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Fuel burn set for F1 return as result of 2026 engine plan

Fuel burn looks set to return to Formula 1 as part of the new engine rules in 2026.

Carlos Sainz, Ferrari SF-23

As teams continue developments for the next era of power unit regulations, they have started to discover the performance quirks that are around the corner.

And one of the weirdest aspects of rules that are aimed at being more sustainable is that drivers are going to get engaged in fuel-burning activities once again to try to charge their batteries.

Fuel burn is the activity of deliberately burning through excess fuel that is not needed for direct engine performance.

It achieved infamy in F1 in 2006 and 2007 when drivers had to engage in several fuel-burn laps in the final section of qualifying to try to reduce car weight, prior to a final lap on fresh tyres to set a time.

However, fuel burn was something that also happened in F1's blown diffuser era in the early 2010s when clever engine maps were used to blow either hot or cold air from exhausts off throttle to help feed the diffuser.

With F1's 2026 rules opening up the door for a greater reliance on battery power – which is set to produce 50% of the entire engine performance – teams are searching for ways to help charge batteries.

And one of the best ways that have emerged is for the engines to continue delivering torque to the crankshaft so that energy can be harvested by the MGU-K, even when it is not needed by the driver.

This can be done either by drivers remaining on full throttle under braking, changing down gears on the straights, or through engine maps.

However, if it is achieved, the characteristics will result in fuel burn returning to F1.

George Russell, Mercedes F1 W14

George Russell, Mercedes F1 W14

Photo by: Steve Etherington / Motorsport Images

Speaking at the British Grand Prix, Mercedes F1 engine chief Hywel Thomas, said that manufacturers have long known about the fuel burn aspect.

"Absolutely that will be a thing," he said. "We will be running the engine when the driver is not asking for much torque in order to charge the battery.

"It was well understood when we were coming up with these regulations that that was going to be a part of them. And, with the fuel being sustainable fuel, it was considered that that was an acceptable and relevant approach to that problem."

With F1 ditching the MGU-H from 2026 and ramping up the battery power, Thomas says that the characteristics of the future power units will be far removed from what we have now.

"It's going to be a completely different combustion system, as the amount of fuel is reduced," he said.

"There's some details around compression ratio. There's details around permissible boost pressure. So there's just a different set of constraints on us. And that different set of constraints means that, whilst I'm sure to some eyes it will look very, very similar, it's going to be completely different."

More noise

One of the ambitions of the 2026 rules is to ensure that the new engines are louder than the current generation of turbo hybrids.

With fans having complained about the lack of noise since the start of the current rules era in 2014, Thomas says that the removal of the MGU-H will go a long way to addressing matters.

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Although there was no firm evidence yet about just how much noisier the 2026 engines will be, all indications pointed towards a much-improved situation.

"We haven't got any measurements, and haven't done anything like that," added Thomas. "But surely with the removal of the MGU-H, even though we have still got a turbocharger, it won't be removing as much of the energy as we're currently doing.

"We know the combustion engine will be less efficient and so that will, by physics, mean that there's more noise."

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