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Belgian GP: FIA Team Principals Press Conference

Today’s press conference with Nikolas Tombazis (FIA), Christian Horner, Hywel Thomas (Mercedes), Mike Krack, Otmar Szafnauer and Andreas Seidl.

Part One: Nikolas Tombazis (FIA), Christian Horner and Hywel Thomas (Mercedes)

Q: Christian, please, can we start with you. And let’s kick things off by talking about the 2026 power unit regulations, which have now been confirmed by the FIA. How important are these rules for the future of Formula 1, and for the future of Red Bull Powertrains?
Christian Horner: Well, obviously extremely important to get clarification of exactly what those rules are going to be for 2026. Whilst it seems a long way away, it’s still effectively tomorrow in engine terms, so there’s been a lot of to-ing and fro-ing, going backwards and forwards over these regulations, because it’s not just the technical specification, it’s the sporting regulations and, of course, the introduction of the financial regs. So, you know, I guess with, like with all these things, compromises need to be found. And we’re pleased that regulations are now released, that we know what we’re designing an engine to, exactly, with compression ratios fixed and other architecture fixed, which has moved slightly from where discussion started, but I think it’s good to have that clarity now, to be cracking on for 2026.

Q: While we’re talking ’26, Hywel, can I bring you in please. As an established manufacturer in Formula 1, what are the changes for ’26 mean for you?
Hywel Thomas: The changes for ’26 are still quite broad. It’s a whole new power unit. We look forward to the challenge and are excited by it. The increase in the electrification of the power unit, the increase in the size of what up until now has been the MGU-K, that’s, that’s going to be hugely important and very different, and links well to what is going on in the road car environment. And then, of course, to go with that the sort of reduction in output of the combustion engine, but the conversion over to running with sustainable fuel, is going to be another challenge. And that fuel challenge is going to be it’s going to be a big part of this regulation set. And very, very important that we are we are approaching those environmental issues at a good time for the sport and for everybody.

Q: And how much of HPP is focusing on 2026 now?
HT: Well, we’ve got a project team working on 2026. We continue to push very hard in our existing programmes as well. We’ve got a couple of projects coming to an end such as the Formula E, which means we’re able to move some other people over to the 2026 programme, which is exciting. And really, as the one of the things with the current regulations are the regulations between now and 2026. They very much encouraged us to reduce the amount of engineering and the amount of business that is working on the existing product, by reducing things like the dyno hours, so it’s a bit of a moveable feast. We’ve got a good-sized project team already working on it and have done for a little while, as I’m sure everybody has. And as we go forward, we’re going to have to move more across because, as Christian says, although 2026 seems a long way away, it’s going to very quickly approach.

Q: Nikolas, can we bring you in now? A huge amount of work has gone into these new regulations by the FIA. Can you give us a timeline of how we got to this point?
Nikolas Tombazis: Yes, good morning. This really started in the autumn of 2020. That’s when we started having some internal discussions about the direction we wanted to go and set some key objectives. Then, around about January of 2021, we had the first meetings with the top management and the CEOs of the various power unit manufacturers and involved power unit suppliers, and potential newcomers. And we shared objectives with them. And after that, we had a range of meetings and iterations and negotiations. It was quite a long and hard process because all the stakeholders had a slightly different angle and slightly different objectives and to try to find somewhere which could be a good compromise was quite hard. And that work continued until July and round about the end of July, we were ready with some finalised rules to go to the World Council.

Q: On the topic of sustainable fuels, that’s certainly one of the most intriguing elements for ’26. How is the development of those fuels going with the manufacturers?
NT: They’ve been very supportive. And I must also stress, not only the PU manufacturers, but also the various fuel suppliers. They see it as an opportunity to develop those products. We’ve worked very hard to a) achieve the message that this is fully sustainable part of the fuel but b) also to make them road-relevant and to avoid some of the more exotic components, but have a slightly more tight specification which is related to what these fuel suppliers are going to have on the road cars. And I think, again, that was a discussion that started with the fuel suppliers. Probably the first meeting was in April of 2021. And we finally got to a reasonably converged specification of fuel about a year later. So, that also has been quite a hard negotiation and, and discussion between all involved people.

Q: Christian, if we could come back to you now. We heard yesterday that Audi are coming into Formula 1 in ’26 as a power unit supplier, certainly. Can we get your thoughts on that, please?
CH: Well, I think it’s great that there are new manufacturers and there’s new interest coming into Formula 1 and Audi’s announcement yesterday is obviously a significant one with a really first class brand. It’s testament to where the sport is, the popularity of the sport that the manufacturers are looking to re-enter Formula 1. And of course, the regulations have played a key aspect in that and the ability for a newcomer to be competitive is fundamental to the introduction of these regulations. So, it’s, it’s great that Audi confirmed their participation yesterday. And, you know, obviously, there’s others that are, are showing interest for the future. So, you know, exciting times for Formula 1, and we look forward to seeing them on the grid in 2026.

Q: And Christian, staying with you. In other news, just wondering your thoughts on Daniel Ricciardo’s future, he’s going to be dropped by McLaren at the end of the year, were you surprised by the news? And do you think he still has something to give in Formula 1?
CH: I’m not aware that he’s designing an engine for the future. But look, it’s obviously a tricky one. I mean, Daniel, the time that he spent with us, he grew up as a junior driver within the Junior Programme winning the Formula 3 Championship. And then obviously, stepping in through Toro Rosso into Red Bull Racing. And what he achieved with us, was phenomenal. You know, third in the World Championship twice, I think, seven victories, and many, many podiums, and it’s a great shame to see that he’s struggling and hopefully he can find a seat in Formula 1 moving forward. I think Formula 1 would miss him. He’s a big character. He’s a big personality, and I don’t think I don’t think we’re seeing the real Daniel Ricciardo at the moment, so it’d be great to see him find his mojo again, and hopefully find a reasonable Seat in Formula 1 for next year.

Q: Hywel, coming back to you. Can we get your reaction to the news that Audi will be entering the sport in ’26 please?
HT: It’s clearly very, very exciting. There was a large part of the regulation discussion which was about making sure that we did have a set of regulations that did knock down some of those barriers to entry. So, it’s fantastic to have got to the end of that process and realise that we have knocked down those barriers so that we can get some to new entrants. And of course, we’ll look forward with, with great excitement to competing against them, because they’re going to be formidable characters, and they’re going to be a formidable team for us to compete with. And that’s what we look forward to, in any competition.

Q: And Hywel, looking at the 2022 season as a whole, it’s been a tough one for you guys, no doubt. Can you give us some insight into how you face the challenges of this year at Brixworth?
HT: I think at Brixworth, I think we’ve probably faced it in a very similar way to the way that the team has in Brackley, which is that you’ve just got to get your head down. You’ve got to be able to understand where there are opportunities for you. And of course, we know with the PU being frozen from a hardware perspective, there aren’t very many opportunities, but you’ve got to look for those opportunities. And you’ve got to work hard, you’ve got to look after your reliability. And just keep your head down and just keep doing the things that you’ve done well over the previous years that have been successful, and just keep going. That’s how we’ve approached it.

Q: Nikolas, coming back to you. From an FIA standpoint, how important are the ’26 regs going to be in attracting further manufacturers, and guaranteeing the sustainability of the sport going forward?
NT: Well, obviously, even yesterday’s news in itself is pretty monumental. And I think it is fantastic to have, immediately after the approval of these rules, confirmation by a major manufacturer, a major brand like that, join the sport. That is, I think, a fantastic addition. It was one of the key objectives in the early days to make regulations that would make that possible. I mean, obviously, each race out on the track starts at three o’clock on Sunday afternoon from the same line. In the technical race, which goes over many years. If the regulations had stayed as they are now, everybody else would be many years behind. And especially with the addition of the financial regulations, it would have been virtually impossible for anybody to ever catch up. And I think that would have put away, put off anybody joining the sport. So, one of the key objectives alongside all the environmental and other messages and cost and so on, close racing, whatever, one of the key objectives was to make it attractive. And I think yesterday’s announcement by Audi was a vote of confidence.

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