At what price should we finish this year’s World Rally Championship? Yes, 2020 titles would be nice, but is now the time to be cobbling together a bunch of sub-WRC standard events to make some telly and hand out some silverware? That perspective stopped me in my tracks. Made me think.
And it really made me think when that opinion was voiced amid a blizzard of calls from event organizers keen and very quick to point out that they were now ‘engaged’ in negotiations with WRC Promoter and the FIA.
Once the series promoter and the governing body admitted they were considering events from outside the regular WRC calendar, they knew what was coming. The floodgates were open.
But what else could they do? Sitting watching rallies fall simply wasn’t an option and this, undoubtedly, was the most proactive solution. The concern from series insiders now, however, is the potential damage that could be done to the WRC longer-term.
Since 1973, rallies have aspired and strived for world championship status and all that striving and all those aspirations have delivered a level of quality which elevates WRC rounds – quite rightly – above the best of the rest. The WRC is rallying’s gold standard and, in short, some are asking if the current coronavirus crisis is worth compromising those values for.
The immediate response is, of course, yes. We need sport. We need cars on stages, we need to get the wheels back on the wagon and get the circus traveling again. Do that and we start to generate content, we start to generate news, we remind people we’re alive and providing the manufacturers, teams and crews with opportunities to succeed and celebrate that success.
And yes, in these circumstances, the sporting challenge may well have to be compromised; the commercial arrangements slanted more favourably towards the promoter. One thing we absolutely cannot compromise on is safety.
It goes without saying, nobody is suggesting safety could or would ever be compromised, but we’re entering potentially unchartered territory here, working with organizers less familiar with the exacting demands of rallying’s pinnacle. The FIA’s candidate event system is in place for a very good reason, it offers the governing body the opportunity to observe at close quarters just how competent a team is. And if they come up short, the FIA can work with them to achieve the necessary standards.
There’s simply not time for that this year.
What we can rely on is data already gathered. The FIA is wise to look to European Rally Championship events, which sit within its Regional structure and are followed closely by experts within the sport. Ypres Rally falls into that category as well. It might have fallen out of love with ERC promoter Eurosport Events, but it remains arguably the best sub-WRC event in Europe.
The same goes for Rally Estonia – arguably the most obvious shoo-in having run as a WRC Promotional Event last year.
Like you, I marked today, Friday June 19 as the date to expect firm news on where we’re going this year. And not only this year, next year as well. The World Motor Sport Council meets today, but is it realistic to still expect a workable outcome towards the end of 2020?
Events have to firm up funding, which mostly means working with regional or national government. They then have to demonstrate their competency to the FIA and find an agreeable commercial and broadcast plan with WRC Promoter. Once they’ve done that, then they can start the legal ball rolling towards contracts.
If you could just point out which part of the above is the work of a moment, then we can sensibly expect news of the 2020 calendar today.
And, even once we’re all locked, loaded and boxes ticked, we then have to consider COVID-19. All that work, all those plans can all be wiped away in an instant if a government wobbles on opening borders or scraps plans to allow mass gatherings.
Look at Germany and its Chancellor Angela Merkel deciding to do just that until October. How on earth can Rally Germany start to try selling the tickets which provide the financial lifeblood of the event when the government’s saying people can’t come and gather by the lake in Bostalsee?
Simple. They can’t. And Germany, we’re told, was looking like one of the most positive prospects for the second half of the season.
You’re absolutely right, we can’t sit and wait, worrying over whether coronavirus might come back. We need to get out there, be positive and work towards a rescheduled calendar. But we have to be realistic and accept that, ultimately, if that second wave does come, then it’s all for nought.
And that’s where I absolutely feel for the promoter. The team in Munich is running around like a swarm of blue-arsed flies right now. They’re working through more plans and contingencies than you or I could ever consider. The simple logistics of trying to bolt a new calendar together mid-season, while trying to second guess the direction of a global pandemic is the ultimate plate-spinning operation.
So it would come as no surprise that my question of progress on the 2021 calendar was greeted with a degree of irritation. There’s pressure from the manufacturers to cut the costs of competition for next year. That’s only natural. You might have noticed, Hyundais, Toyotas and Fords haven’t exactly been flying off the shelves for the last three months. Quite the opposite.
In a year when development costs for the teams are at their highest in preparation for the onset of hybrid in 2022, these fiscal concerns must be considered. And yes, it’s always worth having a look at the regulations to figure out how flexi-servicing at lunchtime might help on the headcount or taking a set of tyres out here and there will tickle the figures on the spreadsheet.
Easiest way to cut the costs? Simple. Cut the number of rallies. Some want as few as 10 next year.
I know. What a nightmare. We struggle through this season only to be confronted with a watered-down 2021. In case you’re wondering, I’m being ironic now. We have to focus on the big picture and the big picture is 2022 and the next generation of Rally1 cars.
Yes, the WRC Promoter needs revenue for its show next season, but what will that show look like if it doesn’t have a cast? And that leads me to the next point, what about those 2022 cars? What will the precise specification be? Let’s see what Friday brings.
Apologies for this not being the usual fever-filled collection of words you might have fancied. But big decisions have to be taken and taken in some of the most financially constrained and politically restricted conditions this amazing championship of ours has ever worked in.
All we can do is wish those in the virtual corridors of power today the very best in steering the ship through some of its choppiest waters to date.