Hywel Thomas, the managing director of Mercedes’ High Performance Powertrains engine division, is anticipating a “mammoth” amount of development and innovation by manufacturers ahead of F1’s next rules reset in 2026.
Preparations are well underway for F1’s next engine rule changes in 2026, when one of the current power unit’s ancillaries – the troublesome MGU-H – will be dropped and the other, the MGU-K, will deliver almost triple the amount of power it does currently.
Despite attracting a company of Audi’s stature to join from 2026 – as well as the returns of Ford and Honda with Red Bull and Aston Martin respectively – the plans recently came in for criticism from reigning World Champion Max Verstappen, who warned F1 is heading in the wrong direction and claimed the cars will require a counter-intuitive style of driving.
Additional reporting by Sam Cooper
Mercedes expecting plenty of discovery in F1 2026 planning
Verstappen also aired concerns that the engines could become the key performance differentiator between teams again, expressing fears of a “massive development war” between manufacturers.
As part of the sport’s efforts to improve technical transparency, F1’s engine manufacturers are required to hold show-and-tell sessions with their powertrains this season with Thomas – who succeeded Andy Cowell as the head of Mercedes HPP – the first to appear alongside Mercedes’ 2021 engine in front of media including PlanetF1.com at Silverstone on Saturday morning.
Thomas explained that while some elements will remain similar in 2026, the challenge of preparing for the regulation changes is a big one.
He said: “2026 is a very different beast. The V6 section is actually very, very similar, although there are some changes in that – the biggest one being fuel flow is going to reduce and the fuel is going to change. But the V6 [is] actually not that dissimilar.
“We are removing the MGU-H – that’s gone – and that was really seen as a blocker for new entrants so by removing that, that removes one of those reasons that new entrants couldn’t come in, so that was an important point.
“The other side of it is the increase in the electrical system, so we’ll have 350 kilowatts [increased from the current 120kw], so making up the difference of the performance that’s lost from the engine because of the fuel reduction being made up by the electrical machines.
“The regulations allowed us to start running V6s in the middle of last year and that’s very much what we did and I’m sure we weren’t alone in doing that. It’s a big old journey, that’s for sure. There’s going to be a lot of development work, a lot of heartache but I think we’re all probably starting at the same point, because the regulations allow us to do that.”
Under the leadership of Ross Brawn, Mercedes memorably got a jump start on the competition ahead of the start of F1’s switch to V6 hybrid engines in 2014, laying the foundations for the team’s record run of eight consecutive Constructors’ Championships until 2021.
Thomas described the process of discovery in the years leading up to 2014 – and admitted his regret that F1 itself did not do more at the time to showcase the strides in technology and engineering.
He said: “I was fortunate to be involved in the development of this PU in those years, 2012/13, and if you think of what we knew a battery could do in early 2012 to what it was actually racing by 2014, that was a mammoth task. Nobody knew how to do it when we started.
“If you look at the MGU-H, I remember doing some surveys of an MGU-H and saying: ‘An electric motor that’s running at above 100,000rpm, how many of those are there in the world?’ Well, there weren’t any. And the only ones that were were running about three kilowatts – and we needed something that did 50/60 kilowatts.
“So there was no reference at all for this technology in those early years and that’s where the innovation was absolutely fantastic during that period of time – the work that was done, the hard graft in order to create that technology, was immense with this power unit. Absolutely immense.
“I’m slightly sad that we didn’t talk about it more at the time because I don’t think people appreciated how much work that was and the levels of innovation. It’s a good reference what we’re doing in ’26.
“I would say a mammoth amount [of innovation is possible]. If we want to be successful – and we do want to be successful – we’ve got some huge challenges and we’re going to have to do some special things to deliver on those in much the same way that when we had that run up in 2013.
“There was still some stuff that needed fixing and still some performance needed finding until the last minute, so I think we’ve gone a long way to go and it’s very exciting. We’ll develop some ideas that I’m sure will be relevant for the industry.”
Thomas highlighted the battery as an area of particular interest in the development of the 2026 engines, suggesting that manufacturers could be rewarded handsomely on track for cracking this element of the powertrain.
“I think the battery is definitely an interesting area for potential development in those ’26 regulations,” he said.
“What we will be looking at is far more of a power-dense battery, rather than the energy-dense batteries that you see in general EVs. I don’t think there’s anything we can hook on to in somewhere like Mercedes, the developments that they’re doing, we’re going to have to be slightly different than that to get the sort of high-power batteries that we need.
“I’m sure every company is looking carefully at what they’re going to do with the battery because it’s definitely an area which, if you do a good job of it, will likely lead you to having good laptime.”