Formula 1’s development token system explained

You may or may not be aware of the Formula 1 token system and how important it is in the sport. It has changed the sport in many ways and solved multiple problems that were extremely prevalent before.

Each development token allows a team to develop a specific area of its 2020 car for the upcoming 2021 season. Teams had been preparing for a new set of regulations this year, requiring them to design cars from scratch. However, COVID-19 forced factories to shut down and depleted team budgets, so the rules were delayed until 2022.

To avoid a budget-busting battle to upgrade their cars for this year, each team has been given two tokens to restrict development in controlled areas of the car, while still allowing them to improve performance and potentially reshuffle the pecking order. It also enables them to adapt to aerodynamic rule changes introduced this year.

As with the power unit token system used in previous seasons, teams cannot develop the controlled areas outside of their token spend. Tokens only have a one-time use so there are no second chances if things don’t work out according to plan for teams.

This system also allows for teams with much lower budgets than some of the extremely large teams (such as Mercedes and Red Bull) to be on a much more level playing field and allow for more equal and exciting competition.

There are only specific components though that FIA has outlines can be redesigned and changed between the 2020 and 2021 season. Examples of some of these parts are the nose cones, brake ducts and much more. There is also a list of parts that can be upgraded with tokens and these have been assigned a token value of one or two each meaning that, in theory, a single component could be upgraded twice across the season, or a larger part once depending on the cost.

In addition, areas that are permitted to be developed free of any token spend include side-impact structures, aerodynamic components, suspension and cooling systems. Single-token components include DRS, clutch systems, brakes, fuel and hydraulic systems and pit stop equipment. Two tokens will be required by developing any of the survival cell and impact structures, gearbox, driveshaft, inboard front and rear suspension, wheel rims or electrical looms.

The team Mclaren has been handed a few exceptions in order for it to make the appropriate switch from the Renault to the Mercedes powertrain, however, it has been said that the FIA has been watching them like a hawk so that they don’t cheat for their benefit in any way.

Other teams have spent their tokens in a variety of ways. One large focus for this year’s cars was to recover downforce lost between seasons after the new regulations hit aero performance. The floors of the cars have been reduced in size and now trail away from the leading edge by the sidepods, cutting inwards towards the inside of the rear tyres. The strakes underneath the rear diffuser have also been reduced in length to cut downforce production at the rear of the car.

Where has each team spent their F1 tokens?

Mercedes – The team opted not to divulge where it spent tokens at the launch of the W12, with technical director James Allison admitting that it was purely to prevent teams from having more time to copy any new designs the team will run in 2021. “We have spent our tokens, but we won’t reveal how we used them just yet. That’ll become clear in good time.”

Red Bull – Red Bull hasn’t revealed where it spent development tokens but after a year battling rear-end instability, a spend to introduce a rear suspension system similar to that of Mercedes would not be a foolish estimation to make as it seeks to regain lost downforce from the regulation changes.

McLaren – As per Article 22.8.6, the team has had to spend both of its development tokens fitting a Mercedes power unit into its chassis for 2021, under the watchful eye of the FIA which ensured that they weren’t making changes purely for performance gain. The team said last season it was not happy with the token system allowing Aston Martin to adopt 2020 Mercedes parts free of charge.

Aston Martin – Due to a loophole in the regulations, Aston Martin will adopt the 2020 Mercedes rear suspension free of charge, because it ran the 2019 version last year. This allowed it to spend its development tokens on modifying the survival cell of its AMR21.

Alpine – Another team to focus on the rear of its ’21 car, Alpine hasn’t said specifically where it has spent its tokens. “A lot of changes at the rear of the car, this is where we focused our attention because that’s where the regulations have impacted it,” Alpine executive director Marcin Budkowski said.

The new 2021 Alpine Livery

Ferrari – The new Ferrari features an altered front nose cone design to move closer to the Mercedes-style design but the team has focused its token spend on the rear of the car. The SF21 will have a new rear transmission and suspension in an effort to gain back lost downforce at the back of the car.

AlphaTauri – The team says it has spent its tokens on the front of its car, specifically a new nose and outboard front suspension. “We believe the chassis and power unit provides a good baseline, so we are happy to have spent our tokens elsewhere for 2021,” technical director Jody Egginton said.

Alfa Romeo – Alfa technical boss Jan Monchaux was upfront about the team spending its development tokens on the front of the car. A new nose design was the focus during the winter. “We decided to invest our two tokens on a new nose, so the nose box and the crash box obviously is brand new, which was mainly driven for aero reasons,” Monchaux said.

Haas – A team that is already fully focused on 2022, Haas hasn’t spent any development tokens iterating its VF-20. “We didn’t use the development tokens this year. I wouldn’t say it’s a holding season, more of a transitional season,” team principal Gunther Steiner said during the team’s livery launch.

Williams – Having already spent a single token in 2020, Williams hasn’t developed elsewhere.”We spent one of our tokens last year and I’m not going to divulge where we spent it because we spent one last year and that left us with only one over,” team principal Simon Roberts said. “There wasn’t enough to get into the nose or any of the structures.”

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