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EXPLAINED: From more agile cars to 'X-mode' and 'Z-mode' – unpicking the 2026 aerodynamics regulations

F1 Correspondent & Presenter

Lawrence Barretto
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Formula 1 cars are going to look different from 2026 with new rules dictating that the machines are smaller, lighter and more agile. After the FIA revealed the new set of aerodynamics regulations, we bring you the highlights…

Okay, you’ve piqued my interest. How much smaller are we talking?

The sport's governing body have moved to create a more agile car that's both shorter and narrower than the current F1 machines.

READ MORE: FIA unveils Formula 1 regulations for 2026 and beyond featuring more agile cars and active aerodynamics

They’ve slashed the wheelbase (length) by 200mm (around the length of your average reusable drinks bottle) to 3400mm while the width has been cut by 100mm (the length of your average chocolate bar) to 1900mm. The floor width has been cut by 150mm, too.

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The 2026 F1 cars will be smaller, lighter and more agile

Reducing the size must have slashed the weight, then?

You bet! Bringing the weight down was a key goal of the revised 2026 regulations with the rulemakers managing to remove 30kg (around the weight of an adult dalmatian, apparently) versus the 2022 machines to get the weight down to 768kg. The FIA say this is 722kg car and 46kg (estimated) tyres.

In tandem, the rules have cut downforce by 30% and reduced drag by 55% in a bid to improve efficiency and handling – and make the cars more raceable.

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What about the tyres. Are they changing, too?

Yes and no. The 18-inch wheel size which replaced the former 13-inch spec in 2022 remains – however there are a few minor tweaks.

The width of the front tyres has been cut by 25mm and the rears by 30mm which will cut weight, with the FIA saying there will be a “minimal loss” of grip.

“Looking at the simulations that we got from the teams, loads in 2026 will be a bit lower compared to now – but you know how good the teams are at developing the cars,” said Pirelli motorsport boss Mario Isola.

2026 Formula 1 Regulations Explained

“Even if they start with lower loads, they will increase quite fast in the first season for sure so we made a proposal that we believe is a good compromise between weight and load capacity of the tyre.

“From September, we will have the first physical prototypes and test them to assess durability, and hopefully, we’ll put them on track by the end of September.”

Isola added that he reckons the changes will save around 5kg per set of four tyres.

GALLERY: Check out every angle of the 2026 F1 car

I hear there’s a cool new active aerodynamics system being introduced. What’s this all about?

Indeed there is. The 2026 machines will feature movable front and rear wings to promote closer racing.

The front wing will be 100mm narrower and have a two-element flap. The rear wing will also have three elements, with the lower beam wing removed.

In a system similar to the DRS overtaking aid, when standard Z-mode is deployed, the elements on the front and rear wings will open and be angled to allow cars to deliver greater cornering speeds.

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A new active aerodynamics system is also being introduced as part of the regulations

Drivers can then switch to X-mode, which is a low-drag configuration that sees the flap angle change on both the front and rear wing to maximise straight-line speed.

The system will be driver-activated and available in certain parts of the track where lower levels of downforce are safe.

The FIA say that based on current discussions, they are anticipating it will be available for any straight line longer than three seconds.

READ MORE: 20 students to be awarded Formula 1 Engineering Scholarship across 2024 and 2025

I’m suitably intrigued. Anything else of note?

In a further bid to allow for cars to run closer together, front wheel arches will be removed and part of the wheel bodywork will be mandated in a bid to achieve optimal wake performance.

The cars will also feature in-washing wheel wake control boards, which will sit on the front of the sidepods to further assist with controlling the wheel wake.

They will also have a “partially” flat floor and a lower-powered diffuser, which should reduce the ground effect and reduce the reliance on ultra-stiff and low-set-up – thus easing the issues teams have suffered with bouncing and porpoising.

I understand there’s been further improvements in terms of safety, too?

Yes, that’s right. The front impact structure (FIS) regulations have been revised with a two-stage structure introduced in a bid to prevent incidents that have occurred in recent years where the FIS has broken-off close to the survival cell after the initial impact, leaving the car unprotected for any subsequent impact.

Side intrusion protection has been increased, too, particularly around the cockpit while the protection around the side of the fuel cell has more than doubled. The FIA say all this has been done without adding any weight.

Roll hoop loads have been increased from 16G to 20G in line with other single seater formulas – while test loads have risen by 26kN to 167kN.

Lateral safety lights will be fitted to identify the ERS (Energy Recovery System) status of a car, when it has stopped out on track, thus further protecting the driver and the marshals.

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