Mercedes have revealed that they went into the 2021 season without ever spending their permitted development tokens.
With the 2020 F1 cars carried over into the 2021 championship in light of the restrictions placed on teams due to the COVID-19 pandemic, they had to tweak their designs in order to conform with the new rear downforce regulations.
Separate to that, the teams were given an allocation of two development tokens to allow them to introduce an update of their choosing.
Different areas of the car were given different token values, meaning the teams could choose which area they wished to prioritise to try to make improvements. For instance, Red Bull confirmed during the summer they had spent theirs on their gearbox casing to allow for altering of the rear suspension.
During pre-season testing, while most of the teams were willing to reveal where they had spent their tokens, Mercedes’ then-current Technical Director, James Allison, said that their token spend would be obvious when it came. However, this token spend was never clear.
“We never spent our tokens”
But on the eve of the final race of the season and the current regulation cycle, Mercedes finally spilled the secret – those development tokens had never been spent.
It means that, aside from the changes required for the rear downforce reduction for 2021, the W12 of 2021 is a much more similar car to the 2020 W11 than other machines on the grid are to their 2020 predecessors.
“In the end, we didn’t spend our tokens,” Mike Elliott, who took over from Allison as the team’s Technical Director during this season, told F1TV’s Tech Talks.
“We had a plan that, potentially, we’d spend them on the nose, and elected not to in the end.
“I think the reality was, obviously, we’re in a period of COVID. We were looking at the regulations for next year which are huge. There are massive changes aerodynamically and so, going into this year, it was all about how do we balance the development we do for this year versus the development we do for next year.
“At the time we were making those decisions, we also had quite an advantage. If you go back to 2020, we had a very good car. It was more a case of saying, ‘Where are the weaknesses? What are the things that we could go in and develop and move on a bit?’
“They’re not big things, they are small things that we’re seeing in the aerodynamic concept. There’ll be things we’ve seen in the flow field, we wanted to attack and change. And so, if you look at the two cars, the differences are all in the details.”
Where could the W12 have been better?
The prevailing theory is that Mercedes had developed a concept for a new front wing, but that this wing failed crash tests in the pre-season. Rather than waste further resources to try getting this front wing to pass and work, Mercedes continued with their existing and successful design.
This would tie in with Allison’s words in the pre-season that the token spend for 2021 would be obvious.
Given that the W12 and W11 are fundamentally the same, Elliott was asked about where the W12 could have been improved.
“I’ve never known a car where, when we get to the end of the year and we sit down, we go, ‘That’s perfect’, because it doesn’t exist,” he said.
“The reality is we can always make it better. I think, if you look at the position we are in the championship, we didn’t start off with a good enough car in comparison to previous years.
“We’ve had various issues through the year, in terms of getting the most out of the driveability of the power unit, the degradation has been another thing. But on the chassis side, you’d look at that and say that we’ve also struggled to develop the car as much as we’ve liked.
“What has been really good is the team sticking together and finding all of the small gains that were available to find, and bolting them on the car.
“The drivers have done a brilliant job this year, [it’s] been huge pressure to deal with and the championship has swung one way then the next and back again, and I guess that’s what the fans want to see.
“While I’d love to be in a position where we’re four-tenths up the road and it’s all easy, that’s just not the championship we’ve had.”