Pat Fry’s one of the big boys.
The buzz around his Renault start on February 5 was not because we were starved of motorsport news. Quite the opposite.
The Daytona 24hr only just happened. IMSA and WEC announced LMDh at the same time, and Thierry Neuville had just mastered the Monte Carlo Rally.
No, it’s because Pat Fry has been around the block and he can make a big impact.
As much as Andreas Seidl and James Key are the big names at McLaren now, they did not start at Woking until the 2019 season was well underway.
It was Fry who engineered the quality into the team that was lacking in 2018 but possessed in droves last season.
Alas, McLaren was only a “temporary assignment” for the engineer and when his effect on the team became clear as they solidified fourth in the championship, Renault came sniffing.
He was announced in November as having been appointed. Too late for any impact on the 2020 car but a perfect time to start work on the car for the 2021 season, when the new regulations were due to kick in.
The regulation overhaul is Renault’s last chance.
There have been many musings at the top as to whether there is much point to the F1 programme for the partly state owned manufacturer.
Particularly after the hammering they were receiving from Red Bull who made it profoundly clear that any win was down to them. Not Renault at all.
But at least they were winning races.
In 2019 they were once again beaten by a customer team but it was worse. They were leapfrogged and slipped back making little progress.
The only Renault podium came from Carlos Sainz in Interlagos at the end of the season.
But that was obviously in a McLaren.
2021 needed to work for them to keep any interest in the sport.
2020 is the last fully spent year before the cost capping in 2021 and it was thought that this is when a significant manufacturer can make an impact with their development.
Christian Horner said that 2020 would be the “most spent year in history” to get any leap on the rivals into 2021 that they could.
But the Coronavirus pandemic has obviously changed a great deal.
Not least the focus on spending this year with development on the future regulations being disallowed for this year and not open until the cost cap is in place for 2021.
This is a big problem for Renault’s short term plans.
Fry’s start date will have had very little impact on Renault’s 2020 prospects with the car being revealed a week after his first day.
So it seems only logical that the majority of his efforts would have been focussed on the kind of meteoric rise that he mastered at McLaren.
But with the aforementioned pandemic, the emergency measures in place have also negated this as there is only limited development allowed for the 2021 season, at least the chassis has to be carried over, so no significant development can be made as of yet.
If Renault were hoping for the same short sharp turnaround that Fry had achieved at McLaren, they have been dealt a cruel blow by the global landscape currently.
They will now have to play the long game.
They didn’t come out of testing in the best position, the talk in the midfield was about Racing Point.
McLaren looked good too.
Renault have slipped back from a certain fourth in 2018, to fifth in ’19. If a sixth place in 2020 was to happen, that would be embarrassing but there would have been saving grace in the new regulations.
If they don’t even have that solace until 2022, maybe 2023, then whether Pat Fry can have any actual influence is negated by the carry over regulations creating even more of a chance that Renault withdraw their support due to lack of results that will take even longer to arrive.
If they could have injected immense loads of money into 2020 for 21, with a well proven technical mind, then they could have leapt up the order but whether they will have that opportunity now is yet to be seen…