When new regulations for F1 cars originally planned for 2021 were pushed back a year due to the impact of the coronavirus pandemic, teams learned that they would essentially be running their 2020 cars this season. However, a token system was created in which each team would be given two tokens to spend on developing particular aspects of the car, allowing them to make changes and avoid having to run a completely identical car to the 2020 model.
As well as aiming to make some performance improvements, the tokens will also allow teams to adapt to aerodynamic rules changes brought in this season. Teams can only develop the areas they have allocated their tokens to, and each token can only be used once, meaning that they cannot start over if it does not at first work out.
The FIA created a list of components and areas that teams are not allowed to develop further for 2021, and also assigned token values to certain parts; for example some only require one token to be used - such as DRS and pit stop equipment - whilst others like the gearbox and the inboard front and rear suspension need both tokens.
Many teams will be hoping to recover downforce lost due to the new aerodynamic regulations, with the floors of the cars now smaller. However, not all will have spent their tokens with this as their primary focus.
The Williams team already spent one token in 2020, and they have not revealed which aspect of the car they spent this on. Having only one remaining, the team have opted not to develop elsewhere. Team principal Simon Roberts said: "There wasn’t enough to get into the nose or any of the structures."
Haas have already made it clear that they are focusing their efforts on their 2022 car, and so they have not spent any tokens on their 2021 model. With a rookie line-up this year, the team are viewing the forthcoming season as a transitional one.
For Alfa Romeo, the decision was made to spend their tokens on a new nose design. "We decided to invest our two tokens on a new nose, so the nose box and the crash box obviously is brand new, which was mainly driven for aero reasons," technical boss Jan Monchaux explained.
AlphaTauri were another team to focus on the front of the car with their tokens. Having already felt satisfied with the chassis and power unit, Red Bull's sister team opted to work on a new nose and outboard front suspension.
Tokens at Ferrari have been spent on the rear of the car in the hope of gaining back lost downforce. The Italian outfit will run a new rear transmission and suspension on their 2021 contender.
Whilst Alpine haven't specifically said where they have spent their tokens, the team have explained that they have focused their attentions on the rear of the car, again in response to the impact of new regulations.
In their former guise as Racing Point, Aston Martin faced accusations of running a 'pink Mercedes' in 2020 due to the car's similarity to its engine supplier's model. There could be similar comments in 2021 as the team have used a loophole in the regulations to adopt Mercedes' rear suspension free of charge, due to having run the 2019 version last season. Their token spend has gone towards modifying the survival cell.
McLaren were a team slightly more limited in their choice of how to allocate their tokens. Due to their switch from Renault engines to Mercedes, the British outfit have had to use their tokens on fitting the new power unit into the chassis.
Like Alpine, Red Bull have kept quiet about where they have spent their tokens. However, given the team's issues with rear-end stability in 2020, it seems likely that they may have opted to develop a new rear suspension system, which would also help in regaining lost downforce caused by the change in regulations.
Another team of mystery - Mercedes have not shared the areas in which they have focused their token spend on. The decision to kept this a secret was made in order to prevent other teams from potentially having time to copy, technical director James Allison has said. He did however suggest that the areas where they have spent their tokens would "become clear in good time".