Newey: No tokens means a ‘spending frenzy’

Most feedback regarding Formula 1’s decision to remove the token system have been positive and on face value, allowing teams to develop their engines does seem to be a path to parity as well as a way to reel in Mercedes from their current power unit domination.

There are usually three sides to every story, however, and as Reuters shows, Red Bull technical chief Adrian Newey doesn’t quite see this as a glass-half-full situation:

“If you look back on the original technical working group meetings and minutes from 2012-13, the agreement at that point was that the engines would be frozen but teams that were behind would still be allowed to keep developing. That’s not happened,” Newey said.

“So it becomes a spending frenzy…the numbers being spent by the big manufacturers are eye-watering and so I think potentially for companies such as Renault who aren’t prepared to spend that sort of money, it means actually the gaps get bigger not smaller.”

We’ve discussed Renault’s acquisition of Lotus F1 and how the Enstone team will do much better with big budgets from a car manufacturer but it seems Newey knows something we don’t—they aren’t keen to spend the kind of money the big teams are.

In the past, we’ve discussed engine parity among manufacturers and customer teams and key to that balance of performance across differing manufacturers and their customers is the software that the power units use. Many suggest that a team like Force India may have a Mercedes power unit but it’s not the same as the one in the back of the works team car with regards to software etc.

“It’s very curious to me that we have this set of regulations where the manufacturer has to supply the same hardware to other teams but it’s no under no obligation to supply the same software and therefore the same performance,” said Newey.

“Nobody is complaining about this because the customer teams can’t complain because their contract doesn’t allow them to.”

Newey says that Renault is different as they have always provided the exact same power unit, including software, as their works team. The challenge is if Renault are not prepared to spend the kind of money that Mercedes and Ferrari are spending.

One interesting point in Ed Osmond’s article is this:

“Newey described as ‘quaint’ the notion that power units would converge in performance as a result of the development shackles being removed.

In exchange for supplying 12 million-euros engines that cost 20-25 million euros to make, the manufacturers were making sure of voting rights on key committees, he said.

That meant Mercedes and Ferrari could ensure, without complaint, that their own works teams still had an advantage. “

This is a very important point with regards to the current political power struggle for control of F1. The big teams may have agreed to reduce their engine supply costs but in return they have the customers voting in their favor. Basically they eat 12 million and buy votes for their effort. At least that’s the implication here.

With open development, many believe that Ferrari, Honda and Renault will be able to close the gap to Mercedes. As I argued, when the token system was introduced and Mercedes was comprehensively better, the German manufacturer has a performance advantage baked in to their formula and it is not reversible due to the token system. Now without the token system, the notion is that this is not the case but Newey sees it differently:

“You can’t photograph an engine, not the internals anyway. So if you have an advantage, you can lock it in for some time,” he said, suggesting that sometimes gains were only made when knowledge was passed on by movements between teams.

“That happened with Ferrari last season where some Mercedes engineers left and joined Ferrari and were able through their knowledge to bring a very considerable jump in the performance of the Ferrari engine,” Newey said.

“These engines are still relatively infant technology,” added the man whose cars have won titles for three teams.

“We have already seen the steps that can be made…there’s no reason to suspect they’ve suddenly reached a plateau.”

If that is the case, then removing the token system will not allow for a reduction in Mercedes’ engine performance advantage and that is not how the engine regulations have worked in the past where parity was achieved over time due to diminished returns in engine development.

Ultimately there has to be a three-way balancing act that is centered on the driver, chassis and engine. Right now, the engine trumps the other two and Newey feels this is off kilter. Thinking back, could we not say that the Red Bull era of domination was leaning toward the chassis and not engine but now the engine has taken the lead role? What’s more sobering is this: Can you recall a time when the series was ever too driver-focused and not chassis or power?

Hat Tip: Reuters

0 0 votes
Article Rating
Notify of

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Newest Most Voted
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments


I can think of individual races where a driver has outperformed his equipment to beat much better cars, but not whole seasons.
Nuvolari driving the Alfa vs the Mercedes and Auto Union teams in 1935, Moss beating the more powerful Ferrari’s in a year old customer Lotus at Monaco in 1961 and Schumacher beating everyone in Spain in 1996 with an uncompetitive Ferrari spring to mind.

Other than that, the complaints that there were too many different winners at the start of the 2012 season is the closest we will get, as no one chassis or engine was dominant.

Roger Flerity

Sour grapes from one of the main dudes that contributed heavily in the unbalanced spending free-for-all in chassis and aero development that dominated the sport for too long (and his teams refusal to participate in any cost controls therein) – powered by a declining number of engine producers. Now that the power unit (and the participation and interest of a growing number of producers of same) is back on the table (as it has been in GP racing before), combined with rules slowing the chassis/aero bonanza – he has less individual influence and is feeling put out. He’s enjoyed periods… Read more »


That was more likely Dietrich and his dwarf Marko.

Robert Rick

I agree. Power train devellopment will dominate the sport for some years on. Newey will not be a crucial factor in F1 again before this era of power train devellopment is coming to an end. That’ll be the day when there is hardly any more advantages to be found in this combination of combustion engine, energy recovery and partly electrical drive.

Richard Piers

Would that the man would stop his dirge. That clan from Milton Keynes are really trying the patience. There has nearly always been domination in one form or another and it has always come to an end. In spite of this there have been good seasons and poor seasons, good races and poor races and little pattern to either. It ill behoves one of the principal financial beneficiaries to complain so loudly about the costs of F1. When there are also several drivers picking up remunerations in excess of the cost of the power units perhaps we all need to… Read more »

charlie white

I don’t believe the remaining 3 manufacturers will quickly catch up to Mercedes anytime soon now the tokens have been removed. However, I am curious to see how all 4 manufacturers will maintain the fiscal balance between rising development costs versus a mandated customer price limit to the teams.

Roger Flerity

The law of diminishing return means Mercedes will eventually hit a wall, regardless of any amount of money spent, while others will find a way to close the gap (while the power levels push toward 1000HP total). Further, the longer their product is on the market (grid), the more that will be learned about it by its competition, and the proprietary bits it utilizes to gain advantage will become commodities. Further still, the longer the formula remains in place, the greater the chance is that a competitor will innovate something the others have not discovered (ex. Red Bull blown diffuser),… Read more »

Negative Camber

I throw this out there and I am no engineer but I wonder if, given these new engines and ERS/software etc, the proverbial “wall” isn’t as easy to hit as the old V8’s were. No amount of money would have improved the V8’s as they had reached parity but I wonder if we are a ways off from that with these power units? Just a thought.


Going by Andy Cowell’s recent comments about the HP gains Mercedes are making over this winter, I doubt they’re anywhere near hitting a wall. It looks to me like the Law of Diminishing Returns will take quite some time to kick in.

Hat tip –


Good point. While the token system was never a good idea, the selling point of the tokens in the first place was the tokens themselves were answer to the disparity (hard to find wall) problem. The FIA 2014 engine regulation pamphlet itself (pages 14-16) anticipates that there would be a dominant manufacturer and that the token system (with its shrinking number of tokens and places to use them) was adequate to address it. It was clear within weeks of the first season under the new regulations that the token system was not going to allow other manufacturers to catch up… Read more »

Roger Flerity

Software can only change how mechanical capacity is applied or distributed. The wall here may be that software engineers end up so wrapped up robbing peter to pay paul they never deliver max potential from too much fiddling with minutia. The PU is still limited by physical laws, which are what the real walls are made of, no matter how good the gameboy junkies think they are.


Current road car engines thermal efficiency is around 35%, thanks to the software controlling the energy recovery systems on F1 power units the thermal efficiency may go as high as 50% this year. There is still an awful lot of wasted energy that could be harnessed to making the car go faster before the engineers hit any sort of wall. In the V8 days development had stopped because it was banned by the rules, not because there was nowhere left to go. Manufacturers were allowed limited development until they approached some form of parity, but they could have been developed… Read more »

Roger Flerity

The reason the current ICE packages make 45%+TE now is they are forced to due to fuel restrictions. The V8 was never this good, in fact they were less efficient than many modern road car performance engines. F1 is now more leading edge than ever before, far more interesting than the days of grenading qualifying engines where mechanical failures had undue influence on championships, or the forced parity of the stale V8 era that was going nowhere (and was in place when viewership and attendance had started to sag BTW). Sorry, but I’m simply exhausted with the negative barking aimed… Read more »

Negative Camber

I’m not quite sure about that Roger, the V8’s were delivering 900bhp at 18,500 RPM at 3mpg. Everything I read and the Ferrari engine folks I spoke with said the V8 engine in F1 was the most efficient engine created and far more efficient than even the ICE in a Prius. I think you may be selling the V8 tech short there, mate.

Robert Rick

18.500 RPM was hardly energy efficient. I understand that the main reason RPM is much lower today is because of the 100 liter/race limit.

A Prius converts energy from a petrol engine to electricity and uses an electrical engine to drive the vehicle most of the time. It allows the petrol engine to be run mainly at the RPM where it is most energy efficient.

Todays Prius runs 47,6 km/l. Your old beloved V8 ran approx 2 km/l according to Wikipedia.

Roger Flerity

May be a bit revisionist. According to Racecar engineering, Mercedes, and James Allen, the V8 era was 750-800HP, ran at around 35% TE at the most. A NA engine will never be as efficient as forced induction, nor ultimately as powerful per cc. The current level of 45% TE exceeds turbo deisels in road cars, while attaining around 2MPG avg over the course of a race, where the V8’s managed around 1.2, pushing lighter cars around. I loved the V10s for noise, but they were using 195 ltr/hr to do what the tiny V6 does now with 100 (Racecar Engineering… Read more »


“GP2 has forced parity and V8’s… perhaps the fans of classic Formula 1
might apply there energies attending and supporting that series?”

Sounds like a plan.

Patrick Chapman

You are absolutely correct MIE, and we still had miles to go before we even came close to hitting the wall of developement. If you saw what we had on the drawing board 5 years ago, I am certain that we would see some amazed expressions. The target at that time was 25,000 rpm and we expected to get there during early 2013. And then somebody changed the rules.


25,000 rpm! That would have been incredible. What sort of valve train operation would it have had? What would the crankshaft be made of?

Patrick Chapman

Todd,I am not sure that you are correct in saying that the old V8’s had attained parity. If the development rules had been relaxed then, we had a twin crankshaft V8 on the drawing board which should have been capable of 25000 rpm plus and we hadn’t finished with the valve train yet. If you look at the rules surrounding the current PU,s there are restrictions on crankshafts, valve gear, con rods, camshafts, engine block metalogy etc, and this is all there because of what was being discussed as the way forward in the naturally aspirated era. The law of… Read more »


Herein likes one of the great dilemmas of F1. Contradictions? Confusions? Schizophrenia? You want to keep costs down, so you freeze engine development. You want road relevancy, but you’ve just frozen the one thing where unregulated R&D is most relevant. Now you allow unconstrained engine development in order to improve parity, forgetting entirely that this actually helps road relevancy, and making no effort to keep costs down in any other area, other than limited the cost to customer teams, but make no provision for software so they effectively get an inferior product. Meanwhile you give away the keys to the… Read more »


I’d agree with you that the decision making in F1 is woeful, and just embeds control in the hands of Ferrari and Mercedes, and continues to allow the owners (Bernie, CVC etc) to suck huge amounts of cash out of the ‘sport’.
I agree with Newey’s comments, the token system was introduced as a means to limit development costs. So if you take that away, the manufacturer prepared to spend the most will continue to dominate.


That’s true if you dismiss the ‘time = parity’ theory. History has shown us that when the rules are stable, eventually everyone catches up, more or less. Whether the same will happen here is anyone’s guess.


The way F1 is going over the past few years, it doesn’t seem that there will be stable rules long enough for parity to develop. Just look at the rate of churn for rules around these new p.u’s.
It would be good if the fiddling could stop long enough for some parity, or just a clear view on where the ‘problems’ with F1 are.


Agreed. And Frustrating it is.

#F1 'o^°o-

Back in the early 90’s Renault with Newey beat Ferrari and Mclaren when every thing was open to development with a smaller budget, he is just sour now because he is no longer in a manufacturer team.
Maybe he should apply for a job elsewhere.


He bitches because he must bitch. Otherwise he would explode.