gasses, converting it into electrical energy, which is then used by a powerful electric motor, drawing in even more fresh air into the combustion motor. Of course, this element is far more intricate than this brief explanation and deserves a whole separate article.

Teams today invest significant amounts of money and time in developing this part because it provides instant power to the engine and solves the problem of turbo lag – which can greatly affect lap times.

However, in 2026, we will have two new engine manufacturers: Audi and Honda. To make it easier for them to develop their engines and reduce costs for teams, the FIA decided to eliminate the MGU-H from 2026. This raises the question of whether the problem of turbo lag will return and to what extent.

Our opinion is that it will likely be more present than today, but it may not be as significant due to the high power of electric motors. Electric motors are an excellent solution to this problem since they can provide enormous instant energy. Nonetheless, we come back to the initial question – when is the best moment to use the power of electric motors?

An exciting 2026 awaits

One thing is almost certain – 2026 will be one of the most exciting years for Formula 1. We expect that new teams will bring more unpredictability and shake up the hierarchy among leading teams.

Let’s not forget about the potential changes in the chassis that the FIA wants to introduce, focusing on aerodynamics and reducing drag to improve engine efficiency. Such changes will surely impact racing; we just need to see in which direction.

We remain optimistic and look forward to the new changes and new teams in the 2026 season. Expect big surprises, both positive and negative, and believe that the FIA is doing a good job of trying to improve the overall racing experience, despite mumbles and grumbles from within the paddock.

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