No more tokens; let the engine development war begin

It seems that the days of counting tokens, the reduced token spend levels and engine development stagnation could be coming to an end in Formula 1. According to Renault’s Cyril Abiteboul, the teams have agreed to chuck the token system in favor of trying to allow for engine development to close or converge the performance disparity. Cyril said:

“We have all agreed to do that because we all need the performance of the engine to converge.

“An F1 that is dictated by the performance of the engine is not good for anyone.

“You see it is not good for Mercedes, it is not good for Renault, Ferrari, so we are all interested to change that.

“To stop the public being confused between the penalty system, token system, we have decided to simply remove the token system.”

Much of the reason the token system is being abandoned is down to the agreed upon engine supply cost reduction the FIA said was agreed to a few weeks ago. The thought here is that if the manufacturers are capping their engine supply costs at $12 million per year, then they would be freed up to develop however they wanted and spend whatever they wanted as long as the R&D expense levels weren’t trying to be cast upon the customers supply contracts.

Many discussions about the current state of F1’s engine performance gap with Mercedes beating the field like a rented mule is couched in the counter argument that the V8 era had much the same issues and it takes time for the development cycles to reach parity and a point of diminished returns on engine development. That harmony, through time and logical development limitations within a certain, bound set of regulations, will reach its zenith and achieve equilibrium.

The token system was an artifice that prevented any escalation of the parity timeline and artificially tied the hands of those trying to play catchup with Mercedes. Now unleashed, Ferrari, Renault and Honda all have a chance to put their development systems in high gear and close the gap quicker than the token system would have allowed. Some believe the system would have always prevented any true parity as there were black and white parts that were frozen from development in the token system that permanently locked certain parts out of the development cycle possibility.

What this means is that the arms race over engine development has been opened completely with a safeguard to protect small teams from being saddled with manufacturer development costs. It also means that Ferrari, Renault and Honda could achieve engine performance parity with Mercedes much quicker and that the hybrid engine era may actually be allowed to flourish under its own weight and technology development cycle.

It could also mean that Mercedes is free to take their current dominance to the next level and out-pace the others with an already matured baseline in which to start developing with.

Time will tell but as a person who doesn’t like constructs or artifices that overtly impact F1 in negative ways, I am for the removal of the token system and either reaching the zenith of this current engine specification or getting to the end of it quicker than originally proposed.


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Bacon Wrapped Sushi


Like I said at the fan podcast, I love the “run what you brung” concept. Could this mean Merc domination could increase? Yes, but it gives the manufacturer teams a real chance (opportunity) to get closer without the stupid token system.

Also, McLaren will not have to start from Australia when the Monaco GP happens in May.

Now, we just need to do something about the tire degradation when following a car closely and I think we have a formula for some insane racing.

charlie white

“Arms race”-a good choice of words.


This is maybe for 2017, why not right now for 2016?

Richard Bunce

So is the thinking that capping the cost of customer engines will restrain cost growth on engine development so the tokens are no longer required to serve that purpose?

Negative Camber

That’s the narrative I am getting from pundits and very responsible journalists who follow it closely. Point being the token system was created to prevent runaway costs but in many respects, I don’t think you will be able to fully control what manufacturers want to spend. It does have to have limitations on supply contract costs. It’s a balancing act.


It will allow manufacturers unlimited spending in the development of engines but they can’t pass that expense on to customers. In other words, Ferrari et al can spend what they want building engines but Williams and other customers will all pay the same low price for their engine supplies. The hope is that engine development will hit a wall and parity will be born.

Richard Bunce

I believe i read some discussion about regulations for the customers to reasonably get the latest spec engines for that price… if the manufacturers spend their now allowed dollars on new capabilities for their engine that the customer never sees I suppose the customers will be back at the table looking for some regulation.

Richard Bunce

… not to mention the software issues. Hardware is tracked by the FIA as it changes? Is the software?

John The Race Fan

I read the headline and my first reaction is to sing “Let the bodies hit the floor! Let the bodies hit the floor!”

Considering the potential for engine development ramping up, that’s not too far off the mark, methinks.


Am I the only one who thought the idea of a token system (not as it is currently implemented) was a great idea to bring parity and power smaller back marker teams.


No, you weren’t the only one. The current token system was supposed to limit costs, and ensure that customer teams received the same specification power unit as the works manufacturers. It failed on the first count because the regulations didn’t prevent manufacturers from carrying out multiple parallel development activities, they just limited how those developments could be implemented in races. It failed on the second count once Ferrari and Renault exploited unclear regulations to allow in season development. This then gave the manufacturers an excuse to deliver different specifications to their customers (who wouldn’t want unproven developments to hamper their… Read more »


It makes me despondent, F1 is all over the place.
They want to control costs – but keep changing rules
They want to be ‘the pinnacle of technology’ – but won’t allow innovation
They don’t want the big manufacturers dominating the sport – so drop the tokens, meaning only the big manufacturers can win consistently
My wish for F1? Stop fiddling and figure out what will make the sport competitive, allow for innovation, and be financially sustainable for a big field of non manufacturer teams.
But basically – stop fiddling!


All that, and limit spending.
That was my hope too, we’re just a bit idealistic for the ‘pragmatic’ world of F1


Unfortunately it was never going to limit spending, as the manufacturers were still spending a fortune on R&D trying to find the best possible area in which to use the tokens. All the tokens did was to limit the speed at which the improvements could be introduced & thereby stop slower teams from catching up.


Doubtless there has been some serious spending, but according to Pat Symonds, the token system was constraining the rate of spend somewhat, and forcing manufacturers to focus their efforts rather than researching all options and cherry picking the best.
Now the brakes are off, the manufacturers who are prepared to commit the most resources who will have the best performance.


That was already the case – Mercedes have invested by far the most and have the best power unit, while Renault have invested the least & gone backwards. A manufacturer like Merc was certainly willing to explore every possible option & use the tokens on the most promising ones. A few days ago, Andy Cowell (head of engine development for Merc) said “Does it get harder to find gains? Yes it does. But there are lots of areas where small gains will come. It is a bit like gold mining, you work bloody hard, you get lots of dust and… Read more »


Its a bit of a longshot ;-) , but I think we’re saying the same thing. And its the same thing Adrian Newey is saying.

Paul KieferJr

Ladies and gentlemen, it’s time to rock-and-roll.


hallelujah about ******** time


Is this the beginning of the two engine series? Only instead of the official dual engine spec, we have the base engine available for 12Mil and the supplemental performance package, (in whatever camo is required to make it comply with the regs) that’s available for factory teams and those willing and able to pay the premium. People have already been complaining that the non-factory teams don’t really get the same engine as the factory teams, which is in part why McLaren ran off to Honda. Add to this Red Bull’s white engine from Renault, and the use of “last year’s… Read more »


It could be the start of a one ‘power unit’ series!.
If dropping tokens turns into a spending race amongst manufacturers, the next economic downturn all the manufacturers who aren’t ‘getting a return on their investment’ (I.e winning) will be out of F1