F-X Demaison breaks his media silence

Hyundai Motorsport's new technical director talks to DirtFish on his plans to get its cars back to the front in WRC


François-Xavier Demaison is the man Hyundai perhaps didn’t just want, but needed.

Ever since being appointed team principal in January, Cyril Abiteboul has made it plain – before and after Demaison’s appointment – that Hyundai required a technical director.

So Demaison has been recruited to fill that position, but since his appointment on June 1 he hasn’t been available to talk on the record with the media.

That was until last weekend’s Acropolis Rally Greece, where David Evans and Colin Clark were afforded some of Demaison’s time during what turned out to be a difficult event for Hyundai.

We’ve excluded some snippets that will feature in upcoming stories on DirtFish, but here is the vast majority of the transcript from Demaison’s first DirtFish interview as Hyundai’s technical director:

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DF: You’ve spent three months here. What have you found and what are the main areas that you want to work on?

F-X: “It’s a good rally team, it’s a lot of good people. I mean the only issue we have is that the project was… this rally car was started too late in the project. I think there was not much testing for the homologation, so that’s the main issue. There’s not much we can do now. We have to live with the remaining jokers we have and improve the car as much as we can.

“That’s the situation. I mean we have some reliability issues that we try to correct as quickly as possible. At the moment we have to let’s say compromise the performance to avoid some of the issues we had. Jokers will come later in the year.”

DF: How different would the car have been if you had had time, if you had drawn this car?

F-X: “It’s difficult to say. We have to wait maybe for the next car to be designed. It’s new regulations, so it changes a bit the way you design the car. The hybrid unit, which is in the back of the car, so there’s quite a lot of constraints in terms of architecture with this new spaceframe. So it’s a new generation of rally car. So I don’t think I would have done many things too differently.

“But we’re all different, so for sure there’d be a few things a bit different. I think we all have various experiences, and we all use this. We are old guys now, so we try to maximize our experience and then put everything in the car.

“So for sure with [Hyundai WRC Programme Manager] Christian [Loriaux], next time we have the chance to do another car, we will make it much better. No doubt.”


DF: With limited time and testing, do you think mistakes were made because of that. Mistakes in design?

F-X: “It’s not mistakes, it’s just shortcuts. Normally, when you go for… well the first time it was a planned five years period of homologation. It’s never been before a five years period, I think there’s been four, but just by accident when the ‘17 car [lasted] until 2021. It was five years but with COVID in the middle, a very special situation.

“But this one is really a complete new direction. I agree with the spaceframe, and five years you should… maybe I’m too Volkswagen orientated [he was previously technical director at Volkswagen Motorsport] where we always – I mean personally always I want to prepare things properly. So two years period of development is a minimum for me to do [a good job].”

DF: How much work have you done in terms of getting more performance from the car in the last three months since you’ve been here?

F-X: “A big parameter for performance is the driver confidence, clearly. And this is normally with set-up generally, and you can improve this. So it was mostly made on driver, let’s say, give him a car he likes, and reacting like he would like.

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“For sure Thierry [Neuville] was very happy for Estonia, and Finland I don’t think he’s been so – I mean he was quick there. [That] shows that at least the car is not perfect, but it seems to be easy to drive, which is always good in rally.

“It’s not circuit racing where you have 12 to 14 corners which are always the same. The only unexpected thing is maybe the rain, but you can predict everything. In rally you never know what will be the quick corner, the next corner, because you went through three days before.”

DF: Tell us the culture within the engineering department. Have you perhaps been imposing your way of working? Is that something that might give you or the team an advantage?

F-X: “No, the change of culture you can, if it’s the one you remember… I mean now a technical director does not design the car anymore. He has a team of engineers around him who will design the car. You just have to make sure that you are the band leader and make sure that they work together, that they trust each other and they respect each other.”

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DF: So have you had to do a lot of that? Getting people to think in the same way as you?

F-X: “Everywhere, I have to do it. It’s a constant, let’s say, effort. Make sure that everybody, in motorsport, we are all a bit crazy. To do all the sacrifices we are ready to do, all away from home, you spend hours and hours to stay late in the office, you need to be a bit crazy and special. And to make sure all these big egos work together, it’s always a big effort.

“And you know, you need to be in a situation where you always use this image of when you play football, in the locker room you can say everything to your team-mate: ‘ah s***, you have been an idiot, you haven’t done a proper job’ and that. It’s not, ‘ah yeah OK, sorry’. That does not turn into a fight. But you can say ‘oi, you’re not good’, or ‘you were good’. So that’s where it’s always been like this.”

Stay tuned to DirtFish over the next week for details on Hyundai’s next development plans, Demaison’s thoughts on working with old rival Christian Loriaux and his comments on the rumors about Sébastien Ogier joining Hyundai.