Could M-Sport’s driver lineup cost it the title?

After victorious scenes in the opening round, the Ford team endured a difficult outing on Rally Sweden last weekend


The vibe back at Dovenby Hall in England’s North West is very different this week than it was four weeks ago.

Fresh from victory on the Monte Carlo Rally – its first win in over three years – with Sébastien Loeb, M-Sport was toasting a well-earned success at the end of January. We know, because with the help of Malcolm Wilson we managed to capture it for a podcast.

But now it’s digesting the reality that it went from the highest-scoring team to the lowest-scoring team having been outscored by both Toyota and Hyundai to lose its early top spot in the manufacturers’ standings.

Gus Greensmith’s 10 points for fifth place and Craig Breen’s one on the powerstage were the only points M-Sport scored last week in Sweden as Breen retired twice (first for going off and then with a technical problem) while Adrien Fourmaux’s rally was wrecked by some kind of engine issue.


Naturally, that’s a worry. But what’s perhaps more worrying is the fact that once Breen was out, M-Sport’s hopes of a strong result were extinguished with it.

The Puma Rally1 has been touted by many as one of if not the best of the new hybrid World Rally Championship cars, but that’s not going to count for anything if the package isn’t being maximized week-in, week-out.

David Evans explained more on the latest episode of SPIN, The Rally Pod.

“In many ways in Monte Carlo, having Sébastien Loeb there, it papered over a crack didn’t it because you had this great driver coming back, nobody really knew what to expect but he delivered, and he delivered because he had a fantastic car and he’s a fantastic driver with a wealth of experience in Monte Carlo,” Evans said.

“He’s not there in Sweden, Craig took a lot of pressure on his shoulders, he had a very Swedish accident. We’ve seen drivers, you look back to 2001, Colin McRae and Richard Burns both in a snowbank, very early on in the event – these things can happen.

“[But] the issue that M-Sport has is when its number one driver has gone down there’s no step-up, go-to number two that’s there fighting for a victory on a rally. That’s not to decry what Greensmith and Fourmaux are doing, they’re both developing drivers.”

Breen was an early seventh in Sweden before he went off into a snowbank. It’s impossible to know where he would have filtered in thereafter if he hadn’t gone off, but he was much closer to the pace than his team-mates.

Snow and ice is admittedly a weaker surface both Greensmith and Fourmaux, but while Breen was 7.4 seconds down on the rally leader after SS1, Greensmith was already 21.2s back (after an overshoot) and Fourmaux another 1.9s in arrears.


Fourmaux was deliberately not pushing too hard in a bid to rebuild his momentum following a nasty accident on round one. But that Breen’s wingman after the first stage in Sweden was effectively Jari Huttunen’s Fiesta Rally2 doesn’t bode well.

Sweden accentuated the problem, but there’s equally no escaping the reality that while Toyota had three rally winners in its lineup and Hyundai had a world champion and two rally winners, M-Sport had just a podium finisher in Breen.

“We knew from the outset that M-Sport had one, clear team leader with an absolute megastar [Loeb] popping in and out when resource was available. This is the issue that they’ve got,” Evans explained.

“You saw [Ott] Tänak had his problem with Hyundai, Thierry [Neuville] stepped forward. Elfyn [Evans] had his problem, Kalle Rovanperä won the problem. There isn’t a joint team leader at M-Sport.


“You would look at it from the outside and say it’s something that they have to live with. If they can get Loeb another four times this year then great, they absolutely need to play to his strengths.

“His strengths are everywhere except for places like Estonia and Finland perhaps – he needs to deliver big, big points for the team on those four occasions otherwise M-Sport is going to struggle to fight for a championship.

“And that seems very, very harsh on a team and a manufacturer that has combined to produce what is the best car from the get-go.”

It’s a harsh reality but not a new one. When we polled our team of writers in December ahead of the 2022 season, nobody picked out M-Sport as having the strongest driver lineup.


It must be said that Greensmith has done a tremendous job to score two top five finishes that put him fourth in the championship standings after round two, and Fourmaux’s ultimate potential is clearly very high and could be fully realized as early as the next round in Croatia.

But unlike in 2017 – when the regulations were last reset and M-Sport swept to a title double – where all three of its drivers (Sébastien Ogier, Tänak and Evans) won rallies while just two Toyotas and only one Hyundai was victorious, M-Sport could face the exact opposite situation this season.