[F1 chiefs say 2026 rules fears prompted by old data
Concerns have emerged in recent weeks about the risks of a wrong step with the new cars in 2026 ruining the spectacle.
World champion Max Verstappen said that a simulation run he had with the 2026 car, where he was forced to change down gears on the straight to recharge the battery, left him far from happy.
“To me, it looks pretty terrible,” said Verstappen. “If you go flat out on the straight at Monza, and I don’t know what it is, like four or five hundred [metres] before the end of the straight, you have to downshift flat out because that’s faster. I think that’s not the way forward.”
But while Verstappen’s Red Bull team is pushing for changes to be made to help improve matters, F1’s own senior technical figures are far more sanguine about the situation.
In fact, F1’s chief technical officer Pat Symonds thinks team alarm bells about the 2026 situation are far too premature – as he suggests their fears have been triggered by out-of-date data and regulations that are in the process of being refined.
Symonds and his team at F1 and the FIA, making the most of the massive computer power available to it through a partnership with AWS, have been accelerating computer simulations on the 2026 project over recent months.
And it has emerged that the latest car model F1 has is a huge step from what teams have been basing their findings on so far, and is performing in a completely different way.
Horner has criticised the 2026 rules
Photo by: Mark Sutton / Motorsport Images
Speaking to Motorsport.com about alarm bells being sounded over the 2026 rules, Symonds said: “Teams spend a large part of their budget on buying alarm bells.
“We had exactly the same with 2022, that it won’t work, and we [the teams] have been through it all before and we know what we’re doing.
“The 2026 car in my mind is no bigger a change than the 2022 one. I would argue that it is actually a bit less aerodynamic [a jump]. Yes, it got more active components in there but there’s nothing magic about active aerodynamics. I’m quite confident.”
Symonds explained that FIA’s head of aerodynamics Jason Somerville, who has been heading up work on the 2026 car, was in a good place right now with how things were shaping up.
“There are some impressive drag targets but Jason and his guys are there with it,” added Symonds. “So yeah, I think we can do it.
“And the team’s alarm bells, and talking about Max who has driven it in the simulator: he hasn’t driven what’s there. I know that, because we are obviously months ahead of where they are.”
Symonds added that, while teams are mindful of the challenges of the 50/50 split between combustion power and electrical energy, there was always the acceptance that the regulations would evolve once they had been published.
Symonds has described the 2026 changes as ‘less of an aerodynamic jump’ to the 2022 alterations
Photo by: Charles Coates / Motorsport Images
“We needed to get a set of regulations out for the engine, and put some energy management numbers in there,” he said.
“They were very immature. We knew that they wouldn’t work and we knew that they needed to be developed. And where we’ve got to in the nine months since is transformational.
“The performance profile of a 2026 car in simulation now doesn’t look terribly different to 2023.
“So all of this thing about hitting the top speed in the middle of the straight, it’s not like that anymore.
“You have to bear in mind that these cars don’t reach top speed at the end of the straight anymore; so all this thing about changing down gears on the straight simply isn’t true.”
Getting rid of DRS train
As well as honing the energy management and moveable aero characteristics of the 2026 cars, Symonds said that one area F1 was focusing on was better racing.
And while a lower slipstream effect could impact the possibility of cars passing each other on the straights, Symonds says one key aim being looked at was losing the current blight of races getting locked down by DRS trains.
DRS trains remain common in F1
Photo by: Steve Etherington / Motorsport Images
“One of the objectives, and what we’re trying to do in 2026, is to get rid of the DRS train,” he said.
“At the moment, we’re talking about a car that has four aerodynamic states. I don’t think we’ll end up with four aerodynamic states, we will end up with two or possibly three.
“But while some of that will be through technical regulations, some of that will be through sporting regulations as well.
“The thing with the 2026 cars is that you don’t have these huge amounts of energy available that you have got at the moment.
“When we conceived the car, the idea was to have front axle recovery. The manufacturers ditched that, so that made our life really difficult. But it doesn’t make it impossible.
“So I think now we have to look at the sporting regulations and think very carefully about how you recover energy and how you deploy energy. So it won’t just be a technical exercise, it will be a sporting exercise as well.”
Computer power boost
Symonds says that the huge computing power that F1 has available to use in CFD simulation, through its relationship with AWS, has left it with a high degree of confidence that everything is on track for 2026.
Photo by: Mark Sutton / Motorsport Images
“The problems with CFD in the past have not really been about the software, it’s the amount of computing power you can throw at it,” he added.
“It really became quite transformational as we teamed up with AWS, and we have had to learn together.
“It wasn’t a case of: here’s a bit of software, you load it and run it. We had to do an awful lot of work to get it working properly. But it did give us this ability to run these incredibly complex models.
“There is what we call our gold standard, of two full cars running one behind the other in a cornering situation with a completely unsteady flow. And that exercises the computers a little bit.
“So once we were able to do things like that, we had some confidence. Now we are still doing wind tunnel testing, but that has come back and given us even more confidence I would say.”