Renault, 2026 F1 engine ‘is next battleground’

Esteban Ocon (FRA) Renault F1 Team RS20. Formula One Testing, Day 1, Wednesday 26th February 2020. Barcelona, Spain.

We discussed the 2026 engines in our last podcast and what we felt Formula 1 might do in order to reduce the R&D and manufacturing costs currently associated with the hybrid power unit. As Adam Cooper at Autosport points out, Ross Braw, F1’s tech boss, said he didn’t see any new manufacturers entering the sport until 2026.

In Adam’s article, he discusses Renault F1’s boss, Cyril Abiteboul, comments regarding the 2026 power unit idea and cautions us about the new battleground ahead.

“We’ve contained the arms race on power unit development a bit by limiting the number of new homologations per year, and by limiting further the number of dyno hours”, he told Autosport.

“It’s good, but it’s still bloody expensive to maintain and operate these engines.

“The next step is to have a good look at what can be done in order to make sure that the next generation of power unit is a more economic sell.”

One of the discussions we had on our cast was about the new formula and what that might be. As Adam point sout, that is certainly front-of-mind to the likes of Renault and Brawn.

“We’re starting to think about what we’d like at least in terms of objectives for the sport.

“I’ve mentioned one as probably the most important, the economical sustainability of the next power unit program, because clearly the current one is very difficult.

“The next thing we need to think about is the technology involved.

“We see the pace at which electrification is gaining everywhere around the world, and therefore we need to think very hard about what that means for F1, what that means in the context of racing, what that means in the context of some parallel co-existence with Formula E.

“We need to think about that, as it’s the next battlefield, in my opinion.

“I think we’d like to have the big principle of the engine agreed for 2021 or 2022, so that development can start in 2023. That’s the sort of macro planning we have in mind.”

While Brawn was thinking along the lines of using sustainable fuels, we’ve argued in the past that the MGU-H is really a money hole and perhaps the sport could manage without it but Cyril challenges that notion.

“We have the MGU-H for the fuel efficiency of the engine. Are we prepared to say that we will lose something like 20-30% of fuel efficiency?

“I don’t see us carrying more fuel, because we already know that the cars are even heavier in 2022.

“We are talking about another 50kgs of fuel if we remove the MGU-H in order to have the same sort of energy density.

“It’s a very difficult equation. With the prospect of the cars not being lighter I think it will be difficult to remove that device if we want to get to the same level of sustainable power.

“You can have big power, for sure, but if you want to have sustainable power which is F1, it’s difficult to do without that component.”

I recall reading that Formula E had a lock on any fully electric racing in Europe and that in order to move in that direction, F1 would have to buy Formula E…which is probably wha the current owners want.

Having said that, if sustainable fuels isn’t enough to offset the increased fuel capacity, I am not sure what would be. A turbo 6 or 8 with KERS and sustainable fuel might be a very good exercise but it seems Renault may not be interested.

This is really the crux of it, What do manufacturers want in terms of R&D for their road car divisions, what do fans want from a tech and excitement standpoint and what do the owners of F1 want from an entertainment standpoint? Some of these varied self interests may dovetail with others while some may be at complete odds with others.

I may be wrong but I am not sure that a fully electric power unit will be ready for F1 primetime by 2026. What’s more interesting is the cost cap involved and it would seem to me to offer some stark light on this new formula as a battleground of gross expenditures in R&D.

There is no easy answer but I suspect Brawn is heading down a more affordable, less complex formula while using more complex sustainable fuels instead of going fully electric. Is that enough to keep the four manufacturers in the sport and more importantly, is that enough to lure new ones in for 2026?

Hat Tip: Autosport

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Paul Kiefer

Maybe we should have four “Formula 1” leagues:

  1. The original Formula 1 (normal gas-based engines)
  2. Formula E (electric)
  3. Formula Hybrid (for hybrid engines)
  4. Formula Fuel (for exotic / sustainable fuels)

That way, everyone can do their own thing and not try to destroy each other’s formula systems. It’s a win-win-win-win. Everyone wins!


I’d like to see a free formula for the F1 power unit. Cars would be limited by the total amount of energy that they carried at the start of the race (be that chemical energy from petrol, diesel, LPG, hydrogen etc, electrical energy stored in batteries or super capacitors or kinetic energy stored in flywheels). The size and mass of the power unit would need to be fixed in the regulations to allow teams to have some ability to swap between alternative power units. While manufacturers would be able to spend what they like on development, mandating a maximum price… Read more »