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What is really going on with F1’s 2026 active aero plans

Formula 1’s progress towards its 2026 rules package, and especially active aero, was thrust back into the spotlight recently in the wake of some intriguing paddock gossip regarding simulator runs.

Evaluation of 2026 aero ideas had left sim drivers experiencing some weird phenomena – including difficulties in spinning out on the straights under acceleration in low-downforce configuration, or being unable to run anywhere near flat out in what should be high-speed corners.

The situation hinted at F1’s rule makers potentially being on the backfoot with its preparations for the new rules era, where grand prix racing would be undergoing perhaps its biggest regulatory change ever with all-new engine and chassis.

However, as efforts continue to finalise the new car regulations, Autosport has learned more about the reality of those sim stories – and how the drama of the findings were actually part of the plan to prove certain concepts would not work at all.

Indeed, rather than F1 and the FIA sharing the alarm that teams found from the sim running, the lessons have actually added clarity to the direction that needs to be taken as grand prix racing moves towards the rules getting signed off in June.

Finding out what doesn’t work

As part of a much better working relationship between the FIA and teams, a lot of effort in framing future ideas for regulations involves them working together – as happened a lot with the 2022 regulations.

After all, the teams are the ones who understand more the competitive demands and performance characteristics of cars, and have at their disposal state-of-the-art simulator and simulation facilities to better future-proof stuff.

Fernando Alonso with the Aston Martin F1 Team AMR24 Simulator

Fernando Alonso with the Aston Martin F1 Team AMR24 Simulator

Photo by: Aston Martin

Amid the efforts to sort out the 2026 aero regulations, the FIA has again been assisted by teams in working on what is known as the ‘Fangio’ model – the base outline of the new chassis and aero rules.

But there were two key questions that needed answering in the recent simulation work that threw up the stories.

The first was what was the minimum downforce level that an F1 car could get away with if the active aero was in its lowest position.

And the second was answering a question prompted by one unidentified team. This squad believed the active aero could work with only the rear wing moving – something that F1 and the FIA were never convinced about.

To get answers, a work plan was put in place involving three teams. This included a total 1,000 aero runs between them in recent weeks, as well as some simulator work on top to help fine-tune the elements and get the two answers needed.

George Russell, Mercedes F1 W15, Esteban Ocon, Alpine A524, Valtteri Bottas, Kick Sauber C44

George Russell, Mercedes F1 W15, Esteban Ocon, Alpine A524, Valtteri Bottas, Kick Sauber C44

Photo by: Andy Hone / Motorsport Images

On the first question, a lot of progress was made with aero mapping and development to give the FIA the direction needed to finalise the active aero specifics.

And on the second point of not having a moveable front wing, the simulator runs – which included those alarming spins – delivered a definite answer: there was no way active aero could involve just the rear wing.

As one source close to the development of the new rules said: “It absolutely confirmed what we thought in the first place. All of the teams said: ‘Yep, you’ve got to adjust the front wing if you adjust the rear wing’. It was no surprise to us.”

The simulator runs duly confirmed that F1’s 2026 aero plans will have to include both the front and rear wing moving, and have given a direction for sorting out the aero balance between the two.

With the knowledge from the simulator running outlining the minimum wing angle that can be run at the back, allied to the range of adjustment needed at the front, the FIA is well set to sort out the remaining details over the next month or so.

How active aero will work - and what of DRS?

While some of the technical specifics and regulatory wording still need sorting, it is understood that the basic framework of the active aero has been settled upon now.

Whereas when F1 first set out on the idea for active aero there was scope for there being four different states of the wing – which could cover extra downforce for following cars in corners, a normal state, a low-drag state and then a DRS option – things appears to have settled on a much simpler solution.

Valtteri Bottas, Kick Sauber C44

Valtteri Bottas, Kick Sauber C44

Photo by: Simon Galloway / Motorsport Images

It is understood that the extra downforce element and DRS states have gone. Instead, the active aero will involve the cars having two states – a normal setting for the car as it would appear when stationary, and then a low-drag state where the wing angles come down.

The second state is likely to be activated automatically at set zones around the track to help improve top speed – although how this works will have to be incorporated in F1’s Sporting Regulations rather than it being a technical matter.

By having active aero zones, the performance of cars can then be adjusted and optimised for each track, as DRS zones are done at present, to make sure that the cars are delivering what’s best for performance and spectacle.

While DRS will be gone, that will not mean the end of overtaking opportunities on straights.

Instead, a revision to the FIA’s 2026 technical regulations recently outlined a push-to-pass power boost – known as ‘override mode’ – that will allow a driver to deploy additional power up to 355km/h (220.5mph) for an overtake.

On course for June sign off 

Discussions about the 2026 chassis regulations continued at a meeting of F1’s Technical Advisory Committee last week, and sources indicate that the FIA and F1 are on course to hit the end-of-June deadline for the delivery of framework chassis regulations.

Some evaluation is also going on to understand if longer term there is a way to make the front wing have more than two states, so it can be better mapped for circuit demands.

This would help prevent teams needing to undertake expensive development into aero elasticity that they use at the moment to help flex the wings on the straights to reduce drag.

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