Rarely has 1970s rock been so popular in the Frankfurt suburbs. One band in particular is popular on the Alzenau streets.
Specifically the fourth album: Crisis? What Crisis?
Let’s look at this logically. The first quarter of this year was done and dusted before official confirmation came that Hyundai Motorsport would be committing to a World Rally Championship beyond the end of this season.
News of Korean representation at rallying’s highest level came 12 days after M-Sport tested a 2022 prototype for the first time.
It would be a further 66 days before Hyundai’s mule made its first move. From the very outset the i20 N Rally1 has trailed its rivals in terms of development schedule. And just when the near race-ready car started testing, Thierry Neuville destroyed the team’s only chassis.
Three days later, the team’s talismanic leader Andrea Adamo confirmed he’s leaving.
Forget the album. One song, one line comes to mind.
‘Give a little bit of your time to me…’
For the last while, this has been shaping up to be the story of a leaderless team in turmoil: cars not built, a staff on its knees staring down the barrel of a 24/7 working holiday season and disquiet at every turn.
But, the more I dug, the less evidence I could find to support such a story. Of course there are those with an axe to grind; those who want to use the current situation to potentially further their own ends. The reality is of a workforce going through the gears to put three cars in the mountains at the start of round one in under a month.
Thierry Neuville told me so. When I put the crisis to him and asked him how on earth the team could get through the first round, let alone the first six months of 2022, he smiled his cheeky-but-knowing smile and offered: “Not only for Hyundai, it’s going to be a really difficult first half of the year for everybody – and, of course, for Hyundai.
“When we lost Andrea [Adamo], I could totally understand and support his decision. I am not concerned. Everything is under control. I have been in the workshop and I have seen everything is going in the right way and the situation is under control.”
But who replaces Adamo? Who does Neuville want?
The grin’s gone. He’s laughing now. Properly laughing.
“I’m definitely not giving you any preferences on anybody,” he said. “My job is to drive the car fast and to support the people in any situation. There are people, very clever people at the top of Hyundai Motorsport who know exactly what they are looking for.”
He’s not wrong. And, from what we hear, even more clever folk have flown in from Seoul to make sure everything is in place for the top of 2022.
The reality, however, is that everything revolves around one thing: the car. And the car revolves around one man: Christian Loriaux.
I’ve used this analogy before and I’ll do it again: Loriaux is to rallying what Adrian Newey is to Formula 1. A genius. But the Belgian’s something of a changed man. Gone is the maverick who once ploughed the beautifully manicured lawns of Dovenby Hall because he couldn’t be bothered to wait at the gatehouse. In his place has arrived, wait for it, a man of the people.
Every time I write something about the impact he’s had on the team – or the fact Andrea Adamo talked about giving him a clean sheet of paper to design and build his own car – Loriaux grimaces. It’s not about him. It’s about them.
Neuville has noticed it too.
“Loriaux is giving a very strong support to the people who have been working on this car from the very beginning,” he said.
“I could clearly see a very open-minded team which welcomed him and immediately started a good collaboration. I have worked with him before, but I see a totally different Christian now – I can feel he brought many positive things into the team and everybody is happy to work together with him.
“The collaboration will be successful and I guarantee it is working fine.”
Yes, these are difficult times. Very difficult. Backs are to the wall, but those same backs are inching forwards away from the wall.
One senior source tired of my seeming search for negativity.
“What,” they asked, “do you want to hear? Yes, people are tired. People are very tired. We’re working long, long hours, but go to M-Sport and go to Toyota and people will be tired there. It was the same in 2017 when we were starting with a new car.
“A new homologation [cycle] is what makes people tired.
“But Andrea taught us we fight for each other in this team and that’s what we’re doing. And we fight for him too. Of course we miss him, but we can’t cry about that – we have to finish the job he started.”
The source went quiet, then swore a little bit. Then came back again.
“I tell you what – not a lot of people gave us much of a chance to be back on the road. After Thierry’s crash, we were thinking we might have to take the old [prototype] car again and maybe even run that. But this team put the work in and made a brand new car in no time. That’s what we’re about.
“Nobody thought we could do it, but have you seen what’s happened in the last week – that’s a bloody Christmas miracle. And we’ll give you another one to write about soon.”
Who follows Adamo? Right now, who cares? And that’s testament to the Adamo legacy. He drilled his team well enough to get on and fight the good fight in their own way. Every person in every department is doing there bit to get through the next month, and they’ll get there.