Reigning World Rally champion Ott Tänak came close to leaving the driver’s seat after he was dropped by M-Sport at the end of the 2012 season, he has revealed.
The Estonian star struggled to find any consistency in his first season at the sport’s highest level, and crashing out of a comfortable fifth place in the season-ending Rally Spain was the last straw for team principal Malcolm Wilson.
Tänak’s seat aboard a Ford Fiesta RS WRC was taken by Mads Østberg and Evgeny Novikov (fellow 2012 M-Sport Ford drivers Petter Solberg and Jari-Matti Latvala had also left), while he was left to return home and consider running his own preparation firm with a handful of Subaru outings in the Estonian Rally Cup.
“In 2012,” Tänak told DirtFish, “everything was happening fast, it was my first full season. I guess I had quite many mistakes, quite a bit of pressure on myself. Obviously I was not able to handle it all.
“I was able to do some good stage times, but never a good event. Altogether, I guess it was a good time to back off, to take some time. Of course it’s never good to take a complete break from the championship, so that was definitely not optimal, but OK we had to do it.
“I would say I was never going to leave the sport completely, if I was not going to be a driver I would have been still involved in some other way. I was still very interested in the sport. But as a driver, I nearly retired that year. I nearly didn’t plan to continue.”
Fortunately, Wilson granted Tänak a second chance and brought him back into the works team in 2015 after a mixed programme of WRC and WRC2 outings the year before.
Asked what career advice he might give his younger self given the chance, Tänak replied: “To really give any advice to young drivers, I’m not sure they really listen. Some things you need to learn myself.
“I was obviously not learning too quickly, but anyway rallying is complicated. There are so many different things happening, they are long events, a lot to do, a lot to manage, a lot to understand. So it’s never easy, it’s a lot about the experience and then, yeah, of course you need to be talented but you also need to be able to learn quickly and take in a lot of information.”
Tänak learned plenty once he was back full time from 2015: he took his maiden WRC win in 2017, challenged for the title in 2018 and became champion in 2019 with Toyota, and is now learning a new setup at Hyundai.