2017 engines: a token improvement?
The token development system was introduced together with the launch of the V6 1600 cc turbo engines.
The target was to control engine development cost. Without going into all details of the token system , it was designed to make it more difficult to introduce eleborate updates, and thus into less opportunity for manufacturers to develop engines. This should convert into manufacturers spending less time and resources on engine development, lowering total engine cost. This would give teams to possibility to lower their budgets, so more teams to continue racing while still being competitive.
Has it worked? Well, yours truly would like to reply that question with a two-fold “No”.
“No” number 1
Mercedes totally upset the system by investing a lot at the start of the V6 development cycle. This resulted in their first version of their engine which was clearly superior to the rest of the field. On top, the token measure had a nasty side effect: it was harder for other engine manufacturers to catch up. Mercedes’ lead simply was too big. This translated in their current worldchampionship hattrick.
The token system has been a major reason for Mercedes’ dominance.
Renault did the reverse, and invested less at the start of the v6 cycle. Their return on investment was a big and nasty fight with Red Bull. (One which was openly fought through the press. We can only imagine the marketing nightmare for Renault…)
“No” number 2
The idea was that manufacturers could survive with smaller budgets (since engine cost would be lower) and still be competitive. Obviously, the larger teams had no need to lower their budgets, and if money was saved on the cost of engines, it was happily spent on other areas of development. This resulted in complex multi-layered wings and other aero nicknacks, and gaps between teams remained the same.
The token system did not bring the field closer together, had no cost-saving result, and has no entertainment value. It thus needed to be scrapped, and so it has for the coming season.
2017 sees the end of the token system. Will it change the situation, end Mercedes’ dominance and make for better and/or closer racing?
This might not be the case. Mercedes still has a lead. While technicians can continue to develop engines, upgrades can only be introduced a couple of times per year, since teams are only allowed 4 engines per season. Larger teams might want to just take the punishments for using a 5th or even a 6th engine, and this might prove too expensive for smaller teams.
Yours truly estimates it is a step in the good direction, but it might not be enough to make more teams eligible for wins. And isn’t that what we want to see?