F1 regulations finally deliver what they promised

It’s somewhat ironic that the 2026 technical regulations were announced last week and have become such a big topic of conversation over the Canadian Grand Prix weekend, at a time when the current set of regulations actually does exactly what it promised.

In my opinion, the biggest mistake of the 2022 regulations was the moment of introducing the cost limit, which came too early for the operating conditions to change significantly on the financial front. That’s not to say that much could have been done in terms of a different approach, but in hindsight it should have really tempered the expectations of many teams struggling to win.

New regulations always give one team a chance to do a better job than anyone else, and the cost cap meant the biggest teams had the best chance. But they also didn’t have unlimited purchasing power to react to whoever – in this case Red Bull – came up with the most effective approach first.

So it took longer than expected, but this season has finally started to feature race weekends where several different teams can win races.

Although Max Verstappen’s championship lead extended to more than two wins in Sunday’s race in Canada, he had to work incredibly hard to do so in a race that could easily have gone the way of Lando Norris or George Russell.

It’s not outrageous to suggest that McLaren could actually have won the last four races when Norris was just one lap away from taking victory from Verstappen at Imola, and Oscar Piastri was also just 0.154 seconds from pole position in Monaco, which would have made him an almost certain victory. led to victory, considering the course of the race.

Sure, this is all hypothetical, but it shows how hard Red Bull works for some victories, constantly by McLaren, but very often also by Ferrari. And now potentially also by Mercedes.

And while points are very hard to come by for teams further behind Aston Martin and RB, this is still happening at a time when each driver was less than 1.2 seconds off the qualifying lap at Imola.

It’s worth noting that we’re still at a point in the season where this column could look like it’s going to get very old in the coming weeks, with tracks like Barcelona likely to play to Red Bull’s strengths to a much greater extent than any of the last three. At the last venue where the RB20’s significant weaknesses were not exposed – China – Verstappen won by over 13 seconds after 25 laps to the flag following a safety car break.

However, McLaren has since made major improvements that have led to much more consistent driving, while Ferrari had its own package at Imola that kept it in the fight ahead of Charles Leclerc’s victory in Monaco. And then Mercedes’ final steps saw it have the fastest car in the dry in Montreal and take pole position, but failed to translate that into victory in changing conditions.

McLaren’s improved consistency has allowed it to scare Red Bull more often this season than in previous years. Patrick Vinet/Motorsport Images

However, Canada showed how hard teams now have to work for their success. Not only Red Bull – where Verstappen’s victory was offset by another DNF for Sergio Perez, who was eliminated in Q1 – but also Ferrari, which endured a terrible weekend in which neither car reached Q3 or saw the checkered flag.

This is what the new regulations were intended to ensure. One team that wins all the time because they do a better job is impressive, but it’s much better when they do their job under the most pressure. These days, the stakes are so high at many venues that an off-weekend can cost top riders a top-10 finish, let alone a podium.

Verstappen’s recent victory combined with Leclerc’s defeat gave a clear advantage even before we go to the facilities where Red Bull will be the favorite at this point. However, with 15 rounds remaining, many drivers will have plenty of opportunities to take points away from the defending champion, even if it won’t be consistent enough to really see a title fight over the course of the year.

But what was most exciting about Canada was the addition of Mercedes to the fight. There will likely be many much worse weekends for Toto Wolff’s team, but in the end he showed how much of a threat he can be to a car that is starting to understand better what brings rapid performance improvements.

So now hopes for a competitive weekend in which Verstappen faces a challenge rest not on one rider, but on at least one of three getting things right. At any given track it could be McLaren, Ferrari or Mercedes, but even fewer are the situations where Sunday morning starts with a near certainty of who will be on the top step of the podium at the end of the race.

You may be wondering why F1 is changing the rules again when everything is moving towards more competitive racing, but the sport always needs to evolve and part of that also includes setting the performance levels of the cars to ensure they are safe and race-ready.

As we’ve seen throughout the ongoing development of the 2022 regulations, the cars are improving rapidly – Russell said the slowest car this year will now beat last year’s dominant Red Bull – and as a result, they’re producing performances that make it difficult to follow them again. Resetting the regulations could solve this problem and also start a completely new development cycle.

And Russell is also right to believe that even if the next generation of cars are much slower than the current ones, the most important thing will be that they can race well and that there will be competition at the front.

It has taken too long to reach this point in the current cycle, but it has clearly been achieved, so lessons must be learned to ensure that it does not take two and a half seasons to reach a similar position after 2026.

Until then, prepare for even more uncertainty and a real fight for victories. (Just maybe not next weekend…)