M-Sport team principal Richard Millener says he “wouldn’t be disappointed” if the outfit fields current line-up Teemu Suninen, Gus Greensmith and Adrien Fourmaux in the first year of the World Rally Championship’s hybrid era in 2022.
The team has targeted a lead driver for the 2022 season, but of the WRC’s established ‘top four’ Hyundai has already locked in Thierry Neuville and Ott Tänak on multi-year contracts, Sébastien Ogier is expected to step back to a part-time program, and Elfyn Evans is believed to have agreed an extension with Toyota.
Managing director Malcolm Wilson conceded in May that lead driver options were “diminishing on a daily basis”, and though Millener said M-Sport had talked to every driver available he suggested retaining its drivers, who between them have 54 WRC starts in World Rally Cars, was also a possibility.
“There’s still a few options, there’s still no rush from our side, people can guess quite easily the number of seats that are still available, the number of drivers that are still available,” said Millener.
“I’d be lying if I said we didn’t speak to every single person that’s available, but ultimately, like I’ve said in previous interviews, all three of the drivers that we have in terms of Gus, Adrien, and Teemu all have good potential and if we stayed as we were then I still wouldn’t be disappointed.”
Millener pointed to Fourmaux’s stage-winning pace on last month’s Safari Rally Kenya and his and Greensmith’s performances on that event and in Croatia as examples of the qualities M-Sport wanted to see from its drivers.
“We might not be pushing 100% every rally to try and win, but we picked our stages [where] we can show we can be competitive and that’s both Gus and Adrien,” he added.
There's no real rush, but obviously we would like to get things in place sooner rather than laterRich Millener
“Teemu’s shown what he can do, which again, to lead and to win stages is critical.
“So we’ve got to look at all of our options, and the guys all know that these next few rallies are key to showing us what they’re capable of.
“But we need to see speed and consistency and development, and I think they’re all doing that in their own separate ways.”
M-Sport became the first of the three WRC teams to publicly show off a version of its 2022 car at Goodwood last week when it revealed the Ford Puma Rally1.
Millener said the need to lock in its line-up was “a bit more pressing maybe” than in previous years due to the change of regulations but added “we’re not in a position to announce anything as yet”.
“There’s no real rush, but obviously we would like to get things in place sooner rather than later because those drivers would test the car more and more towards the start of next year to get more comfortable with these new regs, because the cars are quite different,” he said.
Millener was asked about the team’s 2022 drivers in response to a question about Suninen’s options for next year.
The three-time podium finisher said he would like to have the opportunity to test before events wherever he drives in 2022, which next year he believes both the vacancies at M-Sport and the seat at Toyota that is likely to be shared with Ogier would offer.
“It’s difficult to say what the situation is right now,” said Suninen.
“Toyota is looking for one driver to do half a season or more, and then I think [at] M-Sport all the seats are still open, so there is room.”
Toyota team principal Jari-Matti Latvala also admitted on Wednesday that Suninen could be of interest to the team.
“We have been talking with all the drivers to have that second driver then for that third car,” Latvala said.
“I have mentioned earlier that there’s been Esapekka Lappi and Teemu Suninen, there are options. But on that side I can’t also clarify you anything, unfortunately, at this point.”
What do you think? Will M-Sport be competitive with its current driver line-up next year? Let us know in the comments.