F1 considering active aerodynamics ‘tricks’ to handicap race leaders in 2026

Michelle Foster
Mercedes driver Lewis Hamilton opens his DRS at the Spanish Grand Prix. Barcelona, May 2022.

As Ross Brawn walked out the door of F1’s headquarters he touted perhaps the controversial idea yet to level the playing field, incorporating active aerodynamics “tricks” to slow the car in front.

It has been billed by Autosport magazine as a ‘reverse DRS’.

On today’s grid Formula 1 uses DRS to give the chasing car a straight-line advantage with the driver able to open the DRS to close in on the car in front.

But under Brawn’s proposal, and one F1 and the FIA are looking into, it would also work the other way around in actually slowing the car in front by reducing its downforce.

This would be done through active aerodynamics says Brawn.

“One of the big things about the 2026 car is whether we have active aerodynamics,” the retired F1 managing director told Autosport magazine. “I think that’s an efficiency step which is very appealing.

“It’s still got to be sorted to see how that can be done, and if it can be done safely and predictably. But, active aerodynamics, we semi have them at the moment with DRS, as DRS is active aerodynamics.

“But can you do something much more significant?

“If you have active aerodynamics, then of course you could affect the car in front. You could have a proximity [that] once you get within a certain degree, the car in front loses a little bit of downforce and you gain a little bit of downforce.

“There’s tricks you can play with that. It becomes an opportunity.

“I’m not saying we would do that, but it becomes an opportunity. So, the 2026 car is lessons learned from what we have now and I think we’ll incorporate some form of active aerodynamics.”

He revealed the FIA is evaluating it with F1’s former head of aerodynamics Jason Sommerville having moved over to motorsport’s governing body to do the leg work.

“We concluded in the end that was better placed under the FIA, because they would have total access to data,” he said about Sommerville’s move there. “There’d be no confidentially concerns. Not that there were, but now we’re in the implementation phase, Jason and his people need to see real car data. And within the FIA they can do that.

“They’re very committed to raceability. I sometimes get a text… like in the sprint in Brazil, Jason texted me [saying]: ‘Fantastic race, really pleased to see the cars racing so well,’ and this sort of stuff.

“So, they’re passionate about making sure we have raceable cars now. They’ve seen the light.”

But is it a step too far into artificial racing?

Formula 1 purists were up in arms when the sport introduced DRS, the Drag Reduction System, in 2011 to make overtaking easier.

It allows drivers to increase straightline speed by dumping rear wing drag through a slot, basically a power boost button if you will.

This year alone there were mixed reactions to DRS, fans questioning whether if it was too powerful in Bahrain and Saudi Arabia as Charles Leclerc and Max Verstappen played a game of cat and mouse, and then berating Race Control for taking their time activating it at the Emilia Romagna Grand Prix leading to a rather boring Sunday.

Now F1 wants to not only speed up the car behind, but slow the car in front. Is that not a step too far towards artificial racing? We’re already knocking on that door with DRS, some would say with sprint qualifying too, now the sport’s powers-that-be want to handicap cars.

Surely the sport should be about the best driver in the best car winning? Well it was this year, Max Verstappen taking 15 of 22 race wins as he cruised to a second World title… and fans decried a boring season.

As the saying goes ‘you can please some of the people all of the time, you can please all of the people some of the time, but you can’t please all of the people all of the time.’

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