The question was OK. The question was good. Certainly, the question didn’t warrant the pause which prompted increasingly anxious glances. What was he going to say?
The positivity around WRC Promoter’s 360-degree sustainability meeting in Munich was tangible. After a tricky start to the world championship’s next generation, the understanding of an increasingly meaningful hybrid package together with the kudos of being the FIA’s first global series to run the whole field of 100% sustainable fuel had been very well received in Bavaria.
Welcomed to the stage, Hyundai Motorsport team principal Andrea Adamo was asked if he was excited.
“That’s a tricky question,” he mused.
No it’s not.
Or at least it wouldn’t seem so, not to you and I. But this man thinks on a different level to us. He thinks on a combined sporting-commercial-corporate level that’s beyond most people who are just stoked to see fast rally cars.
“I would say excited is not the word I would use.”
Yikes. That wasn’t part of the script. The script was very clear on excitement…
“I know, in this place, we should show excitement and all this kind of thing. I am worried,” he said.
“When you have so many new things coming together in such a short time, I would be stupid if I were not to be worried. If I was speaking about just being excited, I would be a bit superficial. I think the people who have to speak about excitement have done [this].
“My job is to be worried and be ready for Monte Carlo.”
Adamo, as we know, is both charismatic and enigmatic. But above all he’s a man who has backed himself and his team.
There are two aspects to the question of whether Adamo’s genuinely concerned. Or, more pertinently, where that concern might sit.
Hyundai Motorsport has underperformed consistently this season. For a team that arrived in 2021 on the back of a successful defense of a manufacturers’ world championship, sitting 57 points behind Toyota with three rounds remaining was not part of the plan.
Being outscored six-two (Rally Estonia was a draw, with both teams landing 42 points apiece) on WRC rounds was not part of the plan. Suffering more technical issues than in any previous season with the current generation of the World Rally Car? Again, not part of the plan.
And Andrea Adamo, let’s not forget, is the master of this plan.
That’s the here and now. Let’s look to the future and to 2022. It’s increasingly common knowledge in the service park that Hyundai is a long way behind M-Sport Ford and Toyota. That’s not rocket science, we all saw how much later Hyundai’s 2022 test mule broke cover. The LWB Fiesta was moving just into March. The i20 turned a wheel in May.
Then there’s speculation that design guru Christian Loriaux’s arrival from M-Sport has prompted a rethink that will make the car faster and more reliable. But it hasn’t helped the timeline.
And then there’s the driver line-up headache. Unless you’ve been residing on Mars with your head under a rock for the last couple of months, you’ll have come to accept that Craig Breen likely won’t be driving a Hyundai next season.
Which means what? A split program for Dani Sordo and Oliver Solberg? Possibly. Or maybe go full-bore with Solberg – Adamo’s hinted already that the driver rotation policy come to an end for next year. He knows he needs drivers in the hybrid car as often as possible to find out what makes the thing tick.
A full program for Solberg would work, just like it’s worked for Takamoto Katsuta at Toyota. Crucially, Katsuta has driven a fourth car shorn of any points-scoring expectation.
Dropping the now 20-year-old into a high-pressure situation with a new generation of cars would be high risk. Then again, Toyota did precisely that with Kalle Rovanperä and that hasn’t work out too badly.
High risk, yes. But high potential reward too.
Ultimately, if the first ever Loriaux-penned Hyundai is as fast and reliable as the Subarus and Fords he made before, having Ott Tänak and Thierry Neuville leading the team should be enough for Hyundai to offer some defense against an Elfyn Evans-Rovanperä Toyota partnership featuring cameos from Sébastien Ogier and Esapekka Lappi.
But just when you might think there’s enough pressure from the new sporting regulations for next season, you build in the commercial weight of expectation from Hyundai’s new i20 N Rally2 – a car that Adamo has said will be a considerable improvement on its predecessor in both performance and sales.
But worried how?
From the top of his tenure at the top of the team, Adamo was absolutely clear where the buck stops. It stops with him. Is he worried about his place in the team?
I very much doubt it. Adamo has put in place processes that have helped him lead his team to two world championships – that’s twice as many titles as Hyundai enjoyed under the previous regime. He will believe in those processes and he will stand firm behind them.
He’s not about to compromise on the principles in which he set about the job.
Is he worried about what will happen to the Hyundai i20 Rally1 when it rolls over the start ramp in Casino Square in just over three months?
Without a doubt.
Any regulation change always introduces unpredictability. But there’s regulation change and there’s what we’ve got coming next year.
Everything changes. And faith has to be put so very firmly into so many folk new to this side of motorsport in hybrid component and battery suppliers Compact Dynamics and Kreisel. Both firms are experts in their field, but their field has never before been the World Rally Championship.
For you and I, that unpredictability is one of the many things about WRC 2022 that will plonk us very firmly on the edge of our seats and leave us there all season long.
It’s Adamo’s job to manage the unpredictability. Like his brethren, he wants consistency, stability, dependability. He wants predictability. And that’s the one thing he can’t have in 2022.
From where he’s sitting, worried is about right.