Call for urgent 2026 engine review

LE CASTELLET, FRANCE - JULY 22: Red Bull Racing Team Principal Christian Horner looks on from the pitwall during practice ahead of the F1 Grand Prix of France at Circuit Paul Ricard on July 22, 2022 in Le Castellet, France. (Photo by Mark Thompson/Getty Images) // Getty Images / Red Bull Content Pool // SI202207220600 // Usage for editorial use only //

The proposed 2026 regulations changes for engines has me somewhat concerned if I’m honest. There has been a lot of talk about the engine format being a 50/50 split between electric power generated and internal combustion engine (ICE) generated. This, after proudly proclaiming bio-fuel technology this year which seems to be a good program.

One side of me wonders why we couldn’t go back to a simpler, more affordable ICE using biofuels. Surely in an era of cost caps, a less expensive ICE would be a welcome change and you could even limit the fuel flow to the ICE to really drive innovation even with these more “traditional” engines.

The point here is that small teams could purchase an ICE engine supply from, say, Gibson or other suppliers for a fraction of what they are spending on the current power units leaving more to spend on chassis and aero development et. al.

If you consider a car costs around $16M, the current engine alone is $11M of that total and they have to buy three engines for the season so that’s over $35M of their complete cost cap of $145M per year.

I’m a fan of Formula 1 technology and innovation just like you are. Don’t get me wrong, I love it too. But…I’m more of a fan of the racing series than I am a fan of outrageously expensive hybrid engines. The same hybrid engines that killed three small teams and put three or four other teams on life support.

Truth be known, you could put a Gibson biofuel-eating V8 delivering 800bhp in the back of every one of the current F1 cars and have amazing racing that sounded awesome too!

Gibson doesn’t sell teams their GK428 V8 engines, they lease them and charge per hour of running so if you consider F1 runs about 6 hours per race weekend and there were 24 races, you’d be in the neighborhood of, call it, 150 hours per season. You then add hours for testing and tire tests and let’s get crazy and just say it’s 300 hours per year.

Gibson leases their engines for around 1,400 Euro per hour so 300 hours at 1,400 Euros puts you in the 420k Euro neighborhood…oh, just call it Half a million Euros to be safe. A company like Gibson supplies several teams in WEC at Le Mans but F1 would be a completely different beast and scaled operation so let’s assume they need to double to a per hour cost of 2,800 Euros.

The teams would still only be spending around 1 million per year for a race engine supply. Oh heck, let’s say it’s really tough for Gibson to support F1 globally and there’s a lot of refresh/rebuilds in between races and they have to staff for it…so let’s say it costs teams $10M per year to have fresh, supplied V8’s burning biofuel at each race weekend.

That would still be a third of the cost of the current engines. Again, I’m all for innovation and tech but when you get practical about it, the large teams may want to make their own power units but small teams would shave $20M off their cost cap to apply elsewhere like autoclaves and other equipment needed to compete with the big dogs.

The 2026 proposed changes have some folks concerned over the tech and one of those people is Red Bull’s Christian Horner.

“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,” he said at the Austrian Grand Prix.

“[We need] to ensure that we’re not creating a technical Frankenstein, which will require the chassis to compensate to such a degree with moveable aero and reduce the drag to such a level that the racing will be affected – and that there will be no tow effect and no DRS because effectively you’re running like that at all points in time.

“Plus, with the characteristics of these engines, that the combustion engine just doesn’t become a generator to recharge a battery.”

“And I think that not for self-gain here as an engine manufacturer, just looking holistically at the whole lot, looking at the compromises that we’re going to have to make on the chassis regs with fully active aero to compensate for the recovery on the engine, it still doesn’t feel too late to tune that ratio.

“And it wouldn’t take much. It’s not like we’re saying we have to rip everything up and start again. It’s whether you do it on a fuel flow or the cell mass, you just need to change that ratio slightly to ensure that we get great racing.”

Despite Mercedes boss Toto Wolff saying that Horner’s comments might suggest that the team is behind in development, Horner says it is quite opposite. He says that the team are ahead in development and can already see the major issues this 50/50 split is going to cause for racing on track. He says that perhaps Toto isn’t that close to the Mercedes HPP program since he is actually just a customer and not an engine builder.

That last part is true. Red Bull and Ferrari are the only two teams who make their chassis and power unit on the same campus according to Adam Cooper over at Autosport.

Now I know the sport is never going to go down the road I’ve suggested above, I merely offered that standard V8 gambit in order to make a point of how technology is very expensive and the other point I want to make is the one that Horner might be outlining.

F1 likes to wallow in its pragmatism. You would think they would learn that pragmatism is a dead end philosophy to life and racing. Prudence wins the day each time. F1 has a muddied history of ushering in pragmatic regulations only to have the teams shove those regulations back up the nose of F1 and exploit elements of the regulations that F1 pragmatism never took time to consider.

They make changes seemingly without asking, what could possibly go wrong? How could these regulations impact racing and what will teams do with these regulations. Mandate fewer engines for a season to reduce costs? The teams spend a fortune of building more reliable engines and then run less over race weekends to protect he engines.

I know they won’t adopt a simpler, more affordable engine strategy but I do believe Horner’s concerns should be addressed because the impact on racing is paramount. The FIA and F1 should—and I’m sure they might say they have—do a deeper dive into what the 50/50 impact will actually be.

I know the debate over ICE vs EV vs new tech like hydrogen rages but for me, we’re much better at creating energy than storing it. I wonder if F1 can’t find a better way forward while improving the most ubiquitous mode of power in the world right now…the ICE.

Biofuel, reduced fuel flow, better engine design…is there room for improvement that would be far more road relevant today than say a MGU-H? Not suggesting I have the answers but just wondering out loud.

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Nicholas

I am an engineer (in an unrelated feild although you might see some of my work on the fake water at Miami) and I really enjoy hearing about the engineering behind the current specification engines. They really are a modern marvel and while I didn’t like the domination – it was great to see that engineering rewarded through the early merc championship years (later on, it would have been nice if other teams caught up faster). I am sorry to see the Heat recovery systems go because I found them really awesome. For me, the engines are more exciting than… Read more »