The impact was instant. On the very weekend François-Xavier Demaison joined Hyundai Motorsport, it won Rally Italy with Thierry Neuville.
After two seasons with back-of-the-pack Williams in Formula 1, Demaison clearly hadn’t forgotten how to win. Although it must be stated that Demaison’s impact on that Sardinian success was minimal, as team principal Cyril Abiteboul light-heartedly pointed out at the time.
But ever since, Demaison’s arrival has been felt through the walls of Alzenau. He’s a key part of a jigsaw Hyundai is looking to rebuild following a turbulent, and ultimately rudderless, season in 2022 with no bonafide leader in the ranks.
Abiteboul’s appointment in January was step one, and one of Abiteboul’s first key targets was to instil a technical director – a position that didn’t exist when he arrived.
Demaison was that man, and lead driver Neuville is impressed.
“We have a few new key persons in key positions,” he told DirtFish.
“The restructuring is ongoing and we can see clearly the trend is positive, so that gives us definitely a lot of motivation but it gives a lot of motivation to every team member to see that we are improving, especially on rallies like [Finland] where it has been difficult.
“It’s good to see.”
The feeling within Hyundai is that it still has some ground to make up on Toyota, which has won seven of the nine rounds so far in 2023 and is currently on track for its third world championship double in a row as it leads both the drivers’ and manufacturers’ races.
Demaison is hamstrung in how much he can do due to the WRC’s homologation joker system for technical development, but beyond the influence he can have on the i20 N Rally1, Neuville has noticed an attitude shift within the team since the Frenchman – who was the technical mastermind behind Volkswagen’s domination of the WRC from 2013-16 – joined.
“Maybe it’s going to start soon, that’s for sure,” he said when asked when Hyundai would start feeling the F-X effect.
“But for sure he’s still got a big job left in restructuring the different departments but he’s doing that well.
“And for sure you can see that only the victory counts for him, and that’s the mentality he’s pushing into every team member as well.
“And that’s good.”