Formula 1’s four engine manufacturers have agreed with the FIA to maintain 2015 threshold levels of power unit development for the 2016 F1 season.
Each manufacturer will be given a further 32 development tokens to cash in over the course of next year to allow for ongoing power unit performance and reliability upgrades to be constant. The technical regulations had previously stated that each engine manufacturer would be limited to 25 tokens in 2016.
The meeting in Geneva also signed off on teams being able to source older-spec power units next year, mirroring the arrangement that the Manor F1 Team has had in 2015 with its use of 2014-spec Ferrari engines. This decision will allow teams to source power units at a comparatively lower cost.
Both rule changes will soon be rubber-stamped by the F1 Commission and the FIA World Motorsport Council in order to be formally written into an updated version of the FIA Formula 1 Technical Regulations.
The news will leave the door open for Red Bull Racing and Scuderia Toro Rosso – both currently without an engine contract next season – to negotiate last-minute 2015-specification engine deals with Ferrari and stay in Formula 1, following repeated threats from Red Bull owner Dietrich Mateschitz to quit the sport unless he could guarantee his teams competitive power units.
The announcement marks good news – of sorts – for the sport’s two less-competitive engine manufacturers, Renault and Honda, which have both struggled with reliability and power delivery this season. McLaren’s engine partner, Honda, has already cashed in a significant number of its engine tokens over the course of the season as it tries to catch up to its rival engine builders who have all had a one-year headstart in the current regulations.
Keeping the token system a little more relaxed should mean that the level of performance of the four power units will get closer over time, but there remains the risk that the frontrunning Mercedes power units will increase their advantage.
What are engine tokens?
Engine tokens give engine manufacturers the right to update specific components of their power units to improve performance and/or reliability.
The FIA has categorised the individual engine components and assigned certain token values to individual parts of the entire power unit as a whole. The number of components that can be updated over the course of a season is limited so as to control costs, and the number of available tokens was meant to reduce with each passing season.
It was originally intended that these tokens could only be used during the off-season and pre-season, with the power unit design and construction therefore remaining homologated – or frozen – for the in-season period.
A clumsily-written rule in the 2015 Technical Regulations, however, created a loophole where the manufacturers could cash in their tokens at any point during the year.
While perhaps complicated for the sport’s fans, the token system is a sensible way of allowing controlled in-season development. Engine builders could still theoretically spend an uncapped amount on R&D, but the concept does at least limit what updates can be made at any one time.
Image via McLaren