After what seemed like years of wrangling, the FIA has announced new technical rules that will govern the power units used by Formula 1 teams starting in the 2026 season. At the heart of discussions about the new rules is a desire to attract new engine suppliers to the sport. Currently, if you want to race in Formula 1, you have to choose an engine supplied by Ferrari, Mercedes, Renault or Honda/Red Bull.
The Volkswagen concern has been thinking about having fun for several years, but it is a car company and a mass-produced car company. There’s an old expression in horse racing that says, “Win on Sunday, sell on Monday.” Although the phrase comes from NASCAR, it explains why Volkswagen is not interested in getting involved in Formula 1 unless the engine technology is relevant to its production cars.
In Formula 1 today, most teams are owned by car companies — Alfa Romeo, Ferrari, Mercedes, McLaren, Aston Martin or Alpine (Renault). Only Red Bull, Williams, Haas and Alpha Tauri (the Red Bull B team) are not involved in car production. The new rules were created specifically to satisfy the Volkswagen Group, which will now see two of its brands – Porsche and Audi – as engine suppliers in 2026.
Formula 1 engine change mapping
In a press release last week announcing the new 2026 engine regulations, FIA President Mohammed Ben Sulayem said: “The FIA continues to drive innovation and sustainability – across our entire motorsport portfolio – the 2026 Formula 1 powertrain regulations are the highest. – profile example of this mission. The introduction of advanced PU technology together with synthetic sustainable fuels is in line with our aim to deliver benefits to road car users and meet our goal of zero net carbon emissions by 2030. Formula 1 is currently enjoying huge growth and we are confident that these regulations will build to the excitement brought about by our changes in 2022.”
The new rules are intended to support four primary long-term objectives for Formula 1:
- Keeping the Spectacular — The 2026 powertrain will be similar in performance to current designs, using high-output, high-revving V6 combustion engines and avoiding excessive power differentiation, allowing for better racing.
- Environmental sustainability — The 2026 energy unit will include increasing the use of electricity up to 50% and using 100% sustainable fuel.
- Financial sustainability — Financial powertrain regulations will reduce overall costs for competitors while maintaining the high-tech showcase that is at the heart of Formula 1.
- Attractive to new powertrain manufacturers – the regulations are intended to make it possible and attractive for newcomers to join the sport at a competitive level.
The new power units will drop the MGU-H, a device that harvested electricity from the engine’s heat and used it to drive an electric motor, which in turn could spin the turbocharger independently of the exhaust gas flow. This device allowed the cars to avoid the lag associated with turbochargers when the engines were running at low revs.
But the units were incredibly complex and the engine packaging quite complicated. At the beginning of the turbo-hybrid era in 2014, the turbocharger and MGU-H were combined together and the failure rate was high. Mercedes solved the packaging problem by splitting the MGU-H in half and placing the components on either end of the engine. They were connected by a shaft running between the cylinder heads of the V-6 engine. Failure rates plummeted and took years for most competitors to catch up.
Turbochargers in road cars are largely the result of Formula 1’s decision to use turbocharged engines in the 1980s. But MGU-H technology has little relevance for passenger cars, so manufacturers like Volkswagen have been reluctant to join the sport. Now the MGU-H is gone and the Volkswagen Group is in. It is not a coincidence.
The new rules strictly regulate the bottom end of engines — the block, crankshaft and pistons. They also eliminate variable length air intakes and other gimmicks that extend the power range of engines. However, they leave engine suppliers more freedom to experiment with cylinder heads, which companies like. They also support innovations in batteries and electric motors that are part of hybrid powertrains. This is an area that is highly relevant for companies like Volkswagen, which focus more on the production of electric vehicles and less on cars and trucks with internal combustion engines.
The new rules increase the total output of the electric motor from 120 kW (160 hp) in today’s cars to 350 kW (470 hp). The engines will run on 100% sustainable fuels derived from non-food plants, municipal waste or carbon capture, meaning the engines will not add any new carbon dioxide to the atmosphere. The output of the turbocharged 1.6 liter engine will remain at around 635 kW (850 hp).
Today, Formula 1 sets a maximum fuel flow, but the new rules will instead mandate a maximum power flow. Today’s cars are allowed 100 kilograms of fuel per race, but the new engine formula will limit them to a maximum of 80 kilograms of fuel, emphasizing strategies that maximize the amount of electrical energy gained during the race. More details on the new 2026 rules can be found in the latest FIA Technical Bulletin.
Over the years engine manufacturers have come and gone from Formula 1. Honda, Toyota and Ford have all been heavily involved at one time or another. All left the sport when costs rose beyond expectations and/or on-track results fell short of projections. Honda returned a few years ago to become Red Bull’s engine supplier, but then backed out again, although it agreed to continue working with Red Bull Technology, which now supplies power units for its racing cars. Porsche has now jumped into the Formula 1 game via Red Bull technology, according to Mark Hughes Race.
Audi has established a relationship with the Alfa Romeo/Sauber team and will reportedly become its engine supplier in 2026, although it is unclear whether it will still be called Alfa Romeo at that time. Why would Audi and Porsche join teams that compete with each other? Because racing improves the breed. Everything that one division of the Volkswagen Group knows eventually filters through the organization to all other divisions. Audi and Porsche also compete within the group, each developing their own chassis for electric cars.
Formula 1 is very popular worldwide, which makes it a dream place for marketing departments. There was a time when the sport was dominated by individuals like Bruce McLaren, Dan Gurney, Colin Chapman and Enzo Ferrari – people who sold cars to support their racing pursuits. Now these racing activities support car sales.
None of this addresses the enormous carbon footprint of Formula 1, which flies around the world to races 24 or more times a year, or the carbon emissions of all the car fans who drive to those races. But this criticism can be leveled against any sporting event in the world. Formula 1 is trying valiantly to stay relevant without killing the goose that laid the golden egg. Judging by the millions of devoted fans, whatever it does, it works well.
Do you appreciate CleanTechnica’s originality and reporting? Consider becoming a CleanTechnica member, supporter, technician or ambassador – or a patron on Patreon.
Don’t want to miss a story about clean technologies? Sign up for daily updates from CleanTechnica by email. Or follow us on Google News!
Got a CleanTechnica tip, want to advertise, or want to suggest a guest for our CleanTech Talk podcast? Contact us here.