Is it fair to say that M-Sport Ford is behind Toyota and Hyundai in terms of reliability?
Ott Tänak battled with an intermittent power-steering problem in Monte Carlo, encountered a turbo issue on the first stage of Rally México and ran into an undiagnosed (publicly at least) gremlin in Croatia which stymied his attack on leader Elfyn Evans.
Pierre-Louis Loubet clipped a stone which broke his power-steering completely on the Monte, almost lost sixth place on the powerstage in Sweden as his engine died and then couldn’t get the car into stage mode for one of the stages on the final morning in Croatia.
I had the question lined up, feeling fairly sure that yes, that is a fair assessment.
But M-Sport team principal Richard Millener’s rebuttal was strong.
“I’m not sure we have [had any more problems],” he said.
“I think a lot of people have jumped on the issue we had in México, which was very obvious, but then Elfyn had a similar thing in Croatia but because it happened on the shakedown maybe it was missed a little bit more.
“Hyundai have had issues as well, but Thierry’s got back to service in México maybe where the gearbox [sic driveshaft] was broken or whatever it was.
“I think everybody’s having their own issues, it’s just we’re probably the first one to have a technical that’s in your face, in the middle of a stage, first car on the road while you’re leading the championship.
“[Esapekka] Lappi had his huge crash in México, Taka [Katsuta]’s had crashes, there’s stuff going on in every team.
“I just think ours has been… not unfairly picked on but came more to light because of the situation surrounding it.”
M-Sport’s focus is predominantly on delivering Tänak a car that he is fully satisfied, and completely at-one, with.
Reliability-wise, “there’s nothing that we’re completely worried about”.
Asked therefore if the team is happy Tänak is as close as he is in the world championship when not at 100% or worried that he’ll never reach 100%, Millener said: “I think it’s happy where we are at the moment.
“And it’s always difficult to see because you only get the feedback from your drivers about your car. OK, Ott has some very good experience with some of the other cars, but each team is completely different, so ultimately, you’re benchmarking your results based on what your drivers are telling you about your car.
“So, there’s only so much you can do on that and like I say I think the bottom, underlying thing is that the results are coming.
“If Ott wasn’t feeling too comfortable and we were sixth or eighth every rally we’d be in a hell of a situation – but we’re not. We’re within a handful of points of the lead of the championship, and that’s the key deciding factor you’ve got to look at as well.
“But as I’ve said to you right from the start of the year, at no point do you ever sit back and say, ‘we’re done, that’s everything we can possibly do.’
“We’re developing all year long and you have to do it in a public environment when you have limited test days.”