The World Rally Championship has been very exciting in recent years, but 2022 has the potential to be a thriller as a new set of technical regulations are introduced.
Gone are the ‘World Rally Car’ machines with the launch of ‘Rally1’, which will mark the start of a new hybrid era.
Although the hybrid system will be a standardised part which is supplied to the three WRC teams, Toyota, Hyundai and M-Sport, the pecking order could completely flip on its head to set up a classic season.
Why M-Sport could go from back to front
M-Sport have undoubtedly struggled in the WRC since Sebastien Ogier left the team at the end of 2018. They comfortably finished bottom of the Manufacturers’ Championship in 2019 and 2020 and scored less than half of second-place Hyundai‘s points haul in 2021 (discounting Hyundai 2C Competition).
Last year, for the first time since 2010, M-Sport failed to score a single podium, which underlined their issues.
The announcement of the new Rally1 car was made in March 2020 and M-Sport have made it clear, they were going to put nearly all of their effort into the new generation machine.
M-Sport have a new car this season, the Ford Puma, and they were the first team to test the new generation car which could put them one step ahead of Toyota and Hyundai.
“The car is completely new from the Fiesta WRC,” M-Sport managing director Malcolm Wilson told WRC.com. “It’s all new suspension, new geometry, electronics – everything.
“That’s why it’s important to get some early testing done and get as many miles down as possible.”
The help of Ford
M-Sport have been helped by Ford over the last nine years, after the American manufacturer left the WRC as a works entry in 2012.
Ford have increased their backing ahead of the 2022 season in a bid to ensure M-Sport have a car which can challenge for regular podiums and wins.
Nine-time WRC champion Sebastien Loeb has tested the car several times and the feeling has been very positive in the M-Sport camp. Loeb will drive at the opening round of the championship, the Monte Carlo Rally which will begin on January 20, as part of a part-time programme.
Repeating past rally success
The last big WRC regulation change came in 2017 to make the cars faster than ever before. Guess which team emerged on top? It was M-Sport.
Having gone through another difficult period, M-Sport and Ogier came flying out of the blocks in 2017 to lead the championship from start to finish.
Of course, having Ogier in your team is a massive asset because he’s one of the greatest rally drivers ever, but you still have to give him the car to deliver and that’s what M-Sport were able to provide.
A shock WRC champion?
Arguably M-Sport‘s biggest problem could be their driver line-up. With all due respect, they don’t have the same quality of drivers compared to Toyota and Hyundai.
Gus Greensmith will compete in his second full season for the team, whilst Adrien Fourmaux will embark on his first full-time WRC campaign. Both drivers are unlikely to compete for multiple race wins, instead searching for their maiden podium. They will need to find another gear this season.
This is where new signing Craig Breen comes in. The Irishman agreed a two-year deal to join M-Sport and will have the opportunity to race every round on the WRC calendar for the first time in his rally career.
Breen has the speed to challenge for the title and he impressed the paddock in 2021 when he claimed consecutive podium finishes in Estonia, Belgium and Finland during his part-time season with Hyundai.
The 31-year-old tested the new Ford Puma Rally1 Hybrid last year, before his rivals got behind the wheel of their new machines, which could give him a small, but crucial advantage.
If Breen can replicate his speed from last season and deliver at every event, there’s no reason why he won’t be a title contender alongside Toyota‘s Elfyn Evans and Kalle Rovanpera and Hyundai‘s Thierry Neuville and Ott Tanak.
M-Sport and Breen could be a mighty combination in 2022.