Esapekka Lappi doesn’t do talk for the sake of talk. Verbose he is not. Cool, calm and coherent he most definitely is.
He’s also blessed with another endearing Finnish trait: total disdain for hyperbole. So, when he says he doesn’t think he’s driving as fast as he once did, you kind of know he means it.
Fortunately, he knows the reason. Even more fortunately, he knows how to fix it. Or at least some of it.
Two children and family life undoubtedly brings a different perspective to that of a carefree 21-year-old.
Stopping and changing a wheel in Estonia wasn’t part of his plan last week and when that Pirelli was knocked off the rim first time through Otepää, the wind was very much removed from the sails above the #4 GR Yaris Rally1.
“I felt this was bad luck,” he said. “I felt it was the same when we were in Sardinia. Sometimes this is just pushing the feeling down a bit. Like Sardinia, I was preparing well and concentrating and doing all of the hard work. Doing things right and then this…”
His voice trails away and his gaze moves from the interview to the middle distance.
Kalle Rovanperä is tucking into a protein-packed lunch similar to Lappi’s, but the feeling from his fellow Finn is quite different.
The spinnaker above the sister Toyota is billowing in the wind as the driver a decade his junior tacks a course towards this year’s title.
“I don’t have words for him,” he said, looking towards Rovanperä.
Those words, that sentence is said without a trace of malice or malevolence. More marvel and sheer wonderment.
“I think the driving itself has been OK,” he said. “There has been a few bad stages but generally it’s not been too bad. To match Elfyn [Evans] or Kalle, I feel I cannot do it. It’s too much risk. When I feel I’m doing a good stage, still they always go a bit faster.
“It might also be the mindset: when you know you’re not fighting for the win, then there is little margins that you still leave spare. And maybe these little things are making the difference.
“Kalle has, at the moment, a really amazing flow and he’s young, he’s willing to take a lot of risks. Maybe for him he doesn’t feel that it’s risky, but I feel, you know, I was fast in the past as well… but now I don’t feel that I’m fast anymore.”
Question is, who is fast compared with the championship leader?
“Kalle starts,” Lappi continued, quietly, “he starts to be unbeatable.”
What’s the interpretation of that? Is Lappi throwing in the towel? If that’s the case, what’s the point of keeping him on the team?
Trust me, the towel’s not pictured. And even if it was, it’s nowhere near being thrown. This is just Esapekka being the ruthless realist he always is. It was the same when his time with M-Sport came to an end. He didn’t try to dress it up, he talked straight. Same again when he landed the big deal, no BS or big talk, just bottom-of-the-heart honesty. I love that about him.
Can he still win?
“Yeah,” is the answer. “In Sardinia I believed I could do it and the speed has been really good this year. So why not?”
He’s right. Not being in the car week-in-week-out is worth fractions of a second, but those fractions add up as seconds stack into minutes and minutes roll into hours. His admission that he’s not as quick as he was in the middle of a full season is as honest as it is straightforward.
Doesn’t mean he’s not still backing himself – albeit quietly – for a win.