It’s halftime. The players are all back in the locker room and Andrea Adamo’s just walked in. What happens next? Is it time for the hairdryer?
Former Manchester United soccer manager Alex Ferguson had a special way of motivating his players before the second half. Forward Wayne Rooney recalled: “He gets right up in my face and shouts. It feels like I’ve put my head in front of a BaByliss Turbo Power 2200.”
To the uninitiated, a BaByliss Turbo Power 2200 is a hairdryer. A powerful one. And if the hairdryer’s not having the desired effect, Ferguson might have kicked something. Like a soccer boot. In 2003, a Fergie-hoofed-boot collided with one of the most famous heads in soccer. David Beckham’s.
Nobody questioned Ferguson’s man management skills. That’s what happens when you win 13 Premier League titles in two decades.
Adamo took over from Michel Nandan as Hyundai Motorsport’s team principal at the start of the 2019 season. It won the world championship in 2019. And 2020.
But now, more than ever in the last two-and-a-half seasons, Adamo faces questions.
The numbers? You don’t need me to remind you, they were the headlines after another shocking result for Hyundai last time out on Safari Rally Kenya. I’ll remind you anyway: 59 points down in the makes’ race, while Thierry Neuville trails Sébastien Ogier by 56 in the drivers’ title race.
It’s not pretty. But it is halftime. And Adamo’s not done yet.
But what’s the plan? Has he reached for the BaByliss Turbo Power 2200? Is he taking a swing at an OMP boot sitting on the floor?
“The reflection on the first half can be only one: we have, for sure, collected much less than we should have,” Adamo tells DirtFish. “That’s something that shows something has been done not in the way it should’ve been done.
“Am I in panic now? I am focused, like all of my people. Am I happy about the recent results? No, I am f****** upset. My people are doing all they can. There is nobody laughing, there are no jokes, we are all focused.
“There are many interferences that are trying to undermine us as a team, but we are strong enough to walk over this b*******.”
Adamo is a good talker. It might not always look that way when he’s answering questions, but he is. And he’s a deep – and philosophical – thinker.
My people have done an amazing job – the car’s performance has been increased a lot. On the other side we have to have the same focus on the reliability of the carAndrea Adamo
But he talks when he wants to talk. He talks when he has something to say. And when he doesn’t have anything to say, he’ll find you a metaphor.
This is no time for symbolism. The world wants answers.
How does he turn this around?
“The gap’s big, for sure. There’s not a specific plan to turn it around. We have to improve the process where we were not good enough.
“One thing is clear in my opinion and I think it’s written on the wall: the car performance has been increased massively in the last rallies. But when you have this, automatically the stress on the system is also bigger.
“My people have done an amazing job – the car’s performance has been increased a lot. On the other side we have to have the same focus on the reliability of the car. We cannot continue the way we were lately.”
The i20 Coupe WRC’s suspension has been the area of the car most under the microscope after successive failures in that area.
Adamo is insistent that nothing has changed since last year in terms of the Sachs hardware. But he’s equally insistent that things will change in the future.
His comment on the increase in pace is fair – and was borne out on the two WRC rounds that offer the best indication of speed: Estonia last year and Arctic Rally Finland this year. The result? Domination from the Ott Tänak i20.
The balance of a World Rally Car is a delicate thing. Arguably, the easiest way to deliver speed is to alter the ratio between the car’s power and the weight. And the easiest way to save weight is to trim back on materials used in, for example, suspension parts or the protection that sits between that suspension and planet earth.
Has Hyundai done that?
“It’s not a matter of weight maybe we need to protect in a different way. Maybe we need to think more of the underfloor protection – for sure maybe we have to change more parts more often that are not limited.”
Typically, Adamo concedes a little, but concludes his explanation with a positive.
“Like I told you, we know this has to change,” he says. “Of course I am worried. We are not stupid, superficial people. We understand something is going on and something has to change and we are working on this.
“It would have been much worse if my team had not been able to make a fast car. If we were not able to make a fast car, it would mean we would not have good people; good people push for the performance and from this side I am not worried. We have good people.
“These people will be able to make the car reliable.”
Beyond the protection, there’s the rideheight question. Physics determines lower is faster, always has and always will. But lower also brings more jeopardy. This is something Neuville dismissed after a damper broke and forced him out of the lead in Africa (see below).
Neuville is optimistic the issues will be solved. He has to be. As does Tänak.
When his suspension failed for the second event in succession in Italy, Tänak displayed remarkable composure (admittedly a day after he’d retired…).
But less so last time out. Tänak’s patience is being tested. And Tänak’s not renowned for being the most patient of souls.
After his car stalled for the umpteenth time, the Estonian stared straight down the barrel of the camera and asked: “What’s happening guys?”
A day later, heads must have been in hands when he stopped to wipe the inside of the windshield just so he could see where he was going.
This time the message was heavy with irony.
“It’s amazing,” he said. “The quality is amazing.”
What goes through Adamo’s mind when he’s watching his star driver deliver such a forthright message so publicly?
“The adrenaline you have at this time is too much and you have to filter,” said Adamo. “You, as journalists, you are very happy when they make an assessment like this one – it makes lots of stories for you. It’s gold for you.
“But, for me, these guys just risked to kill themselves and then they lost the rally. Ott would have been, theoretically, able to win the rally – for sure the frustration is massive. They are drivers with lots of adrenaline. It’s not nice, but everybody was very upset.”
If you ask me a question and I can answer yes, I will answer yesAndrea Adamo
Adamo’s never been one to shoot the messenger when it comes to the media, but he seems increasingly at ease with painting a target on its back.
He questions whether he has a difficult relationship with the media. If he’s monosyllabic, it’s a reflection on the question.
“If you ask me a question and I can answer yes,” he says, “I will answer yes.”
Undoubtedly, he’s a challenging interview. But so was Corrado Provera. And Cesare Fiorio. Ove Andersson had his moments. As did our own George Donaldson.
Adamo’s not so sure.
“I’m not challenging,” he says. “When people have seen our car roll out of the lead and they come and ask me what is my feeling, I am not challenging – I am something related to an angel or a saint…”
I disagree. He is challenging, but challenging doesn’t necessarily mean confrontational. A challenging interview brings out the best in our profession. It’s all too easy these days to chase a platitude, a cliché or a one-liner.
The apparent instant-delivery, immediate-consumption of media has translated into the pursuit of words. Loquaciousness went out of fashion long ago, but I’m sure there’s still a place for the deep and genuinely meaningful. Providing it can be sought and served.
One theory on Hyundai’s current malaise is the frantic nature of life in the WRC’s fast lane right now. There’s the here and now in terms of the World Rally Car, then there’s the future: Rally1 and Rally2. Both cars have been delayed.
Adamo has been unequivocal on the importance of the Rally2 car. This is the car that will help underpin the team commercially. It’s vital to get it right. By his own admission, the i20 R5 wasn’t right. But that wasn’t his car. This one is. Which is why he’s frustrated by speculation regarding the precise nature of the delay in homologation date from July to August.
“There is so much b******* around with this story,” he says. “I respect that you have a job to do, but this story makes me laugh. I can tell you there have been some difficulties, not related to the car, but to the fact we have sold so many of these cars and we struggle to get the steel – worldwide the production is limited.
“We do the normal homologation process, there are some parts we have to change a little bit, it’s like this. But I can tell you, there is no major modification or disaster.
“There is some minor things. In one week we are back with all of these things sorted with the FIA; if it was massive, we wouldn’t be able to do this in time. Maybe it’s time for you to send your source some better whisky…
“I cannot say the Rally2 project is impacting on the 2022 car, this is b******* and it would be chasing excuses,” he says.
“Is our Rally1 car at the same level as the others? I don’t know, but the first rally is in Monte Carlo in January. So it’s not a matter to make a spectacular title to say: ‘Adamo says his car is back [behind] compared to the other’.
“Maybe the others are a little bit ahead of us, but they started also earlier. With the reinforcement of people we made I see no problem to catch up and have a competitive car.”
There’s no doubt Christian Loriaux’s appointment will have brought an extra edge, but that could be countered by team manager Alain Penasse heading in the opposite direction.
How much does Adamo think Penasse’s departure will affect the team’s strategic ability?
“We plan everything to avoid any impact,” he says. “I will miss the human relationship with him. We will try to [maintain the strategic ability].”
Hyundai Motorsport’s logistics guru Pablo Marcos will take over as team manager and that’s a reflection of Adamo’s confidence in the team that stands beside him.
In my first interview with Adamo the team principal, he laid out his plans for the team with absolute clarity. There was no room for misinterpretation. If I wanted to know something, I asked him. The days of talking freely with engineers or other team personnel were done.
In terms of team management, Hyundai Motorsport now had one voice. And it came with an Italian accent.
As the weeks and months went by, it became increasingly obvious he was serious. People still talked, but nobody was willing to be quoted.
Those same people still talk. But still won’t be quoted.
The talk they talk is of a different atmosphere in the team. There’s considerably less of the bonhomie Nandan engendered, but that’s a price everybody’s more than willing to pay to stand on top of the world through 2019 and 2020.
But there’s a feeling that we’ve reached something of a watershed moment. With bullish the new bonhomie, Adamo is very well aware he needs to deliver in the coming months.
His voice will always be heard, but the desire to keep listening will inevitably dwindle if the gap to Toyota continues to grow. And that’s on both sides of the wall he’s built around fortress Hyundai.
I’ll be honest and admit I thought Adamo’s management style was outmoded and one-dimensional early doors. There are still aspects that I’d question today. Drivers are all unique and, to my mind, require varying levels of carrot and stick when they’re being encouraged to find their way back into the lead of the rally.
Such opinion comes from the comfort of hindsight and the absence of the often oppressive heat of competition. Again, Adamo’s the one with the two world titles to his name. That’s two more than I’ve chalked up.
If I can take away some of the pressure, take away some of the questions coming to them, then I think they can focus better on the job they are doingAndrea Adamo
Speaking on a personal level, he’s never been anything other than up front with me. He’s helped immeasurably with DirtFish’s arrival into the World Rally Championship and has resolutely answered any question I’ve asked.
He’s a man under pressure right now. And, having landed the mantle as something of a talisman, that pressure focuses more intensely on him than anybody else. That’s part of the plan.
He’s bemused at the thought that his desire to speak with one voice could be seen as dictatorial. It’s done out of the desire to protect ‘his people’.
“I want to take away the pressure from them,” he says. “If I can take away some of the pressure, take away some of the questions coming to them, then I think they can focus better on the job they are doing. Ask me the questions, I am the guy to give your pressure to.”
Short-term, we’ll soon see how much progress he’s made at halftime. Longer-term, the arrival of Loriaux allied to multi-year contracts for Neuville and Tänak would indicate a shared vision.
Let’s be under no illusion here, when Adamo took over this team, Hyundai Motorsport had dropped millions across five years with nothing in terms of a season-long return. So far, the Italian hasn’t lost a manufacturers’ championship and he’s kept the Korean fire burning in terms of enthusiasm for the WRC.
Hairdryer or no hairdryer, he’ll hit the second half of the season with some force in Estonia next week.