M-Sport will only stay in WRC top category Rally1 under certain conditions – Satisfied with technical concept, less with marketing
Rumours have been swirling around Team M-Sport and its future in the World Rally Championship (WEC). At the latest since corresponding media reports at the Acropolis Rally, a question mark has hovered over the whereabouts of the traditional team in the premier class Rally1.
Team founder Malcolm Wilson has since confirmed that M-Sport does not want to give up its Rally1 programme and will “do everything possible to find a way to stay involved at the highest level”.
The Ford-backed team has had a difficult year despite Ott Tänak’s victory in Sweden. Since then, a second place for the Estonian in Croatia has been the only podium result of the current season.
In addition, the team’s business model is based on selling cars to customers. So far, the team has only sold two Rally1 cars, and only one of them to an active competitor, Jourdan Serderidis.
WRC in marketing crisis
Currently, the WRC regular team is trying to get its budget together for 2024. Therefore, it is not surprising that no programme for 2024 has been communicated yet. However, it is also obvious that rallying has been in troubled waters at the latest since Thierry Neuville’s statements at the beginning of the year.
The committed manufacturers, including M-Sport, have since come together to make rallying more popular. At the same time, the Fédération Internationale de l’Automobile (FIA) and the WRC organisers have drawn up a series of proposals to improve the championship. Some of them are to be implemented as early as 2024.
These proposals were discussed at last week’s meeting of the WRC Commission, but the final decision will be made by the FIA with the World Motor Sport Council (WMSC).
When asked if there is any news on the team’s future ahead of this weekend’s Rally Chile, team principal Richard Millener replied, “We have nothing groundbreaking to announce at the moment. It’s like always at this time of year; we’re still trying to get everything in place so we can be there [next year].”
“We are still waiting for news from the WRC promoter on what will change and what will be improved. I think everyone is a bit frustrated because there is so little information. There is a lot of talk but not much news.”
“But we have to face the reality that we cannot attract sponsors so easily. Whether that means we need better results is debatable. But at the moment there is too little enthusiasm in the sport in general and we have to change that quickly. If we don’t change that, it will also affect whether we stay here. “
Long-term future with internal combustion engine
At least in technical terms, there seems to be stability. The current Rally1 platform is to be maintained until the end of 2026. This could attract new manufacturers. FIA President Mohammed bin Sulayem had recently brought a possible Subaru comeback into play.
Millener argues for no change to the basic principle of hybrid technology for now: “Apart from the difficulties every team has had with the [hybrid] suppliers, the technology itself and what it does is still good enough.”
“I think the electric revolution in general is going through difficult times at the moment. In the UK, the plan for people to inevitably buy a hybrid or electric car has been pushed back to 2035.”
“This shows that the internal combustion engine will be around for a while, and rallying has found a good mix of both to keep the sound and the [WRC] experience. Now that more manufacturers are open to internal combustion engine motorsport again, we have a really good opportunity.”
“To get this stability from now until 2026 is good. We have this period now and new cars coming in 2027. We should focus on building up the marketing over the next few years so that hopefully by 2027 we can attract a few more manufacturers. “