Esapekka Lappi is one of the most intriguing characters in the World Rally Championship
Brutally honest with a very dry sense of humor, he’s a straight-up guy that’ll always provide a good interview.
But the knock-on effect of that is Lappi has a tendency to beat himself up quite quickly if things aren’t quite going to plan.
That means that the sight, or sound, of a subdued EP at some point during a WRC round would regularly be scratched off your bingo card if such a product existed.
(It definitely should, by the way. I’ll speak to the DirtFish marketing team).
But I think Lappi should cut himself some slack after the Monte Carlo Rally.
Of course I can understand the frustrations that the setup direction wasn’t the right one – particularly as he began to find his feet on Saturday but then seemingly went backwards on Sunday.
And an end result of eighth, nudging four minutes shy of his old team-mate Sébastien Ogier’s rally-winning time, won’t be one Lappi’s keen to shout about for years to come.
But he’s got to consider the context. All things considered, Lappi’s Monte Carlo was far better than he seems to think it was.
2023 is a big season for the one-time WRC winner. Leaving his comfort zone of Toyota and moving to Hyundai, securing himself a full program of rallies for the first time in three years in the process, has made things more complicated than they could have been.
Prior to Monte Carlo, Lappi had limited miles under his belt in his new office – Hyundai’s i20 N Rally1. The one thing you don’t want when heading into the season’s first evening is to be feeling uncomfortable.
Lappi was hesitant through several of the corners on day one – feeling he was simply slowing down way more than he needed to. He wasn’t overly impressed with himself, but remember he hadn’t competed on a rally since September’s Acropolis Rally Greece.
His issues on Friday were shared by the rest of his Hyundai colleagues. The i20 had been set up far too softly for stages that, to coin Ott Tänak’s phrase, were racy. So again, Lappi shouldn’t be too hard on himself here when a former Monte winner and Hyundai veteran Thierry Neuville was also struggling.
But to Lappi’s credit, he made changes for Saturday and it paid off. Stiffening up the dampers and the suspension, the feeling improved and so did Lappi’s mood. A puncture deflated that somewhat, but it had been a good day and Lappi himself acknowledged that.
“We improved the car a lot and it feels better for me now. At least now I am satisfied, this is good,” he said.
On Sunday he lost his confidence. So the mission then became a tire-saving one for the powerstage.
“I was excited about the powerstage,” Lappi said, “but then I lost the hybrid on the third corner and then it’s uphill all the time, so that excitement went a bit down on that place.”
The final verdict?
“I am quite disappointed with my performance but the only way is to improve and try to be better on the next one.”
He’s even admitted that he might struggle to trust his judgement in testing for Sweden (a test he has since completed) after thinking he’d got the settings right for Monte. That’s surely just the emotion talking.
Sweden will be better. They’re conditions that suit Lappi and a rally he’s far more familiar with (unlike Monte Carlo) so he’ll get a far better read of where he’s at compared to last year in a Yaris. But the position Lappi’s already in is by no means disastrous.
Joining a new team is always a challenge – no matter how used to it Lappi may have gotten over the years – and the Monte is a tricky event to master. When he hadn’t been there since 2020 and was driving a car he didn’t know intimately yet, as much as he’d have loved to have been quicker I don’t think he could realistically have expected much more from himself.
Besides, look how badly Dani Sordo – a Hyundai driver since the beginning with experience of the Rally1 car last year – struggled. Lappi was more on top of the situation than Sordo was, on a surface you’d have backed Sordo to better Lappi on as well.
Lappi shouldn’t be feeling too annoyed with himself. His Monte wasn’t spectacular, but it didn’t need to be. There’s 12 more chances this year to excel, and he’ll head into each of them with more and more tools at his disposal to do so.