Xavier Mestelan Pinon has sat on both sides of the fence. And the table. This week, the FIA’s technical director will sit around plenty of tables to talk through the future of the World Rally Championship.
That’s the immediate future and the medium term. Soon enough, we’ll know whether we have hybrid beyond the end of next season or not. But the bigger picture is what’s coming for January, 2027.
During his time at Citroën Racing, Mestelan Pinon would have joined the teams in banging the drum (and maybe even the table) to get technical regulations out as early as possible. Engineering and evolution and potentially a revolution doesn’t happen overnight.
“Two years,” Mestelan Pinon told DirtFish. “Maybe two and a half years.”
As a manufacturer, that was the optimal time he looked for in a new rule rollout.
Today, he knows that gives him and his technical team at world motorsport’s governing body around a year to decide on the direction, formulate a plan and write the rules which will dictate which way the WRC goes in the next homologation cycle.
Mestelan Pinon has given DirtFish readers an exclusive insight into the three possibilities for 2027 and beyond. They are battery-powered electric vehicles, bio-fuel or hydrogen.
XMP will take us through all three.
“People talk about e-fuel or whatever, for me, it’s all bio-fuel – it’s fuel at the exhaust, it’s the same. Today, the main difficulty we have for this is the quantity of synthetic fuel available at the market. It’s difficult because of this, but I am optimistic for 2027 that this is something which could work.
“We know that not all of the world has, for example, EV cars – everywhere is not like Europe and North America, we know that ICE cars will be around for some time yet.”
“We have seen already a lot of demonstration cars and some race cars and we know this can work perfectly. The main issue is still charging the cars. We can perform a stage of around 30 kilometers without a problem and at a good pace.
“I know from my experience with Formula E [as performance director at DS] the challenges we face with the battery. For a sprint race like in Formula E, it’s no problem.
“But if you want a race like a Formula 1 race then with the [Formula E] battery, you need to swap it 10 times in the race – for the long race Formula E is not proper yet.”
“This is something that is more new, but we still have some good examples in different projects like cross-country and WEC. It’s very challenging and we have to consider the big picture for the WRC is to promote technology and its partners and we have to do this all over the world and not just in Europe or North America.
“We have already some passenger cars running with hydrogen, but what we also have to consider with hydrogen is the network for distribution to fill the cars. If we think it is complicated for EVs then imagine what it can be like for hydrogen.”
“It’s not easy! It’s really not easy and we don’t want to make any mistakes. You know, we are the fan as well and we have to make sure the sport is right for everybody. It has to be right for all of the stakeholders, we need to be sure we have the buy-in from the manufacturers – we can do nothing without them. But, like I say, we have to remember the fans as well. We want to continue to attract the fans to these events.
“The good thing for us is that we have many cars competing already in all of these different technology areas, for hybrid we have Formula 1 and WEC and [WRC] and for hydrogen we are seeing cars coming very soon and, of course, there’s Formula E and lots of internal combustion, ICE series still.
“We need to organize a championship and to do that we need drivers, fans, sponsors, partners… we have to attract them and it’s about a compromise. OK, we could organize a championship which is using the internal combustion engine and a lot of fans would love it with the noise and the sound, but is it the best way to attract the manufacturers even if we use the bio-fuel? I’m not sure.
“What is very good now is the chassis, I think we can all agree that we have a good base. We made big improvements for safety and the regulations, this part of the car is very relevant and keeping this for the future makes sense. Regarding the power unit, battery, hydrogen or ICE, I don’t know, but we know we can put them all in the current chassis.
“We have to take care. We have to take our time to test the temperature of the water and to think about everything.
“My goal is to be sure all manufacturers who want to be involved in the World Rally Championship are able to use the championship as a showcase for the brand and technology.
“It’s also very important to keep in mind the cost has to be managed properly, it’s important to avoid any cost increase without being sure the [return on investment] is at the same level – this is why we cannot deploy all of the technology altogether. Let’s do it carefully.
“It would be very easy for me in the short-term to open it up and say: ‘It’s fully open for bio-fuel, for EV for everything… do what you want and we bring balance of performance.’ I’m pretty sure nobody wants that. We are here to develop the championship with the promoter and for that we need the correct regulation and this is our target for the future.
“I know everybody wants to know where we go, but when we talk with everybody interested to compete in the future of the WRC, we don’t have the same answer on this question: one pushes for EV, the other for hydrogen, the another wants to stay like it is now… It’s complicated, but we are working very hard on it.”
The same can be said from all sides of the table.