Last week, Jason Anthony shared some of his thoughts concerning M-Sport and their driver options for next year. In that post Jason asked M-Sport to think carefully over Elfyn Evans and what they plan to do with him. Now, it seems M-Sport did not agree with everything Jason wrote, but I am pretty sure they did think about it carefully. You don’t build a business as big as M-Sport by doing anything less than weighing each option ten times over. Over the years Malcolm Wilson and his operation saw many ups and downs but they are still going strong. At least business wise. On special stages they are lacking. We often hear Fiesta RS WRC is fastest car out there, we also hear it is fully capable of competing against the almighty Polos, but we did not really see any of that, except on rare occasions. I’m sure people will bring out the everuseful budget argument, but how does that make any sense? If the car is fast, it’s fast and that’s that. If it’s not fast, why would you say it is? Would it be “as fast” if you had “as much money” as those other guys? What I’m trying to say is, we have heard many positive things about M-Sport’s WRC cars, but they were never a serious threat to Volkswagen or Citroën (when their drivers had their good days). Perhaps, and that’s a big perhaps, budget does play a role in this, but maybe it all comes down to the most basic factors – reliability, speed and driving. So if the cars are fast and reliable, should we blame the drivers?
Personally, there is nothing more exciting than supporting the underdogs, young newcomers, promising talents and those who worked hard to get where they are, no fat sponsors or rich family businesses to support their iffy talents. I usually dislike the dominant winners, which, of course, isn’t the case with Sebastien Ogier, partly because he persisted when Big Names and Big Teams joined forces against him after he threatened their dominance. By that logic, I should be the biggest fan of Malcolm Wilson and his team, because they’re always bringing in new names and new talents, some of which do prove their worth and become WRC regulars. But no matter how much support your favourite underdog can get, there is a point when he should start producing solid results, regularly and reliably. Not because you, as a fan, have doubts about his skills and talent, but because results are what teams and sponsors (some of them, at least) are looking for. Teams will show their appreciation of driver’s talents by hiring him, and he can ride that wave for a while, but sooner or later teams will need to see results. Sooner or later your business will need to see some kind of return of investments.
By replacing both Ott Tanak and Elfyn Evans, M-Sport made one thing clear; they want results and they think they could get those by changing two, undoubtedly very important, but still only one-of-many, factors, the drivers. Neither Tanak nor Evans would have been hired in the first place if M-Sport had any doubt about their talent and abilities, but in the end they both failed to deliver the kind of results that were expected from them. They were both given enough time and I would hope enough resources to improve and grow, yet they didn’t. This is the Big League we’re talking about, this is where “promising potential” is but a mere phrase when compared to WRC points and podium finishes. What is worst and also best thing about it, their talents and potentials are quite possibly still here, if they really are the kind of drivers meant to make it to the top in this class. But unless you are sponsored by Venezuela or have an inheritance the size of a small country’s budget, there is a limited time for each driver to show what he’s worth.
All this is, of course, based on the premise that M-Sport did replace both drivers just because they think Mads Ostberg and Eric Camilli will do a better job. I guess cars’ liveries will tell us a bit about that as well, but these are not two never-heard-ofs and the potential to start producing top results is clearly there. I do wonder how much time were both drivers given to put some results behind their names? Do you grow more impatient for top results the longer you spend without them? Something Malcolm could probably answer.
As for Evans and Tanak… I hope there is enough wisdom in current WRC to find space, spots and jobs for them. We could talk long and hard about both drivers and argue is one is more deserving of a spot in WRC than the other, but let’s just wrap it up by saying at least one of them is a perfect catch for testing & development role. And if any of the privateer teams (what privateer teams, I hear you ask!) is looking for drivers who are actually capable of a top performance (at least occasionally), they should look no further.