Ott Tänak will not look back on 2021 with any great fondness. Were he the Queen of England, he might even be tempted to label it his annus horribilis. And that was before he took the decision to withdraw from the final round for family matters.
The primary point here is to offer our thoughts to the lovely Tänak family. I’ve been on the receiving end of their warmth and sincerity and I’m sure everybody joins me in sending plenty of the same in their direction.
It’s been a tough one. Two. Actually.
When the 2019 World Rally Champion signed to drive an i20 Coupe WRC in 2020, he certainly didn’t expect the sort of dip in results he’s endured. The two previous seasons in a Toyota Yaris WRC landed him 10 wins. His 2020/21 tally with the Alzenau-based squad? Two. That said, he’s only started 18 events across two seasons with Hyundai, compared to the pre-COVID normality of 26 events with Toyota.
Missing Monza means Tänak will remain rooted in fifth place at the end of the year. You have to go back to 2016 to find a campaign which ended with him outside of the top three.
You get the picture: a tricky honeymoon period in Andrea Adamo’s team has become a complicated early marriage. Tänak is, however, pragmatic about the situation.
But don’t confuse pragmatism with acceptance of where he is. Apart from a few barbed comments mid-season, he’s kept his powder comparatively dry. That’s because he can see into the future.
When Tänak renewed his Hyundai agreement for another two years in May, he did so because he believes in Adamo and, perhaps even more importantly, he knew his old M-Sport mucker Christian Loriaux was heading south from Cumbria to the Frankfurt suburbs.
There was one request during last week’s media-friendly test in Italy: don’t talk to Christian. The keeper of all the secrets remained off limits. Much as it pained DirtFish to steer clear of one of the most entertaining, charismatic and friendly (mostly…) faces in the service park, we complied.
It is, however, fairly common knowledge that Loriaux has significantly re-engineered Hyundai’s 2022 hybrid offering. And continues to do so. Tänak – and his close friend Markko Märtin – have seen first-hand what Loriaux can do. His work at Subaru and M-Sport mark him out as the muddy Adrian Newey.
Rather alarmingly – but actually quite amusingly – I’ve heard some of my colleagues wondering if Tänak’s past his prime.
Now, I’m no Tänak apologist, but sometimes I wonder if I’ve been watching a different season to some folk.
The bloke has to be the unluckiest driver of the season. Surely. Yes, yes, yes, I know you make your own luck and all that baloney, but let’s take a very quick overview of the 2021 campaign shall we.
Monte? Two punctures and retirement (via a visit to the Stewards’ room for a slap on the wrist). Lapland was a lights-to-flag victory. Pure class very close to Toyota’s backyard.
Admittedly, Croatia was disappointing. He was off the pace but took points. Then came the season-killers: Portugal, Sardinia and Safari.
He was leading Portugal by 22 seconds when the suspension let go. Same again in Sardinia, this time his advantage was 40s. Then the screen de-mister failed on the only wet stage in Kenya. Had he been able to see where he was going in Saturday’s second shot at Sleeping Warrior, he would have won.
Looking to repeat his 2020 home win in Estonia, he dropped it and made, for me, his first significant mistake of the season. Third in Ypres was lost to a puncture, then he bagged a brace of seconds in Greece and Finland before his second mistake of the year when he crashed out of Spain.
Am I missing something? That doesn’t sound like the resume of somebody last seen disappearing over the hill.
Admittedly, you can imagine a bunch of mid-stage issues have hit his stage win record pretty hard this year. On far too many occasions, we’ve seen him crawling through early Sunday stages, looking after his tires for the powerstage.
That’s probably why he’s only topping the charts in the number of 2021 stage wins by 10 from his team-mate Thierry Neuville.
Seriously. Do the math….
The Estonian’s Hyundai is statistically the season’s quickest car.
The big thing point here is that Hyundai Motorsport and the wider world of WRC will miss Ott and Martin Järveoja in Monza.