Engine Tokens – A Token Gesture?

Heading to Montreal this weekend, the main talk in the paddock is that Honda and Mercedes have been the first manufacturers to spend some engine development tickets during the season. In usual Formula 1 fashion, this isn’t the most clear explanation of what’s happened, and what does this all mean?

When the engine homologation rules were introduced in 2014, manufacturers and teams lost all development rights to the engine. Of course with different budgets and different amounts of time dedicated to the engines, some were left better than others, with the major performance gap really suiting the Mercedes AMG engines. The season started with them clearly a second a lap faster than their nearest competitors.

This caused uproar. Those on top were delighted whilst those behind were very vocal with their dissatisfaction on the matter. This also had the fans questioning the logic. If it wasn’t for the intense rivalry between Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg, the racing would have been beyond boring – very much like some of the seasons of Schumacher’s domination. On top of this was also the issue of the sound of the new engines, with the traditional beauty of the ear piercing screams of the V8’s being substitued to the low drone of the V6 turbo units.

This lead to an ammendment, and the manufacturers were afforded an allocation of tokens which could be spent both pre-season and during the season to be able to develop the engine. Before testing in Jerez, expecations were high, expecting all teams to reign in Mercedes, and Renault in particular to advance. What we saw was actually the opposite. the Red Bull’s slumped further back (causing no end of outbursts and speculation that they would leave the sport). Mercedes stretched their legs, though are finding on some tracks the improved Ferrari’s of Sebastian Vettel and Kimi Raikkonen a handful due to the cars exceptional all round balance.

Honda were of course allocated these tokens too, but as they had not been involved in the 2014 season they were provided with a lot less. McLaren’s struggles with both the engine and the car have been visible to all and despite Jenson Button collecting the teams first points for the season, they are still a long way from catching up with the front runners.

Now it’s public that the manufacturers have spent these tokens, we await the answer of two questions. Firstly, where in the power train were these changes made? Secondly, when will the new engines be used? It’s yet to be seen how successful these changes will be, but it’s easy to make the comparison to the old seafront arcades of our childhood – can tokens be exchanged for prizes?

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