Williams’ new chief technical officer Pat Fry has revealed the extent of the challenge facing him to help improve the Grove-based team’s fortunes.
Fry, a stalwart of F1 with successful stints at Benetton, Ferrari, and McLaren on a long C.V., was signed by James Vowles to head up Williams’ technical department after snaffling him away from the same role at Alpine.
With Williams going through a rebuild phase after the departure of former team boss and CEO Jost Capito and former technical director F.X. Demaison, Vowles and Fry face an uphill task as the British engineer revealed some of the challenges he’s facing as he gets settled in at Williams.
Pat Fry: Bigger teams like Red Bull still have a ‘lot more infrastructure’
With Vowles having made it clear the goal is for medium to long-term success at Williams, a possible opportunity for Williams to close the gap to the front is the decision to restrict all 2026-related aero development for the new regulation cycle until the start of 2025.
Recently approved by the F1 Commission before being ratified by the World Motor Sport Council only last week, the rule intends to prevent the leading teams from being able to switch focus earlier than the likes of Williams – but Fry said he doesn’t expect it to make much difference.
“I guess that only stops you working on the aero side of things, you can still simulate the hell out of what you actually want from a car,” he told select media, including PlanetF1.com, in Abu Dhabi.
“To some degree, it’s a help because people can be started on it much earlier and they’ve obviously got bigger resources than we have at the moment.
“But then, as well, it’s not just about the specification of our car – it’s how we go about designing and making it.
“To some degree, we need to be looking at trying to shorten all those lead times so the development area under the curve gets longer.
“So you’ll have Red Bull that, I don’t know, can issue a floor on Christmas Day – or whenever the winter break starts – and they can still get it to the first test.
“We’re not quite there yet. There are advantages for the bigger teams at both ends. But we need to try and attack all of that and that’s certainly a big part of what we need to achieve working on that back in Grove.”
Asked how that can be the case, given the F1 Financial Regulations would appear to put all teams operating at the budget cap on a theoretically level playing field, Fry said their existing infrastructure and side-divisions allow for greater development possibilities.
“They’ve got a lot more infrastructure, and they’ve got a lot more people they can apply to it,” he said.
“As well as just making a car, we need to be spending to improve our infrastructure, improve our simulation tools and modelling tools. Our aerodynamics department is pretty good. But again, I need to give them better tools as well so they can make better decisions.
“We don’t have… whatever [amount] I don’t know how many people are working on a boat that can be pulled in just for two months during the Christmas period and cover that drawing. We don’t have that luxury.
“Other people will do that completely legally within the cost cap. So there are things that aren’t available to us but we’ve got to work at both ends of the system – the design and delivery part, as well as the simulation of what do we actually want from the car.”
Williams, as well as three other tail-end teams, have been granted a $20 million capital expenditure allowance increase to improve facilities and infrastructure back at their Grove factory – with Vowles having made very public pleas to curry favour for the allowance throughout this year.
While $20 million is nowhere near the $100 million Vowles had hoped for, Fry is confident the extra expenditure will still lead to the ability to address areas of inefficiency that represent low-hanging fruit for improvement.
“There are lots of opportunities everywhere, the basic things of having a bit of material, central systems, being able to track parts… all that side of it,” he said.
“It just makes the whole company a huge amount more efficient, so you can do more.
“So again, there will be some reasonably big efficiency gains that we can get, and efficiency means we can make more inside and ship less outside. So, again, it’s a cost cap benefit.
“When I started at Renault, we also didn’t know what a bill of materials was. I guess we’re still where they were five or six years ago. There’s a huge amount of work going on to fix that.
“It won’t necessarily pay dividends this year but certainly, for next year, there’ll be some really good improvements, which will help us in overall how we spend money.”