Formula 1 brought in a car development freeze last year to cut team costs but it has not entirely outlawed progress between the 2020 and 2021 seasons.
A token system has been devised to allow limited car development, preventing this season simply becoming a repeat of last year.
This allows teams to make some upgrades to aerodynamic parts and a number of listed areas in an attempt to improve performance, but should ensure that none are able to completely overhaul their ’20 car for this year.
With regulations changes this year cutting back on downforce, aerodynamic performance has been hit in order to reduce loads going through the Pirelli tyres. Recovering that loss will be a large focus for many, though not exclusively the purpose of token spend.
So where has each team spent its tokens and what can we expect from them this season?
What are development tokens?
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, the coronavirus pandemic 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.
Where can teams spend development tokens?
The FIA has laid out a clear list of components and areas teams cannot develop at all between 2020 and the end of 2021, including the chassis, gearbox and brakes.
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 and electrical looms.
McLaren has been given special dispensation to make the modifications needed for its switch from Renault to Mercedes power. It must spend both of its development tokens on this work under Article 22.8.6 of the technical regulations and nowhere else.
Other teams have spent their tokens in a variety of ways. One focus for this year’s cars is 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.
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.”