Matton: WRC will come out of crisis stronger than ever

FIA rally chief believes championship can thrive after coronavirus

M-Sport Ford WRC Rally México 2020

FIA rally director Yves Matton is confident the World Rally Championship will emerge from the COVID-19 crisis as a stronger and more collaborative series.

Matton is meeting with the series stakeholders on a regular basis and admits the department has never worked harder than it is now to find a solution and exit strategy from coronavirus.

The next three rounds of the WRC have been postponed, with the Safari Rally announcing its immediate plans – which will centre around a probable postponement – in the coming days.

Before talking about the impact of COVID-19 on the sport, Matton wanted to pay tribute to those working against the coronavirus.

“We have seen some incredible people doing incredible jobs, especially the health workers,” Matton told DirtFish.

“These people are the heroes of our society and we have to thank all of them for what they are doing.

“I think we all know some people in our sport who are working in these areas, we look forward to seeing them all when we emerge from this period to say thank you.”

Talking more specifically about the World Rally Championship, Matton said: “We know this crisis will have a big impact in motorsport in general and on the WRC.

“But the feeling I have, and what we really want with the FIA, is to try to be stronger after this crisis than before.

“All I can tell you is that the discussions with stakeholders are more open-minded than in the past. Nothing is taboo and nobody is taking offence when you put some ideas on the table that, just a few weeks ago, were not well-received when you were trying to speak about it.

“Bringing the stakeholders together to find a more sustainable future for the WRC is so important and it gives me confidence to see everybody working more closely right now; it’s very nice to see the thinking is more about the championship and not each person’s own interest.

“For us it’s important to keep all of the players. With my previous career [as team principal at Citroën] I fully understand the teams have investment in cars which are not running and we have to find a solution to have them all onboard in 2021 and keep them alive in 2020. This is the reason to take the right decisions and not the quick decisions.

“Maybe this is my character to wait a bit and make a plan with the right level of information.

“Everybody expects something and everybody wants information. In this big period of doubt everybody wants this and we are the same, we want to know what will be our future – but it’s not a reason to rush in and maybe influence badly the future.”

Yves Matton

Matton warned the rally community not to take the absence of news on a daily basis as a lack of work towards solving what is an ever-developing question of which rally goes where. But he underlined his determination to plan the WRC’s future.

He added: “I don’t say we don’t work hard and work every day on this – we do and we are. We are not just sitting and waiting for when the day comes [and lockdown ends]. For sure we are having to work harder than we have done in the past due to this situation. But we are working to make the right decisions.”

Matton said his confidence in the future was bolstered by the commitment shown from the series stakeholders.

“The main thing and all I can tell you is that manufacturers and organizers are motivated to start as early as possible and are all committed to be part of the WRC,” he said.

“But everything is linked to government decision and each week we have new information from the government – like France on Monday [which announced changes in its lockdown policy].

“Some countries are opening again or reducing the lockdown, but still it’s difficult to know the constraints, which borders will be closed. It’s difficult today and when we will have a clear view on when we will start again.

“One thing which is very important – and we are maybe in a different position to Formula 1 – the manufacturers in the WRC all strongly give us the message they want to continue to be involved in 2022 [for the next major technical regulation changes].

“Maybe we will have to change some things, but they all tell me they want to commit to 2022 and that’s the most important for the future. And maybe more than ever they are quite convinced for the future of the discipline, but also the sustainability of the WRC and the idea to have 20 [manufacturer-backed] cars at the start of each event.

“That gives me a lot of positivity and confidence for the future of the World Rally Championship that manufacturers still want to be committed to the WRC in different levels and not only as leading cars, but also involved with customer programs and everybody is really open-minded on exchanging and trying to find the best solution for the future of the WRC and the rally in general.”