It’s fair to say it’s not been the easiest of summers for those on the inside of M-Sport. There’s been disappointment, derision and, at times, near despair.
We’ve seen the pain and anguish for Malcolm Wilson, Richard Millener, Chris Williams and the other fan-facing folk. But what about those back at home? What about the others? What about the women and men who came in on the weekend to machine new parts, to build new cars and to do their bit to keep the world championship’s longest standing squad on the road?
Friday and Saturday, the last two days have been for them.
I’ve been fortunate enough to know a good few of the M-Sport team for pretty much my whole working life. I’ve seen them come close with Colin McRae, just miss out with Mikko Hirvonen and then take back-to-back world championships. Twice.
Like pretty much every team in the sport, they regularly put their heart and soul into what they do. It’s why they’re there: for the love of the sport and for the opportunity to be the best in the world.
It’s for them that I absolutely hope Ott Tänak holds it all together for one more day.
In recent years, Wilson’s concerns over the next season have been absolutely justified – never more so than since the arrival of Rally1 cars. MW was told quite clearly that he would have the ability to sell the fastest rally cars ever made. Yes, they would be workable in domestic championships. And yes, there would definitely be a market for them.
Hasn’t exactly turned out that way. Not in the least. There’s been a distinct lack of cash flowing into Cumbria.
Granted, there are Rally2 and Rally3 car sales helping to keep the lights on, but it’s the bigger Rally1 deals to sell and run cars which built the investment to keep M-Sport’s World Rally Championship team running.
Twelve months ago, when Tänak was talking to Wilson and Millener about jumping ship from Hyundai, I understand the whole plan was laid out to him. He was told not to join them unless he’d tested the car and knew what he was getting himself in for.
I’m sure there would have been an irresistible wave of pre-2023 optimism building, but Tänak was nothing if not thorough. The due diligence and legals went on for pages and pages, weeks and months.
Admittedly, the car’s development hasn’t moved through the gears at quite the same rate he would have wanted, but when does it for a driver?
My reason for writing this is because I’m not sure credit has landed where credit’s truly due.
Tänak was offered multiple opportunities through the season to offer that credit and, largely, he’s thumbed his nose at such a chance. I think he’s wrong in that.
It’s true, I can’t begin to understand the frustration he feels when he suffers an engine problem on the eve of his home round of the world championship or the water pump fails on the first morning in Greece.
The disappointment must be immense. But it’s not just him who suffered that disappointment. It’s the whole team. And rule number one of any team has to be the ability to win – and lose – together.
Ott knows that. Like he knows so many of the people in Dovenby Hall.
They were the same people who cried tears of joy when he scored his first WRC point, won his first stage and ultimately his first rally. Heck, they were the same people who formed a guard of honour for him to drive through when he won his first world championship in 2019… in a Toyota.
Tänak talks of Wilson as a father figure and of M-Sport as an extended family. It’s time to show that family some appreciation and – hopefully – today will bring that opportunity.
A Tänak win is always something that will be celebrated in my house. He’s a favourite with my family – and with me. I was drawn to a fighting spirit when I met him for the first time 15 years ago and my appreciation of his single-minded determination will never dim.
But sometimes it’s just nice to be nice.