As preparations and advancements continue for the upcoming era of power unit rules, teams are uncovering the performance nuances waiting around the bend.
Interestingly, an unexpected aspect of these rules, intended to promote sustainability, is the imminent re-emergence of fuel-burning practices to energize their batteries. Fuel burn, which refers to the intentional burning of surplus fuel not needed for immediate engine performance, was notorious in F1 during 2006 and 2007. During this period, drivers undertook several fuel-burn laps in the last qualifying section to decrease car weight before a final lap on new tyres to register a time.
Fuel burn was also prevalent during F1’s blown diffuser era in the early 2010s when sophisticated engine maps were used to redirect either warm or cool exhaust air to nourish the diffuser.
The forthcoming F1 2026 rules, which allow for an increased dependency on battery power (contributing to 50% of the total engine performance), have stimulated teams to find strategies to charge batteries. One of the most effective strategies discovered involves maintaining engine torque delivery to the crankshaft for the MGU-K to harness energy, even when the driver doesn’t require it.
This can be achieved by drivers staying on full throttle under braking, changing gears on straights, or via engine maps. However, if this is accomplished, it will result in the return of fuel burn to F1.
Mercedes F1 engine chief, Hywel Thomas, while at the British Grand Prix, acknowledged that manufacturers have long been aware of the fuel burn aspect. “Absolutely, that will be a factor,” he said. “We’ll be operating the engine when the driver doesn’t require much torque to charge the battery. When these regulations were being developed, it was understood that this would be a part of them. Considering the use of sustainable fuel, it was deemed an acceptable and relevant solution to that issue.”
Thomas further adds that with F1 eliminating the MGU-H from 2026 and amplifying the battery power, the characteristics of the future power units will differ significantly from the current ones. “The combustion system will be completely different due to reduced fuel usage,” he explained.
Another objective of the 2026 rules is to ensure that the new engines produce more sound than the present generation of turbo hybrids. Thomas suggests that removing the MGU-H will substantially address the concerns regarding noise, which have been a persistent issue since the current rules were implemented in 2014.
Though no concrete evidence exists yet about how much louder the 2026 engines will be, all signs indicate a significantly improved scenario. Thomas further elaborated, “Even though we still have a turbocharger with the removal of the MGU-H, it won’t be extracting as much energy as we’re currently doing. We understand the combustion engine will be less efficient, which, by physics, means more noise.”
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) about F1 2026 Engine Regulations
What changes are expected in the F1 engine regulations by 2026?
The 2026 F1 engine regulations aim to introduce a greater reliance on battery power, contributing to 50% of the total engine performance. This will require innovative strategies to charge the batteries, one of which is the reintroduction of fuel burn practices.
What is fuel burn in the context of F1 racing?
Fuel burn in F1 is the deliberate act of burning excess fuel that isn’t needed for immediate engine performance. This was a common practice during 2006 and 2007, and also during F1’s blown diffuser era in the early 2010s.
How is the fuel burn strategy beneficial to F1 teams?
The fuel burn strategy allows engines to continue delivering torque to the crankshaft. This means that energy can be harvested by the MGU-K, even when the driver doesn’t require it, helping to charge the batteries.
How will the new 2026 engine rules affect the noise levels of F1 cars?
The 2026 rules aim to ensure that the new engines are louder than the current generation of turbo hybrids. This will be achieved by removing the MGU-H, which is expected to significantly improve the noise situation.
What is the view of Mercedes F1 engine chief, Hywel Thomas, on these changes?
Hywel Thomas acknowledges that manufacturers have long been aware of the fuel burn aspect. He suggests that operating the engine to charge the battery when the driver doesn’t require much torque is an acceptable solution with the use of sustainable fuel. He also asserts that the future power units will be significantly different due to reduced fuel usage, leading to a different combustion system and more noise.