How F1’s aero development ban for 2026 cars will work

A ban on teams building key parts of 2026 Formula 1 cars until the start of 2025 is further enshrined in the regulations through windtunnel and CFD restrictions.

The FIA’s World Motor Sport Council has approved the rule changes to police after the F1 Commission agreed „no work on the development of the car” for 2026 before January 1, 2025.

As expected, this is done by referring to restrictions on restricted windtunnel testing and CFD simulations – while the COVID-19 pandemic interrupted plans for new rules in 2021, the same restriction was imposed on current-generation cars and efforts were made to manage costs. 12 months delay to introduce new rules for 2022.

From December 1 to January 1, 2025 this year, wind farm work is only permitted to use scale models that „substantially comply with the 2023, 2024 or 2025 technical regulations.”

The dyno test, which is aimed at creating brake system components with „fewer air ducts”, will be carried out unless it tests the performance or endurance of the bodywork „or provides incidental data or knowledge in any way”.

It’s a similar story when it comes to blocking CFD simulations, with the same period from 1 December 2023 to 1 January 2025 only allowing CFD work using geometries that „substantially comply with the 2021-25 technical regulations”.

Similarly, the only exception is „the sole purpose of development of brake system components and associated test rings”.

Has the job already started?

Since the ban came into effect on December 1 this year, any work done prior to that is acceptable, although if any has been conducted it will be very preliminary.

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What’s public so far is that the cars are shorter and lighter, with reworked aerodynamics, less downforce and less drag – and once again an attempt to improve wake characteristics, though few want to focus more on how the cars can. It is better to create downforce in 'dirty air’ than to try to control the wake.

The lack of published technical regulations will not stop them from working on their cars without hindrance now or next year.

Privately there may be draft versions in circulation, which is why the regulations are illegal rather than working on cars defined by published technical regulations.

The rules prohibit the partial or full use of car geometry from draft and/or published versions of the 2026 F1 Technical Regulations or the FIA’s proposed 2026 Bodywork Geometry and Concepts for wind tunnel or CFD testing.

Group working groups have already been set up and look ahead to 2026, and may continue until none of these reach the windtunnel or CFD stage.

While it doesn’t go as far as Lewis Hamilton suggested earlier this year – by not allowing teams to build next year’s car until a certain point in the pre-season – it’s a sensible move, meaning teams can only do meaningful development. 2026 cars for the 12 months preceding that year.

This means that all windtunnel and CFD work, based on cost and time spent, will count fully against teams’ 2025 budget cap and aerodynamic test control allowances, and anyone trying to get a headstart by sacrificing their 2024 seasons and/or will be stopped. Their 2025 cars.

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It could be tempting — as the likes of Haas and Saber did before 2022 — that development ahead of the new regulations could buy a team a huge advantage.

This will still be a factor, and these constraints make it all the more important to decide when to stop development in 2025 to put time, money and full attention on the 2026 car.

What about engine development?

Given the level of technological effort, the constraints on power unit development are not that strict – and nothing substantial has changed since they were laid out in some time.

Significant changes are coming, though the V6 turbo-hybrid engines are retained following the long run for the first-generation versions introduced in 2014.

The MGU-H will be discontinued in 2026, but the electric power output is increasing significantly thanks to the vastly improved MGU-K and the battery, which will put the split between the internal combustion engine and electric power closer to 50/50.

Six registered power unit manufacturers – Red Bull Powertrains, Mercedes, Ferrari, Honda, Alpine (Renault) and Audi – were allowed to work on the engines of 2026 without restriction, and there will be no restrictions such as aerodynamic work. implemented.

But there are limits to how they’re made to include usable equipment, how much time you can spend using them, and how much money you can spend the first time.

Power unit test benches are limited to three single cylinder dynos, three power unit dynos, one powertrain dyno and one full car dyno, as well as two energy recovery system test benches and one energy store (battery) test bench.

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Operating hours – defined as when the engine speed exceeds 7500rpm on the dyno – are limited to 5400 cumulatively in 2023, 2024 and 2025, with a 2160 hour limit for each year during that period.

Existing or prospective fuel and oil suppliers are not permitted to operate a test bench for 2026 engine development, other than a single cylinder dyno exclusively for fuel and/or oil development.

There are also financial constraints before 2026.

In 2023, 2024 and 2025, engine manufacturers could spend $95m for the full annual reporting period – although new power unit manufacturers (Audi and Red Bull Powertrains) get an extra $10m in 2023 and 2024 and $5m in 2025.

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