Adamo lifts the lid on Hyundai’s struggles

The ex-Hyundai boss explains why its no surprise the team is behind its rivals


“For sure the guys have been working very hard and they’ve done everything they could but we are still half a year behind in development so step-by-step and we try our best.”

These were Ott Tänak’s words two weeks ago on the second morning of Rally Sweden recce as DirtFish’s Colin Clark asked if the Hyundai i20 N Rally1 was up to delivering him another ice and snow victory.

As it transpired, the Hyundai was much closer to the M-Sport Ford and Toyota than it had been four weeks earlier in Monte Carlo. Tänak, Thierry Neuville and Oliver Solberg were all in the fight at the front early on and Neuville managed to snare a fine second spot.

But as Neuville was quick to point out after the event: “We know we are not there yet, where we want to be.”

2022SWEDEN_FD_ 346

To revisit Tänak’s words, his belief that Hyundai is six months behind in its development compared to its World Rally Championship rivals is quite the claim that more than supports Neuville’s thesis. But it’s borne out of the unavoidable truth Hyundai had board sign-off far later than M-Sport and Toyota did, and then had issues when it did get testing – chiefly Neuville’s scary crash down a ravine.

Communications from Alzenau to the rest of the rallying world have been, understandably, reserved and protective of its predicament, but one person who’s now free to speak without conforming to the PR agenda is former Hyundai Motorsport team principal Andrea Adamo.

Adamo left Hyundai in December 2021 so knows more than just a thing or two about the team’s situation in developing its first-ever hybrid rally car, and DirtFish was lucky enough to have him on the latest edition of our podcast: SPIN, The Rally Pod.

Clark therefore spied the ideal opportunity to quiz Adamo on his old team’s foibles. Admitting that Hyundai’s Sweden was strong, Clark said that “I don’t think we should get carried away because I think when we get back to Tarmac, it could be difficult again for Hyundai”.

Adamo took it from there, explaining just how behind Hyundai really was and likely still is.

“We cannot forget, and I stressed before and hope now people can believe me more, that Hyundai got the green light to do the project much later than the other manufacturers,” he said.

“I have it clear in my mind a meeting during Spanish rally in 2019 where I was there with Alain Penasse and it was a meeting about the 2022 hybrid cars. There, Toyota’s Tom [Fowler] and Chris [Williams] from M-Sport were asking questions and they are making points that were showing they were much more ahead of the project than Hyundai had because we still had no green light to do it.

“So the job, I cannot say anymore my people because they’re no longer my people, but the people Hyundai have done it’s incredible and some good people like Christian [Loriaux] has been hired very late because it was not possible to hire them before.

“So all the wheels for the hybrid started to roll much later than the others, and motorsport is not the sport where you can invent things overnight, especially in the case of very complicated things like the current Rally1 car.

“So Monte Carlo was so bad it could not be real, honestly I was feeling for my ex people because I knew it was not real what was going on because it was not possible to have so many bad things together.

“The problem was that they were working under so much pressure in so tight a timeframe and they had to reshuffle so many things and you cannot pretend people can do miracles. On top they have accidents before and a homologation procedure that is very complicated, they were running late so Monte Carlo was really a bad moment and normally I saw in my life if something is going bad it will go worse, trust me, and it was not real.

“But Sweden, Sweden I think the drivers have done an amazing job. Thierry has done an amazing rally and Ott did the same as long as he was in the rally, once he had retired and not in front he had no motivation to take risk and would be stupid because once you are in superrally your job is to go to the powerstage and running through in case one of the cars in front has a problem you have to be the backup for the manufacturers points.”

I think Hyundai in this moment is the third out of three but for clear and evident reasons Andrea Adamo

However Adamo does think that “clearly you can see” that Hyundai is “a bit behind the others”.

“I think in this point personally, I don’t want to get taken wrong, but the best car is still the [Ford] Puma,” Adamo admitted. “I think you can see from the performance it’s there, and from what we saw in Monte Carlo. So I hope that they can get the results that they deserve with this car.

“I think Hyundai in this moment is the third out of three but for clear and evident reasons, it’s not a matter of what people may say about budget and this and that but when you start much later than the others you are playing catchup, and there it’s there, stop, no discussions.

“Mercedes, sorry if I make a parallel to Formula 1, but when they changed the rules in Formula 1 in 2014 they were so dominant because they were working on the system for three years or something like this I’ve been told when the others were there fighting for the championship.

“And they kept this dominance for so many years because during the season, during the championship you cannot really do the same rate of development that you can do in a different way and that’s it, so I’m sure Hyundai will catch up but give them the time, give them the possibility, don’t treat them bad because they are all so young and they found themselves a bit launched over the enemy lines and they need to be respected.

2022SWEDEN_FD_ 301

“They need to be allowed to breathe and everyone has to let them work without the pressure that is needed because it’s needed pressure, but I hope everyone can support them because they deserve it.”

It’s perhaps in the Formula 1 example that Adamo’s context can best be understood. Red Bull had the quickest car in 2013 before the rule change; Hyundai arguably did in 2021 too.

Ultimately it took Red Bull seven years to beat Mercedes to the world title. Starting on the back foot places you on the wrong foot thereafter.

There’s of course no guarantee that history will mirror itself for Hyundai, but as David Evans succinctly put it, while the other teams were hitting the ground running at the start of the season “Hyundai was clearly not even hitting the ground, they were still somewhere above the ground trying to find the budget to run this program”.

It’s fascinating to learn that Hyundai’s 2022 problems have actually been years in the making. Let’s hope, for the strength of the WRC, they don’t take years to solve.

Words:Luke Barry