In 2026 the plans looked different: transverse engine and short wheelbase – Formula 1

Two months after the publication of the 2026 engine regulations, further details on the organizers’ original intentions are becoming known. The next generation of engines represents a significant leap in technology, particularly with regard to the fuels used to drive the internal combustion engine. However, rumors are pouring in from Germany that the original project was even more ambitious and its rejection by the manufacturers involved has caused problems requiring compromises that need to be resolved.

To report is the newspaper of Auto Motor and Sport, on whose pages we read of an initial setting of the new engines that was far removed from that approved at the time. The single-seaters are said to have been equipped with it a second electric generator at the front, is not intended to breathe life into an all-wheel drive, but to offer a second charging source for the battery when braking. A similar project to Formula E for third-generation cars. That way the cars would have had enough power to power the hybrid and weaken the heat engine, reducing the tank to 60kg from the current 100kg. At the same time, the scheme of the six-cylinder V would have been abandoned for the internal combustion engine and given preference an in-line four-cylinder. Given its compactness, the small engine could have been mounted transversely, as could the gearbox, which allowed it to achieve a wheelbase of 3200 mm, 40 cm less than current cars. Formula 1 would have been lighter and less bulky, which would have favored overtaking.

However, the engineers already involved, together with potential interested parties, spoke out against the idea of ​​the four-cylinder. One house in particular would have objected to the dual generator to recover energy from both axles, fearing that Audi and Porsche might enjoy a technological advantage, having already developed a similar architecture for their respective Le Mans prototypes. An unfounded fear, according to F1 Technical Director Pat Symonds Auto Motor and Sport He explained how the plan was to use a standard front generator for everyone to keep costs down as well. However, the intention or need to increase the electrical output to up to 50% of the total output has not failed. At this point, however, the problem arose of how to power a hybrid of this power without recharging energy from the turbine through the MGU-H, which was abandoned at the end of 2025, or through a second MGU-K on the front axle.

Two things are necessary to solve the problem. The first is changing the current aerodynamic parameters of the cars to reduce drag. The lower the resistance to movement, the lower the consumption. There is talk of a possible narrowing of the roadway by about ten centimeters to contain the front end. However, the most important contribution could be made by active aerodynamics, which is being discussed for far more extensive use than the current DRS alone. In addition to the use of various movable flaps, the return of active springs cannot be ruled out. “Of course we talked to the other teams with a view to 2026 with Formula 1”said James Key, McLaren Technical Director, to FormulaPassion in May. “I think active aerodynamics is the natural next step in what we’re going to do, it’s very effective and complements a power pack that’s going to be increasingly green. The challenge is fantastic. The current regulations are a good starting point for what needs to be done next in 2026. I think active aerodynamics is a great idea and an interesting project. We must start within the next year. […] There are many different ways to do this. However, whatever is done must be intuitive. When other interfaces are involved it becomes a real nightmare at this point, but when something stays intuitive, easy to replicate and simulate, then it becomes good.

Confirmation also came from FIA Technical Director Nikolas Tombazis: “The engine regulations of the future will require certain aerodynamic properties in order to have a total package. noIn the aerodynamic part, we have already carried out feasibility studies ensuring that the goals we set are realistic and not ambitious. I think we’ve done that so well that we’ve already provided teams with initial forms so they can check if they’re on the wrong track. Extensive use of active aerodynamics might seem like a distant scenario, but not too far off given how Formula 1 also assessed cars fitted with Brabham-style ground-effect fans for 2022. However, the FIA, Formula 1 and teams did not want to publish any further information on the increasingly likely new aerodynamic revolution for 2026.

In order to solve the problem of the energy shortage of the 2026 units, however, another path must be taken. It is becoming increasingly apparent that it will be impossible to drive the high-performance hybrid system using only the energy recharged during braking, but it will be necessary to burn excess fuel only to charge the battery. In such situations, some engine power is sacrificed to use the ICE as a generator to charge the hybrid. Namely, for the battery, the limit of 4 MJ applies in terms of the maximum difference between the maximum and minimum energy levels in each lap. As Claudio Lombardi reflects, “With this energy storage device and 350 kW of power, a whole 1.1 kWh would be consumed on a straight like in Monza, because with a simple calculation 10 seconds would be enough to go out everything.” For this reason, the former Ferrari engine engineer expects that “On the routes where the driver does not need the maximum power of the combustion engine, part of it is used to charge the battery. The average power per lap will therefore be variable”. Lombardi’s feeling is also perfectly reflected in the predictions of those who still work there in Formula 1. Alberto Antonini reported a few months ago: “My friends who drive the hybrid warn me that without a radical overhaul of the other components, the kinetic motor-generator unit alone (i.e. the K) wouldn’t even be enough to get to the middle of the Baku straight and send everyone inside ‘cut’. And what is the expected solution? Obvious: increase the energy production of the thermal component. That means burning more fuel”.

The above is now also supported by the editors Auto Motor and Sport. Combustion of excess petrol will lead to the construction of tanks of around 70 kg, versus the 60 kg originally targeted. The maximum cumulative power of the hybrid will remain around 950-1000 hp, but not the average in the race, which will be lower by using the thermals as a generator, which is equivalent to anticipating the foot off the gas. For this reason, too, the qualifying performances should not be dissimilar to the current ones, but slower times are expected over long distances. Significant help could come, however, if engineers actually managed to achieve 60% thermal efficiency by 2026, as Deutsche Zeitung reports, an increase of eight percentage points from the already impressive current levels.

FP | Carlo Platela

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