Renault’s chassis technical director Pat Fry has pinpointed the Spanish Grand Prix as the watershed moment in his team’s 2020 turnaround.
The French manufacturer experienced a disappointing start to last season, with P4 and P6 for Daniel Ricciardo and Esteban Ocon respectively at the British Grand Prix the only tangible highlights among the first six races of the season.
But after a particularly poor Spanish Grand Prix, things took an upward turn for Renault. They were much stronger from Belgium onwards and, capped by a trio of podium finishes, eventually got into a three-way battle for third place in the constructors’ World Championship standings.
Ultimately, they ended up behind McLaren and Racing Point, but there was much to be pleased about ahead of the team’s transition to being rebranded as Alpine for 2021.
“Barcelona was our worst race up until Turkey,” said Fry, quoted by Motorsport.com and referring to the P10 and P11 finishes in the Istanbul contest, which was something of an outlier due to the unusually wet conditions and slippery track surface.
“But even though [Barcelona] was a bad weekend for us, when we went through it again and tried to understand the bad performance we figured out what we had to do.
“It was disappointing, but we learned how to optimise our package.”
The specifics of Barcelona were that Ricciardo and Ocon qualified in P13 and P15 respectively and each improved their position by only two places come the end of the race.
It was the only grand prix of the season in which Renault failed to score any points.
Although the benefits were not felt immediately in terms of results, Ricciardo admitted a set-up breakthrough had been made during Friday free practice at the 70th Anniversary Grand Prix, the week before Spain, and ultimately it paid dividends.
“I won’t say exactly what it was, but our understanding of how to set up the car improved,” said Fry. “It was enough to get Daniel’s attention but there was still a lot more performance we had to find.
“As is so often the case, the devil is in the detail. It definitely helped us in qualifying at Silverstone [Ricciardo started P5]. I think it was the first time we were reasonably strong in qualifying, even if the race was a little more difficult.”
Ricciardo finished 14th and 11th at Silverstone and Barcelona on those back-to-back weekends – but scored points in all of his last 11 races for Renault before moving on to McLaren for 2021, to be replaced by Fernando Alonso.
Missed the first part of our exclusive interview with Jenson Button? Listen here: