Updated: Sep 8, 2022
Written by Apostolos Papageorgiou, Edited by Vyas Ponnuri
It has been 25 years since M-Sport first partnered with Ford to tackle the World Rally Championship, having some great drivers along the way, like Carlos Sainz, Colin McRae, Marcus Grönholm, Sebastien Ogier and most recently, Sebastien Loeb, who went on to win this year’s Rally Monte Carlo. Recently however, the team haven’t had the results they wanted, with a lot of the blame falling on the drivers’ side. But how did M-Sport get there in the first place?
It all started a while back. In 2012, when Ford decided to pull out of rallying, they left M-Sport alone to continue in the championship. Of course, this meant a decrease - a sizable one for that matter - in budget. The only way they could make up the losses was by hiring pay drivers. That didn’t stop them from spotting some exceptional talent, like Thierry Neuville, Ott Tänak and Elfyn Evans, the last two benefitting by Ogier’s arrival at the team and the subsequent Red Bull sponsorship money. When Ogier left the team at the end of 2018, so did Red Bull, leaving them back to square one.
This brings us to their current driver lineup and their issues. First, let’s take a look at the three main drivers signed up for the full season, currently. The Irishman, Craig Breen, signed with the team last year for what is his first full season in the WRC. And it’s been a mixed one so far, with two podiums, in Monte Carlo and Sardinia, but also plenty of crashes, like in Sweden, Estonia and Finland. At the time of writing this, he is sixth in the standings, with 64 points. Next is Gus Greensmith, who’s been with the team since 2016. He started the year well, with two fifth places and a stage win in Monte Carlo that’s still talked about. The rest of his season however, has been littered with errors, while also lacking the outright speed of most of his teammates.
Finally, there’s the French driver, Adrien Fourmaux. He made his WRC debut with the team at last year’s Rally Croatia, finishing a very respectable fifth. In 2022, things haven’t been going the Frenchman’s way though, crashing out of the first three rallies early on, and finishing in the points just twice so far, while being comfortably the slowest of M-Sport’s drivers this year.
The other three drivers who drive for the team are Pierre-Louis Loubet, who’s shown good speed, managing fourth place in Sardinia. Sebastien Loeb has also agreed to drive in four rallies, with a single one remaining. He gave the team their first win in four years at Monte Carlo, but retired at the other two rallies. Finally, Jari Huttunen made his Rally1 debut in Finland, finishing tenth despite mechanical problems dropping him back.
Now that we’ve seen the drivers, what exactly is their problem? Well, all of them, at least the main three, have some sort of issue, whether that is a tendency to crash or a genuine lack of pace, which has resulted in the team losing points hand over fist in the championship. So what solutions are there for M-Sport? The first would be cutting down the number of cars they run per event, from four or five to a maximum of three. This helps cut costs, something the team is always looking to do.
As for the drivers, Craig Breen has to stay onboard. Despite his mistakes, he is the only driver, apart from Loeb, who’s looked capable of challenging the Toyotas and the Hyundais. The second car could be taken up by Pierre-Louis Loubet, who’s also shown good pace. Alternatively, M-Sport could sign Andreas Mikkelsen, the reigning WRC2 champion, who’s also proved his worth in the main category with Volkswagen. The third car can then be shared by Loubet or Huttunen, with Loeb making guest appearances too. Finally, Greensmith and Fourmaux could join M-Sport’s WRC2 team.
Realistically though, this will never happen, as the team needs both drivers to secure enough funding. So unless Ford or some major sponsor steps in to fill that void, it seems M-Sport’s driver problem is sadly here to stay.