Red Bull’s 2026 Formula 1 engine project is “ahead of schedule”, reckons Max Verstappen, while team boss Christian Horner believes being “well advanced” means it is discovering issues before rivals.
Horner and Verstappen have been vocal critics of the direction F1’s 2026 rules are heading in, based on Red Bull’s simulations so far.
They have claimed that F1 needs to alter the planned 50-50 ratio of internal combustion and electrical power to make the cars lighter and avoid strange scenarios like drivers having to downshift on straights in order to recharge the batteries enough over a lap.
But this has been met with scepticism from some in the paddock and last weekend Mercedes boss Toto Wolff said that “you always have to question what is the real motivation” behind such comments.
In Austria, he even went as far as suggesting the remarks are because Horner is “frightened” that Red Bull’s engine will not be competitive.
Horner had already hit back once, claiming that Wolff is just focused on his team whereas “my interest is actually about the sport rather than self-gain”, but has now specifically rebuffed the suggestion Red Bull might be on the back foot with the first engine being created by its Powertrains division, which will run as a Ford.
“I am not sure how close Toto is to his engine business,” Horner said.
“He’s a customer, he’s not involved in HPP’s [Mercedes High Performance Powertrains] business formally.
“The feedback that I am getting from the business and as you start to see the programme really coming to life and as the simulations firm up, [it reveals] some of the limitations. Which are inevitable.
“I would say it is perhaps a result of us maybe being well advanced, that we’re actually seeing some of the limitations.
“It still doesn’t feel too late to tune that ratio. And it wouldn’t take much, it’s not like we’re saying we have to rip everything up and start again.
“Whether you do it on the fuel flow or the cell mass, you just need to change that ratio slightly to ensure that we get great racing.”
Verstappen echoed Horner’s initial concerns in Austria, saying the 2026 plan looks “pretty terrible” and that simulations for Monza, one of F1’s most power-sensitive tracks, suggest downshifting while at full speed “400-500 metres before the end of the straight” is required because it’s “faster”.
He argued F1 needs to seriously look at this before it’s too late and made it clear he is worried that the engines will become a dominant factor in performance again.
Speaking at Silverstone on Thursday, Verstappen said Red Bull is “ahead of schedule” – seemingly supporting Horner’s claim that the rate of Red Bull Powertrains’ progress has helped it identify problems others have not yet come across.
And he has suggested his fellow drivers may be in the dark because “I’m just not sure how many are actually fully aware of how it’s looking”.
“But I also know that people think they will have an advantage,” said Verstappen.
“So they will say that the regulations are good. I think from my side, just looking at it as a racing driver, it looks wrong.
“But you always have this politics of Formula 1 where one team thinks we can take an advantage out of this, and I think they will say it’s great.
“At the end of the day, we really have to look into what is good for the sport. At the moment, how it’s looking, I don’t think it’s good for the sport.”
Red Bull is no longer the only team to suggest an engine rules change is possible, as Ferrari has declared itself open to amending the power output ratio if it is necessary.
However, Ferrari team principal Fred Vasseur does not believe Red Bull’s concerns are a sign that its Powertrains division is ahead of anybody else.
Vasseur said that simulating energy use over a lap and generating speed traces is “one of the first things” any manufacturer has done.
“We are all at the same point,” Vasseur reckoned.
“To try to understand where we have to go, it’s not a matter of plus or minus 5% [on the power ratio].
“We are not in the fine-tuning [stage yet], it’s not that one team is more advanced than the other on ’26. We don’t have the regulations [to progress further].”