Toyota’s Esapekka Lappi is already prepared for the potential of team orders on this week’s Rally Sweden – but says he’d be “fine with it” if he was asked to move over for either of his two team-mates.
Lappi has returned to Toyota this year after making his top-class World Rally Championship debut with the team in 2017. He had left after the 2018 season for spells with Citroën and M-Sport, followed by a small number of WRC2 appearances last year that led to wins on Arctic Rally Finland and Portugal.
He is now seat-sharing with reigning World Rally champion Sébastien Ogier, who has turned his primary focus to the World Endurance Championship. This week’s Rally Sweden will mark Lappi’s first event of the season, as Ogier finished second on the season-opening Monte Carlo Rally behind M-Sport’s Sébastien Loeb.
That potentially puts Lappi in a strong position for the first seven stages in Sweden as the second-to-last car onto the stages, only ahead of Hyundai’s Oliver Solberg.
I'm sure I will not keep my job if I don't let's say play for the team and that's the way it is. You need to accept it and I'm fine with it.Esapekka Lappi
Despite being down on Rally1 seat time and only doing one rally at the top level over the last 12 months, Lappi is still being talked about as a potential victor this week.
But he is aware that the situation could become “tricky” if he is out front and either Elfyn Evans and Kalle Rovanperä – who are both contesting the full championship season – are directly behind him.
“For sure we go there, like on a normal rally, to do our best but on the other hand definitely we need to think about the big picture as well,” he told DirtFish.
“But so far the preparation, everything is just we go there, we try to fight, we need to see where we are first of all let’s say after Friday and at the moment at least it’s allowed for me to be successful as well.
“It’s not said that I cannot be [leading] if there is a possibility for that [a win], but for sure it can make things tricky let’s say for ourselves if we are leading and there is a Toyota also in second place.
“So that can be tricky on Sunday, but in the end this is a very good situation if that happens so for sure I’m not disappointed, but I think it’s still a bit early to talk about winning and this stuff.
“I understand you know probably my starting position, it looks now at least that it should be good, but there are some negative effects maybe with the tire wear we don’t know. I’m sure, or I believe that our pace is not bad. I’d be very surprised if it is really bad.”
When it was put to him that his attitude of accepting his position within the team was incredibly mature and pragmatic, Lappi added: “Yeah. I mean I also know that some team bosses, they want to see angry drivers – that they are hungry enough to fight for the win and this stuff.
“I’m also hungry, but I want to be realistic as well. I’m sure I will not keep my job if I don’t let’s say play for the team and that’s the way it is. You need to accept it and I’m fine with it.”
Although Lappi is acutely aware of the possibility, Toyota has never – at least publicly – implored team orders since it returned to the WRC in 2017, aside from asking Rovanperä to drive conservatively on last year’s Monza Rally to safeguard Toyota’s manufacturers’ championship.
Speaking to DirtFish during last month’s Monte Carlo Rally, team principal Jari-Matti Latvala was asked if Ogier would potentially be asked to move aside on future rallies if a similar scenario to what Lappi painted manifested itself.
He said: “Basically the principle of Toyota is they don’t like team tactics, and that’s basically also my personal side.
“It’s a very, very rare situation that we play any tactics.”