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Revealed: The FIA's plans for "nimble" 2026 F1 cars and moveable aero

While Formula 1 is only in the second year of its current rules set, plans are already advancing fast for the next era that is due to begin in 2026.

Carlos Sainz, Ferrari SF-23, Oscar Piastri, McLaren MCL60, collide at the start

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Central to the changes are new power unit regulations, with a move to fully sustainable fuel and tweaked turbo-hybrids, eradicating the MGU-H, having brought Audi in and convinced Honda to do a U-turn on leaving.

But it is not only the engines that are new, and there are going to be major revisions to the cars too in a bid to ensure the racing is as good as possible.

While there have been some broad ideas discussed at various times, the FIA has so far not revealed much about the specific details of what is coming on the chassis side.

That has changed now with the governing body's head of single-seaters Nikolas Tombazis talking at length to selected media, including Autosport, about where things are heading for 2026.

Smaller, lighter and more nimble machinery

One of the biggest complaints about the current cars is that they are so heavy. This not only makes them less responsive, but it is also punishing on tyres – which are critical to the spectacle.

As the FIA moves towards delivering the first draft of outline regulations by the end of next June, it is clear car dimensions are going to change for 2026.

Tombazis has explained that the basic layout of an F1 2026 car is defined and will be different to what we have at the moment.

The cars will be shorter, with the wheelbase likely trimmed down to 3400mm from the current maximum 3600mm. The cars will also be narrower by 10cm, so will be reduced from 2000mm to 1900mm.

The drivers practice their start procedures at the end of FP1

Photo by: Jake Grant / Motorsport Images

The drivers practice their start procedures at the end of FP1

All of the above are aimed at helping the FIA deliver on one of its key targets – which is shedding a lot of bulk from the cars.

"We aim to have a significantly lower weight limit, and we are looking to reduce the weight limit by 40 to 50 kilos in 2026," said Tombazis.

"The way we want to do that is related to what we've termed the 'nimble car' concept, because we basically feel that in recent years the cars have become a bit too bulky and too heavy."

The smaller dimensions will automatically help with the weight, but another factor will be crucial as well: a reduction of downforce.

It will mean less load on parts, and that will mean teams will not have to make things so beefy.

"This lower downforce means that a lot of the loading on components, such as suspension, will reduce and that will enable the teams to reduce the weight consequentially," said Tombazis.

More savings will also come from F1 ditching the current 18-inch wheels.

Tombazis added: "We are tentatively aiming for wheels that are 16-inch wheel rims, with smaller wheel diameter and smaller width both front and rear. All of these things we believe are pushing towards a significantly lower weight."

Robust racing focus with less downforce

In aerodynamic terms, the FIA views the 2026 cars as an evolution of the concept that we have right now.

They will still be ground effect, and the hope is that the rules will be improved to ensure cars can follow each other.

This comes amid the recent admission that some loopholes were left in the current regulations that allowed teams to introduce designs that hurt the airflow to pursuing cars – such as outwash from the front wings.

Daniel Ricciardo, AlphaTauri AT04

Photo by: Mark Sutton / Motorsport Images

Daniel Ricciardo, AlphaTauri AT04

As Tombazis said: "The 2023 season had a small worsening of the close racing features. The cars had degraded a bit in their ability to follow each other closely, and we think we understand why, how and what we need to do.

"We believe that for the next round [of rules in 2026] we'll achieve a much more robust close racing solution."

The plan is for less downforce and drag, and current simulations do not point to lap times being dramatically worse than they are now, although ultimately Tombazis says outright speed is not its biggest worry.

"It is really not a huge factor," he said. "It's going to be very close to now.

"I think we're going to be within a couple of seconds or something like that. But even if it was five seconds slower, we're not going to be sweating too much."

In terms of their looks, Tombazis says the 2026 cars will be similar to now.

"Somebody who knows about it will be able to see the differences, but they will look like F1 cars. On that, there wouldn't be any doubt."

Moveable aero and DRS plans

One of the step changes from the current cars will be the addition of moveable aero to help reduce drag on the straights.

There has been some uncertainty over how this will play out – and whether it will scupper the potential for DRS on the straights.

There was even talk of it being used to introduce a reverse form of DRS, where cars in front have to run more aggressive wing angles.

Tombazis has now clarified more about the F1 2026 ideas.

Mechanics work on the DRS of Max Verstappen, Red Bull RB18

Photo by: Giorgio Piola

Mechanics work on the DRS of Max Verstappen, Red Bull RB18

"There will definitely be a change of incidence of the wing on the straight to achieve the low drag," he said.

"But there will definitely not be any slowing down of the front car by some means. That simply wouldn't work."

In terms of DRS, plans have not been finalised – with the FIA weighing up several different ideas to deliver overtaking opportunities.

"There will be something equivalent to the current DRS, which will basically enable the following car that is within a certain limit to potentially get in a position to attack," he said.

"What form that mechanism will take: whether it will be an additional change of an aerodynamic component on the straight, or an additional change of the aerodynamic component in the corner, or whether it will be part of the energy of the engine....which of the three, we're still doing our best simulations to arrive to the best possible solution.

"What we don't want to have is cars basically diving past each other on the straight. We want cars arriving close to each other at the braking point and there being a fight, and drivers having to use their skill."

Tombazis says coming up with a DRS solution that is too effective, so can be tuned down, is a much better thing to have than going the other way and ending up with cars that cannot overtake.

"We will never want to make it too easy, but we also don't feel that we can say: 'Oh, well, it's not needed anymore'," he said.

"We can't risk arriving into a situation where overtaking becomes impossible again, or something like that. So we want to have it in the pocket and to use it moderately, but not highly.

"Overtaking must also be a fight. We don't want the cars just to drive past each other."

The unfounded "disaster scenario" fears

Talk of the 2026 regulation plans earlier this year was dominated by concerns from Red Bull about a potential for big problems on the horizon.

Daniel Ricciardo, AlphaTauri AT04, Valtteri Bottas, Alfa Romeo C43, Alex Albon, Williams FW45, Logan Sargeant, Williams FW45, chase the pack at the start

Photo by: Zak Mauger / Motorsport Images

Daniel Ricciardo, AlphaTauri AT04, Valtteri Bottas, Alfa Romeo C43, Alex Albon, Williams FW45, Logan Sargeant, Williams FW45, chase the pack at the start

With the ICE element of the power unit going from around 550-560kw down to 400kw, and the battery element jumping from 150kw to 350kw, it was obvious that putting the future engines in the current cars would lead to battery power running out quite early on the straights.

And even with lighter cars, if drag was too high, places like Monza could be a challenge and force drivers to do weird stuff – like changing down gears on the straight – to try to get some recharging going.

Tombazis thinks those worries were unfounded and based on early simulation models that were far away from where things are at right now.

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"These were comments that were probably a bit premature, because we hadn't completed the work yet," he said.

"We never believed that was a disaster scenario, because we knew that there were solutions.

"We believe that the combination of low drag on the cars, with the way that energy can be recovered or deployed, achieves a speed profile of these cars which is very similar to the current cars.

"So the cars won't be reaching the top speed in the middle of the straight and then degrading or anything like that. That's not going to be the case."

Tombazis said the FIA is clear that they want cars to be running hard into corners so drivers are heavy on the brakes – and not lifting and coasting and taking it easy on entry.

That will be more of a challenge at some venues with long straights, like Monza and Spa, but special allowances could be made at such places.

"There's some tweaks on the energy side of the engine that will achieve the correct characteristics," he said.

Red Bull Racing Team Principal Christian Horner talks with Nikolas Tombazis, FIA Single Seater Director

Photo by: Red Bull Content Pool

Red Bull Racing Team Principal Christian Horner talks with Nikolas Tombazis, FIA Single Seater Director

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