Should F1 2026 rules be delayed after Canadian GP revealed potential of current regulations?

Thomas Maher
F1 2026 car render

Should F1 consider deferring the 2026 regulations as the current regulations start to come good?

The publishing of the roadmap for the F1 2026 regulations ahead of the Canadian Grand Prix has met with some skepticism.

While the F1 2026 power unit regulations have been known for some time, last week saw the FIA set out its targets for the 2026 chassis regulations – only for the current regulations to immediately produce one of the closest races of the current cycle.

What F1 2026 regulations have been confirmed?

Retaining the 1.6-litre turbocharged V6 architecture currently in use, the 2026 power unit regulations will see a shift in the ratio of power produced by the internal combustion engine relative to electrification.

This ratio will be 50/50 from 2026, while the sport also moves to introduce fully sustainable fuel as part of its push to become net carbon zero by 2030.

But the power unit regulations being defined first has led to the cart being put before the horse, particularly as energy recovery becomes more difficult due to the banning of the MGU-H.

Concerns were famously raised by Red Bull boss Christian Horner last year, in which he expressed fears F1 risked creating ‘Frankenstein’ cars as a result of the regulations – fears that weren’t taken seriously at that point due to his team’s dominance of F1. After all, why would Horner want a rule change when Red Bull has clearly got a handle on the current regulations?

However, the publishing of the FIA’s intentions with the new regulations suggests those fears may become a reality. Between the power unit changes and the reduction in car size (both length and width), the resulting reduction in downforce means the cars could be significantly slower than the current formula.

To combat this, the FIA intends to introduce active aerodynamics. Removing DRS, the movable rear wing will automatically open on the straights in order to reduce drag at every possible opportunity.

Active front wings, which are needed to maintain balance with the movement of the rear, will also adjust themselves according to the energy demands of the car at any given moment – a complex system that will require vast amounts of safety testing in order to ensure any component failures fail in such a way that doesn’t pose any danger to the drivers.

In a bid to improve the nimbleness of the machines, the aim is also to reduce the minimum weight of the cars by 30kg to achieve a figure of 768kg. This figure has been met with skepticism by the drivers, particularly given that many of the teams already struggle to meet the current weight limit of 798kg.

Alex Albon was one of several drivers to express his dismay over what he’s seen of the new rules, saying he’d much rather see more simplified regulations remain in place.

“It seems to be that to recover what this engine regs are creating,” he said.

“It means that everything becomes extremely complicated. The whole aero path we’re gonna go down with all this, I’d rather just have it more simple engines, a little bit more standardised parts in the engines and just return to a more basic regulation.”

F1 2026 regulations announced just as convergence becomes reality

The complexities of the new regulations can’t be underestimated – these changes are no mere refinements, but rather a tearing up of the current rulebook. It was thus very bad timing that just a few days later, the Canadian Grand Prix ended up being one of the most unpredictable of the current regulation cycle.

Since the start of 2022 and the introduction of the ground effect rules, Red Bull has enjoyed a significant lead over the rest of the field. The RB18 and RB19 proved untouchable in the hands of Max Verstappen, with the 2023 car becoming the most dominant in the history of the sport.

But, with the rules maturing season after season, it has become apparent that Red Bull was operating far closer to the ceiling of its performance than many of its rivals – leading Horner to consistently point out his fears of convergence as the other teams figured the regulations out and unlocked what Red Bull already had.

That moment now appears to have arrived. While Verstappen still enjoys a healthy lead in this year’s championship, he is having to work far harder for his race wins than at any point since the end of 2021. Indeed, it was McLaren who likely would have won in Montreal on pure pace had the Safety Car not interrupted proceedings, and Verstappen was powerless in Monaco as Charles Leclerc swept all before him.

At Imola, Verstappen just about scraped across the line ahead of Lando Norris, while the McLaren had the legs on the Red Bull in Miami. While the RB20 may still be the benchmark car, there’s no doubting that the Milton Keynes-based squad will be toppled by McLaren and Ferrari on a few more occasions this year. And, following its recent upgrades, Mercedes’ W15 also looks capable of joining in that fight.

Back in 2002, as Ferrari swept all before it and Ron Dennis’ McLaren tried to keep pace with its rival, the team boss famously pushed to keep the regulations stable in order to ensure closer racing – coming out against making significant rule changes that sought to destabilise Ferrari.

“If you think of it as Everest, you can’t get higher than the top from a technical standpoint,” he said.

“So, inevitably, more people are going to develop the expertise to get to the top of Everest.”

After coming through the two years of utter dominance by Red Bull, who figured out how to reach the top of Everest quickly, F1 is now on the cusp of being able to deliver some fantastic competition once again. Having spooled up its potential after the thrills of 2021 (also a season coming at the end of a regulation cycle), the past two seasons have been a damp squib in terms of close fighting – but that potential now appears to be back right as F1 closes in on shutting the door on the current regulations.

More on the latest F1 2026 news

👉 ‘Impossible’ and ‘wishful thinking’ – drivers weigh in on key F1 2026 car target

👉 Time running out as teams question ‘far from achieving agreeable objectives’ in F1 2026 rules

Should F1 consider delaying the introduction of the 2026 regulations?

While witnessing the excellence of Red Bull and Max Verstappen as one of those generational eras of excellence that has marked out the very best throughout the sport’s history, it can’t be argued that unpredictability and close fighting is the more exciting spectacle – and the now-maturing regulations are starting to produce that at long last.

Several teams are closing in on Everest’s peak, and the longer the rulebook remains as stable as it is currently, the greater the opportunity is that others – bolstered by the impact of the budget cap and aerodynamic testing sliding scale – can also close the gap.

Bear in mind it’s no longer unusual to have the entire field separated by under a second, and qualifying in Canada resulted in the closest pole fight since Jerez 1997 (oh look, a race that also came right at the end of a regulation cycle immediately prior to a team dominating at the start of the new rules!).

Rather than introducing incredibly complex regulations that are almost certain to result in one team or power unit manufacturer nailing them to the point of being uncatchable for a few seasons, perhaps F1 should consider deferring for another season, until 2027.

This would allow for further refinement and evaluation of the proposed aerodynamic rules, which no one seems particularly enamoured with at this point, and also allow for the full potential of the current regulations to play out with every team having more than ample opportunity to reach the theoretical limits of the rulebook.

After all, the regulations put out by the FIA last week still are yet to be signed off on by the World Motor Sport Council and these rules are still open to quite a lot more refinement in collaboration with the teams and the power unit manufacturers in place for 2026.

Going back to the point of 2021 – arguably the best F1 season of the century so far – this season came about as a result of the current regulations being pushed out by a year to ’22, in light of the coronavirus pandemic. This resulted in the regulations remaining stable between 2020 and ’21, aside from tweaks to the rears of the car to reduce downforce, and culminated in Red Bull finally closing the gap to Mercedes.

However, this is pie-in-the-sky thinking really – aside from the argument for more close racing, there are no other logical reasons to defer the new regulations. Between commercial agreements, the interests of pretty much every stakeholder and the power unit manufacturers, and the push to introduce the new more environmentally-friendly engines, the mumblings of concerns from the drivers won’t be enough to hold back the introduction of the new regulations.

With aerodynamic and CFD testing of the new regulations banned until January 1st, 2025, it’s difficult to gauge just how well the new regulations might work. After all, some incredibly clever people are pulling them together, and the optimism is very much there that the performance level of the new cars will be roughly on par with the current era. What does give grounds for optimism is that downforce levels will be hit significantly, which should mean cars that are more difficult to drive – even if cornering speeds are lower than today.

But, perhaps this time, the new regulations should be left in place for longer than a handful of years. Given the likelihood of someone stealing a march on the rest at the start of 2026, the budget cap prevents the other teams from being able to instantly respond or from spending their way to close the gap as was possible in previous regulation changes.

And, if the new rules do end up proving disastrous, perhaps focus on the cars first and foremost, and the engine second, rather than creating an engine formula upfront and thus being painted into a corner with the compromises then needed on the chassis and aero side. Wouldn’t that be a simpler way of doing things?

Just as F1 appears to be emerging from a period of unprecedented dominance by one team to offer a thrilling racing spectacle once again, will the new rulebook immediately plunge us back into another multi-year dominant spell as one team figures it all out quicker than the others? I fear it will, but will be very happy to be proven wrong…

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