F1 moves away from ground effect as 2026 regulations include moveable front and rear wings

Ground effect has generated most of the downforce of the F1 cars since 2022

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Formula 1 will reduce the impact of ground effect on its 2026 cars by introducing active aerodynamics on the front and rear-wings with the aim of reducing drag whilst keeping the sport’s insane cornering speeds.

Red Bull have dominated the era, being one of the first teams to solve the bottoming issue before then going on to produce an impressive efficiency balancing top speed and downforce levels, resulting in two consecutive constructors’ championships.

And now they will face another aerodynamic challenge from the sport as active parts returns for the first time since the 1990s, when the sport banned moving suspensions.

“The 2026 cars will also benefit from all-new Active Aerodynamics systems,” The FIA said, revealing the new rules prior to the 2024 Canadian Grand Prix. “The system, involving movable front and rear wings, will result in greater cornering speeds with standard Z-Mode deployed.

“On straights drivers will be able to switch to X-Mode a low-drag configuration designed to maximise straight-line speed.”

It’s thought that whilst overall downforce will be reduced by 30%, the total of drag will be cut back by 55% meaning that there should be more overtaking opportunities as F1 continues to combat the dirty air effect.

Reder of the 2026 Formula 1 car after regulation changes | FIA
Render of the 2026 Formula 1 car after regulation changes | FIA

The key take aways:

With this being the biggest shake-up of the sports’ regulations since 2014, there is a lot of information to dissect and breakdown and a lot of technical jargon to sift through in order to figure out just exactly what the drivers will be jumping into from 2026.

So, here is a quick summary of the key points to make it nice and easy without needing a physics degree to understand the car of the future.

  • Active aerodynamics: Front and rear wings will be able to move to reduce drag and retain downforce, creating better following and more overtaking.
  • Push to pass button: Drivers gain extra energy to attack another car, which seems to be replacing DRS.
  • Less ground effect: F1 will introduce flat floors again to allow softer suspensions and raised ride heights, reducing bottoming on kerbs.
  • Lighter cars: Cars will be reduced by 30 kilograms in weight to 768kg.
  • Smaller width and length: Cars will be reduced by 200mm in wheelbase length and 100mm in width. Floors will reduce by 150mm, costing around 30% downforce.
  • Carbon-free fuel: Aiming to hit the 2030 Net Zero target, F1 fuel will be able to work in all ICEs and will be 100% sustainable and carbon-free.
  • Greater electrical power: Electrical power (MGU-K) will count for 350kW of the car’s performance (300% rise), whilst the internal combustion engine will make up 400kW. This is a 47/53 split in favour of the ICE. Additionally, the MGU-H (heat) is abandoned.
Reder of the 2026 Formula 1 car after regulation changes | FIA
Render of the 2026 Formula 1 car after regulation changes | FIA

What are the 2026 F1 regulations in detail?

Aerodynamics

The front wing will shrink by 100mm as F1 looks to continue to reduce the size of the cars in order to make overtaking easier. This adaption is particularly focused on the length of the vehicles, which has proven to be a continuous issue on street tracks such as Monaco where there is simply not enough space to get around the outside of another car.

The front-wing will also contain a two-element movable part, aiming to improve cornering speed at no extra cost to drag, whilst the rear-wing will follow a similar change but will contain three elements and will lose the lower beam-wing.

Furthermore, there will be the reintroduction of a flat floor seen between 1983-2021, with the aim of removing some of the dependence on ground effect. By doing this, the FIA hopes to eliminate bottoming problems and will bid to ensure that ultra-stiff set-ups will no longer be required so cars can attack kerbs properly again.

The sport will also have “wheel wake control boards” to try to control the wake of tyres as they scythe through the air and it will also remove front-wheel arches whilst ensuring wheel bodywork becomes mandatory to reduce wake as much as possible.

Max Verstappen leads Lando Norris of McLaren at the start of the 2024 Emilia Romagna Grand Prix | Getty Images / Red Bull Content Pool
Max Verstappen leads Lando Norris of McLaren at the start of the 2024 Emilia Romagna Grand Prix | Getty Images / Red Bull Content Pool

Power unit changes

Firstly, the changes to the power unit will include an increased reliance on the MGU-K (kinetic energy gathered under braking), which will go from 120kW to 350kW and is thought to create around 50% of the power delivery going forwards. The increase in this area does mean that the MGU-H (heat) is going to be dropped from the cars to attract new engine developers.

Alongside this will also be new fuel as racing transitions to a 100% sustainable and carbon-free fuel to ensure it can continue to hit the Net Zero Carbon target by 2030 and the amount of fuel for a full race distance will be reduced from 100 kilograms to 70kg. This is expected to save 30kg in weight.

F1 will also introduce a MGU-K Manuel Override feature to allow for greater energy deployment of up to 350kW up to 337kph, as the leading car will reach zero energy deployment by 355kph. This is thought to be similar to a “push to pass” system that will allow a driver to have greater control of when they would like to try to overtake.

In order to compensate for the 300% increase in electrical power, the energy recovered under braking will double to 8.5 MJ per lap which should allow the cars to keep their 1000 horsepower targets they currently hover around.

Reder of the 2026 Formula 1 car after regulation changes | FIA
Render of the 2026 Formula 1 car after regulation changes | FIA

Chassis

With the changes to the power unit, there is an impact on the rest of the car as F1 also aims for a 30kg weight reduction overall to bring the cars down to an overall weight of 768kg, split across 722kg of the car and driver with an extra 46kg from Pirelli’s four tyres that will be strapped to the sides.

Also from 2026, there will be a 200mm reduction in maximum wheelbase to 3400mm and the width will be cut by 100mm down to 1900mm, whilst the maximum floor width will also reduce by 150mm meaning there will be less downforce at hand, thought to be a 30% loss overall.

The tyres are also not spared change. Whilst they will remain 18-inches in size, they will be narrower by 25mm at the front and 30mm at the rear without losing grip. This should allow them to reduce their wake and allow for better following in the process.

Brandon Sutton
Brandon Sutton
Brandon is an alumni of an NCTJ and BJTC Liverpool John Moores University course, and has been with Total-Motorsport.com for over a year now. He enjoys covering all forms of motorsport but particularly focuses on Formula 1, and Brandon loves to debate various topics of the sport and other interests, especially if that topic doesn't have an open/shut answer such as the GOAT debate.
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