Max Verstappen blasts ‘pretty terrible’ F1 2026 rules, fears ‘massive development war’

Thomas Maher
Red Bull's Max Verstappen at the Austrian Grand Prix press conference. Spielberg, July 2023.

Red Bull's Max Verstappen at the Austrian Grand Prix press conference. Spielberg, July 2023.

Max Verstappen is concerned by what he’s seen about the upcoming F1 2026 regulations, echoing Christian Horner’s earlier comments.

The engine regulation changes for 2026 are evolving to increase the amount of power generated from the electrical components, with the MGU-K set to almost triple the amount of electrical power produced by the hybrid components.

Currently producing 120kW of energy between the MGU-K and MGU-H, more braking energy is set to be collected to aim for the MGU-K producing around 350kW from 2026. But the concern is that the increased reliance on batteries, with a 50/50 division between the internal combustion engine (ICE) and electrical power, could backfire as cars can’t produce enough energy.

Max Verstappen concerned by F1 2026 regulations

With Red Bull becoming an engine supplier in partnership with Ford from 2026, Verstappen said he’s already seen some early data which is concerning him about the effect of the changes on how the cars drive.

“I’ve seen the data already on the simulator as well,” he said in the press conference, following his win in Austria last weekend.

“To me, it looks pretty terrible. I mean, if you go flat-out on the straight at Monza, I don’t know what it is, like four or five hundred before the end of the straight, you have to downshift flat-out because that’s faster. I think that’s not the way forward. Of course, probably that’s one of the worst tracks.

“But for me, the problem is, it looks like it’s going to be an ICE competition, like whoever has the strongest engine will have a big benefit. But I don’t think that should be the intention of Formula 1, because then you will start a massive development war again, and it will become quite expensive to find, probably a few horsepower here and there. I think it actually should be opposite.”

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Verstappen is also concerned by the introduction of active aerodynamics, which are aimed at compensating for the reduced drag of the new chassis.

“It will be even harder to overtake on the straight,” he said.

“Then I think yeah, you have the active aerodynamics, which you can’t control. Well, it will be… I don’t know… the system will control it for you. Which then I think makes it very awkward to drive, because I prefer to control it myself.

“Of course, when you’re behind someone, maybe you need more front or more rear. These kind of things. If the system starts to control that for you, I don’t think that’s the right way forward.

“Plus, the weight is going up again. So yeah, we have to seriously look at this because I mean, ’26 is not that far away. And at the moment, to me, it looks very bad from all the numbers and what I see from the data already. So, it’s not something I’m very excited about at the moment.”

Christian Horner pushing for ‘urgent attention’ to engine rules

Speaking in the team bosses’ press conference on Thursday, Horner spoke about the issues Red Bull Powertrains are uncovering through development, and said “urgent attention” is needed to make sure F1’s 2026 cars don’t become “technical Frankensteins”.

“We are in a position where obviously we’re dealing with a power unit now as well as the chassis for ’26,” he said.

“One of the big issues, and one of the big impacts for 2026 is weight. You’re looking at pretty much a 30-kilogramme swing on cars that are already approaching sports car type of weight through the cooling that’s going to be required and so on.

“I think there’s some very positive things about 2026 and the sustainable fuel and so on – that’s extremely positive – but I think that perhaps where we need to pay urgent attention before it’s too late, is to look at the ratio between combustion power and electrical power to ensure that we’re not creating a technical Frankenstein which will require the chassis to compensate to such a degree with movable aero and to reduce the drag to such a level that the racing will be affected, that there will be no tow effect, there will be no DRS because effectively you’re running at that at all points in time.

“And that the characteristics of these engines are just not… the combustion engine just doesn’t become a generator to recharge a battery. That could easily be addressed with just tuning the ratio between combustion and electrical power. And because the engine regulations…

“We still have two and a half years, and I think if there is a slight redress it would then create potentially a better platform for the chassis because otherwise the chassis regs that are undefined yet and uncommitted, we’re going to be trying to cater for those compromises and so I think you’ve got to look at the thing holistically from both a technical point of view but the most important thing is: what is Formula 1? And Formula 1 needs to be wheel-to-wheel racing.

“We can’t afford to lose that challenge of drivers downshifting on straights to regenerate batteries. So I know the FIA are taking it very seriously, and they’re looking at it very closely as the simulations become more advanced.”

Asked whether he’d be in favour of a different balance between the internal combustion engine and the electrical components, Horner said even a mild change could result in a big difference.

“We’ve got approximately 50/50 at the moment,” he said.

“It doesn’t need to change that much but to cater for the circuits, maybe even a 5% swing could have a significant effect, even a 10% swing, because obviously one of the biggest weight additions as well as the cell weight.

“The size of the battery is colossal for these 2026 regs and I think with the work that’s going on with sustainable fuel and then the car has been effectively carbon zero, it’s phenomenal. So I think if we just tune that ratio, I think very quickly you could take the dependence away from having the need for active aero and constantly movable diffusers and wings and the complexity that will bring.”

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