F1’s 2026 regulations revealed: lighter, agile cars and active aerodynamics

Formula 1 will introduce an era of lighter, smaller and more agile cars as part of a “moderate revolution” of the 2026 technical regulations unveiled on Thursday.

F1’s governing body, the FIA, has unveiled the latest set of car design rules, which focus on improving the cars’ raceability by reducing their size and weight.

In a long-awaited change, the 2026 regulations will also use active aerodynamics in addition to the new generation of power units that benefit from more battery power and fully sustainable fuels.

F1 regulators hope the changes will improve the spectacle on track and place greater emphasis on driver skills behind the wheel with the new generation of cars.

The FIA ​​has released a series of images of what it expects the 2026 cars to look like as part of the announcement ahead of this weekend’s Canadian Grand Prix. The FIA’s World Motor Sport Council will formally ratify the 2026 regulations at the end of this month. Teams can start working on their 2026 car designs from January 1 next year.

A lighter, smaller generation of F1 cars

The move to adopt ‘more agile’ cars comes after continued criticism of the existing designs, introduced in 2022, which are the largest and heaviest in F1 history. It was a particular sticking point at last month’s Monaco Grand Prix, where drivers complained about the difficulty of overtaking given the size of the cars and the tight confines of the street circuit.

From 2026, cars will decrease in size and weight. Maximum wheelbase length drops from 3,600 mm (11.8 ft) to 3,400 mm (11.2 ft), while maximum width drops from 2,000 mm (6.6 ft) to 1,900 mm (6.2 ft). The maximum floor width is also reduced by 150 mm.

In addition, the minimum car weight will drop by 30 kg (66 lbs) to 768 kg (1693 lbs), of which 46 kg (101 lbs) will come from lighter tires. F1 has retained the Pirelli-supplied 18-inch wheels since 2022, but the width has been reduced by 25 mm (1 in) at the front and 30 mm (1.2 in) at the rear, with an estimated weight reduction per tire set of 5 kg ( 11 pounds). The overall reduction in the car’s weight should improve the car’s handling.

Nikolas Tombazis, the FIA’s single-seater director and one of the main architects of the new regulations, said the cars would have “quite a visual difference from the current cars.” There would be new ‘visual cues’, including changes to the design of the front and rear wings, ‘which will significantly differentiate the cars from the current generation of Formula 1 cars.’

Tombazis described the new rules as a “moderate revolution” of technical regulations. “A few years ago, we introduced the power unit regulations for 2026, which entails a further elimination of the MGU-H, the significant increase in the electric component of the power unit and sustainable fuel,” he said.

“As part of a drive to improve overall efficiency of these cars, chassis rules must now match power unit rules.”

Active aerodynamics introduces X-Mode and Z-Mode

When F1 started improving the efficiency of its existing V6 hybrid engines by almost tripling electrical power from 120 kW to 350 kW, it had to supplement this with major changes to existing car design rules.

Jason Somerville, the FIA’s head of aerodynamics, explained that if you put the 2026 powerplants into any of the current cars there would be a “severe drop in speed on the typical straights” due to the amount of energy required to move the car pushing through the air.

To avoid this, in addition to changing the car’s dimensions, F1 had to reduce the amount of drag and downforce produced by the cars under the new regulations. The FIA ​​claims that downforce will decrease by 30 percent and air resistance will decrease by 55 percent in the latest car models.

To reduce drag and maintain downforce in corners, the FIA ​​has chosen to investigate active aerodynamics, which involves changing the profiles of the movable front and rear wings around different parts of the track.

The new active aerodynamics system allows drivers to switch between ‘Z-Mode’, which provides the best cornering speed, and ‘X-Mode’, which places the wings in a low drag profile that maximizes straight-line speed.

The cars achieve this through a new three-element active rear wing design, simplified end plates and the removal of the lower beam wings. The front wings are 100 mm narrower and have an active flap consisting of two elements.

Drivers will receive a trigger point around the lap, similar to the current activation of DRS, where they can switch modes regardless of the distance to the vehicle in front.

“A driver can switch to a low drag mode to give him the performance on the straights where grip is not limited,” Somerville explains. “Then as you approach the braking zone, you switch back to high downforce mode.” Drivers do this by switching a switch or applying pressure to the brake.

The hope is that active aerodynamics will improve the cars’ efficiency using the new powerplants and allow for more on-track action by allowing drivers to tactically switch between modes.

Goodbye DRS, hello manual transfer

Another major shift from the existing technical regulations is the abolition of the Drag Reduction System (DRS), which has been a controversial part of the F1 rules since its introduction in 2011.

DRS has allowed any driver within one second of the car in front to open the rear wing flap to encourage overtaking, but has sometimes been criticized for making passing too easy and being an artificial racing element.

However, with the adoption of active aerodynamics on the rear wing from 2026, which will function in the same way as the existing flaps, DRS will no longer be part of the regulations.

Instead, it will be replaced by a ‘Manual Override’ mode that gives more electric power to the following car via the MGU-K – essentially an energy boost to try and overtake.

The FIA ​​said the energy input of the leading car would decrease after reaching 290 km/h and reach zero at 355 km/h, while the following car would have the full permitted power of 350 kW until 337 km /you. It is expected to be available under similar conditions to those for DRS, which can be activated when one car is less than a second behind the other on the way to a straight.

A new era for F1

Although the FIA ​​has released renderings of what it expects the cars to look like, teams will inevitably go through the final set of rules to find any loopholes or leeway to allow for the fastest cars. Somerville acknowledged that the FIA’s idea of ​​car design will “almost certainly be different from what the teams actually put forward after their development cycles.” However, he called it a “very exciting period of any new regulatory cycle.”

The new generation of powerplants from 2026 will herald an important new era for F1, as it focuses on the electric power of the hybrids and the use of fully sustainable fuels. This has been an effective approach to attracting manufacturer interest, with Audi, Honda and Ford (via Red Bull Powertrains) joining Mercedes, Ferrari and Renault as suppliers.

Tombazis noted in the FIA’s announcement that these rules were “more focused on driver skills” and were “designed to race closer together, increase competition between teams and enhance the spectacle.” It’s a goal F1 wanted to achieve with the 2022 rules, only to see the early battles between Ferrari and Red Bull culminate as Max Verstappen embarked on an unprecedented period of domination. Drivers were also lukewarm about whether the on-track product has improved, given the continued difficulty in following the cars at the front.

It is rare for F1 to embark on such a major overhaul of the regulations, but it offers plenty of opportunities. When F1 introduced hybrid V6 engines and updated car design rules in 2014, Mercedes leapt forward and began to dominate the sport until the end of the decade. Red Bull has dominated since the last regulatory change in 2022.

While car performance across the board has gradually converged as those regulations matured, the changes in 2026 will be an opportunity to reset. The chasing pack will have its best chance yet to jump to the front of the field and potentially start (or continue) their own cycle of dominance.

Top photo: FIA

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