Hyundai team principal Cyril Abiteboul believes he is failing to get the best out of his driver Esapekka Lappi after his latest crash.
Lappi was rapid on the first two stages of Friday on the Central European Rally, and if not for a time penalty for jumping the start of the rally’s opening stage he would have been in second place. Regardless he was still in third, at least until he had a slightly unusual crash that put him out of the rest of the weekend.
It means Lappi has now crashed out of three of the past four World Rally Championship rounds. In the four rounds prior to that he got three podiums. So why the decline in form? Abiteboul admits he doesn’t know, nor how to turn it around.
“Statistics say that we can’t [rely on him right now], but my deep belief says otherwise. But I am yet to prove it,” he told DirtFish.
“The statistics are clear. And statistics don’t lie. I think what we need to understand is what is driving those statistics. What’s driving this recent bad stint that he’s having, and I was hoping and believing when I saw him driving yesterday and today that I could see the smile building and I could see also the times that were really good.
“Really competitive, you could see that he was enjoying himself in the car. And when EP is enjoying himself, it’s usually the start of something pretty, pretty good. So I’m disappointed, I’m frustrated, but I’m also a bit puzzled with the whole situation.
“We are yet to have a good discussion, obviously we chat, but after something like that it’s not the right moment to really go in depth on things, but at some point we will do that.”
Abiteboul believes “there is not an answer that fits every situation” when it comes to managing drivers, and an in-depth personal understanding of their needs in and out of the car has to be built. He feels he is “yet to try and crack this” with Lappi.
He added: “So far I’m failing, that’s very clear, because it’s not working and I don’t notice that only on his side. It’s a collective failure. It’s not from a lack of willingness, because I think everyone knows that I have really lots of time for him, and it’s not just me.
“So it’s the whole team. And when we can see how competitive he can be, how committed he can be, also imaginative and creative he can be from a setup and development perspective. We are racing to win and to play for him, in trying to crack this situation.
“But so far, we fail.”
Abiteboul emphasized that Lappi’s chances of staying with the team for 2024 are not being jeopardised by his recent form, even if “that decision will have to be made based on statistics”, and that Lappi has nothing personally to prove to Abiteboul about his worth to Hyundai.
His team boss already believes in him. Which makes explaining why his latest crash happened a difficult task, and why Abiteboul thinks he or the team could be to blame.
“The speed was there, there was nothing at play, he was not trying to impress,” Abiteboul said.
“You could see that he was very calm also in the car. You can see from the onboard footage, you can see that everything was very controlled, very measured. You can see that also from data. You can even see that from data of the crash. You can see that he’s very measured.
“So it’s really strange, I think. It’s maybe an excess of confidence, not in himself, but maybe in the car. He says that he was feeling extremely well in the car, maybe he was feeling that there was actually more grip than there actually was, and his rear-right went a bit wide on the right and a bit in the mud. When he released the brake, I think that’s where he sort of lost it.
“But it was not a big braking pressure, so I think we need to understand exactly and again understand how we can help more in future.”