At the conclusion of the 2025 Formula One season, all eyes are set to turn to 2026 — a year that will mark the introduction of a new power unit formula and a major chassis rules package for the races. The Australian is only the second driver, after Max Verstappen, committed to a team for the 2026 season — Verstappen’s ongoing contract with Red Bull running until 2028. For other racers, the picture remains blurred, with most of their current contracts coming to an end between 2024 and 2025.
The year 2026 brings to mind 2014, another year that witnessed significant changes in F1. Mercedes notably landed a considerable lead against competitors Ferrari and Renault, cementing an advantage that lasted for multiple seasons. When Honda joined the race a year later, the difficulty of getting it right was starkly apparent, evidenced by the company’s initial dismal performance.
The upcoming changes, while perhaps not as drastic as the shift from V8s to the hybrid V6 experienced previously, are certainly not trivial. Veteran teams like Honda, Ferrari, Mercedes, and Renault have arguably gained a head start, having accumulated knowledge over the past ten years. In contrast, newcomers Audi and Red Bull/Ford have more substantial challenges to overcome.
Manufacturers can only speculate on the performance of the six power units sitting on the starting grid for the maiden race under the new rules in March 2026. The crux of their knowledge relies on the current statuses of their development trajectories, peppered with occasional hearsays regarding their competitors. A similar scenario befalls the drivers and their managers, who can merely second-guess their teams’ probable performance in 2026, compounded with lacking insights on their rivals.
Notably, Lewis Hamilton‘s move to Mercedes in September 2012 serves as an exemplary case study on taking calculated risks based on the long-term potential of a team. His decision paid off when the team dominated the 2014 season, earning him six world championships with the Brixworth V6.
Verstappen, the sport’s current pace-setter, has staked his lot with the Red Bull engine project early on. However, Verstappen acknowledges the necessity for his rivals to closely monitor the evolution of the engine scene. His team boss, Christian Horner, concurs, acknowledging that speculating the 2026 competitive landscape is nearly impossible. He emphasizes the importance of the new chassis and engine in the scheme of things and identifies seized opportunities and managed risks as potential game-changers for teams.
Aston Martin, with Honda as its works partner, draws intrigue regarding whether Honda will carry forward its current momentum into the new rule set or experience a delayed start once more. Aston’s Mike Krack reveals Honda‘s role in their potential driver discussions, hinting at the power unit as one of the crucial factors being considered.
Alpine‘s Bruno Famin vocalizes his priorities to deliver the best power unit in 2026, nudging participating in the driver market aside. Drivers with contracts ending next season are concurrently contemplating their stance in 2025, in anticipation of the new regulations. Ferrari‘s Charles Leclerc echoes the sentiment, recognizing the challenge of discerning the development standing of each team.
Another intriguing element surrounds Audi’s preparation for its first F1 engine in 2026. The prestige of representing a significant manufacturer appeals to many drivers; however, questions about the engine’s readiness and Sauber team’s ability to elevate its game linger.
Oscar Piastri‘s contract extension with McLaren stands out, given that the engine the team will use in 2026 has not been publicly confirmed. Mercedes is the assumed choice for McLaren and Williams, who exists in the same stage as the drivers, evaluating their options. McLaren‘s existing relationship with Toyota sparks the fascinating possibility of the Japanese manufacturer’s return to F1 beyond 2026.
Hamilton, who famously shifted to Mercedes in 2012, appears set to skate on the current engine for two additional seasons. As for his perspective on 2026, he remains relatively uninformed but hints at assessing his contractual situation for the 2030 season in the near future.