‘That wouldn’t be a good idea’ – FIA tech chief reveals outcome of using 2026 power unit in 2024 F1 car

Thomas Maher
Nikolas Tombazis, FIA, 2024 Canadian Grand Prix.

FIA's Nikolas Tombazis has revealed what would happen if the 2026 power unit was used to power a 2024 F1 car.

FIA single-seater director Nikolas Tombazis has revealed what would happen if an F1 2026 power unit was put into the back of a 2024 F1 car.

With F1 rolling out revolutionary new power units and chassis regulations for the 2026 F1 season, Nikolas Tombazis has revealed how a current generation car would fare if it was fitted with the power units in development for future regulations.

FIA’s Nikolas Tombazis: The current generation cars have too much drag

Last week, the FIA revealed its intentions for the 2026 chassis regulations that have been developed in response to the already confirmed power unit regulations.

Uniquely, the power unit regulations were developed first, and, due to the unusual characteristics coming as a consequence of these changes, the chassis aero regulations have had to be created in response to the engines rather than the other way around.

Ditching the MGU-H, F1 will increase the electrical output of the power unit to a ratio close to 50/50 with the internal combustion engine – which will retain the current 1.6-litre V6 architecture currently in use.

The car chassis will be shorter, narrower, and around 30 kilogrammes lighter than the current generation, and will utilise active aerodynamics in a bid to compensate for a loss of cornering ability due to reduced downforce, as well as slower top-end speeds.

Given that the focus of the new regulations has been on introducing more efficient and powerful power units with greater emphasis on electrification – something which is of increased road relevance for the six confirmed power unit manufacturers in 2026 – Tombazis explained why it isn’t possible to continue using the existing chassis regulations when the new power units are rolled out.

“That wouldn’t be a very good idea because, as much as the maximum power has gone up, because a lot of it is electrical, that cannot last for so long,” Tombazis – who has overseen the new rulebook’s development – told Tom Clarkson on the Beyond the Grid podcast.

“Therefore, towards the end of the straights, we need to have cars with lower drag, lower aerodynamic drag, which is what these technical regulations have done.

“The current generation cars have a bit too high a drag and, therefore, would suffer some velocity drop off towards the end of the straights.

“We believe we’ve solved this problem for the new cars.”

While the power unit might not be able to propel the cars to higher top speeds than the current ones, Tombazis said he expects the new units to actually be more powerful at their peak than the current units.

“It’s [power output] actually a bit higher than where we are now, yes, it’s going to be approximately up by about 100 horsepower,” he said.

“The power unit has quite a lot lower power on the actual internal combustion part,

“We go down from about 550 to about 400 kilowatts, whereas the electrical part increases by a lot. We go from 120 to 350.

“So we’ll be 50/50, almost, between internal combustion power and electrical power. That is one key difference and, in that process, we have removed the MGU-H which is the device that was converting some of the exhaust energy into electrical energy.

“We’ve done that mainly for simplicity and to reduce some of the complexity of the engines.

“We wanted that in order to make sure we can attract newcomers to the sport, which I think has been reasonably successful. And, of course, the sustainable fuels. That is a major step. The fuel is in 2026 will be fully sustainable, which, as I’ve said before, is one of the big steps towards sustainability although by no means the definitive step.”

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Nikolas Tombazis explains idea behind active aerodynamics

With F1 aiming to keep the future cars within a second or so in terms of laptime relative to the current machinery, the governing body has turned to the idea of active aerodynamics in order to allow the cars to keep up this pace.

Explaining that the 2026 cars will be the results of putting the current machinery “on a diet”, Tombazis explained how the active aerodynamics will be activated between two different profiles dependent on where the car is on track.

“We will have what we call the X-mode and the Z-mode,” he said.

“The Z-mode is when there’s a lot of downforce around the corners, and the X-mode is when the wings move and we have a low drag setting for the straights.

“But, inherently, even the Z-mode of the cars has much lower drag than what the current generation cars have. So even more so when we go to X-mode.”

The active rear wing, which will reduce the drag significantly down the straights, will look very similar to the current DRS, which will be removed for 2026, with the front wing being used to help keep the car stable.

“It will look very similar to the DRS for the spectators, but the front wing will be moving as well in order to keep the car in a reasonably balanced state on the straights,” he said.

“The flaps will reduce incidents and we are discussing a bit with the teams the best way to do that, there are a few different options on the table still.

“The adjustable aero will happen on almost every straight. There are some straights in the championship, where this will not be allowed if we want the top speeds not to be excessive.

“Some places like, say, Monaco, we will not allow the flaps to open in order to keep the speeds at a reasonable level, we will be achieving a very similar effect to the DRS with the electrical part of the engine.

“Cars that are within one second of the front car will have a bit more energy to recover and they will be also able to use a bit more power on the straights.

“So we believe that effect is very, very comparable to the DRS.”

The regulations outlined by the FIA before the Canadian Grand Prix are more of a roadmap rather than the final regulations, which will be presented to the World Motor Sport Council for ratification.

The final F1 2026 regulations are expected to be confirmed by the end of June, after discussion and a vote by the WMSC.

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