Wilson: Fourmaux’s a clever boy

Adrien Fourmaux is the latest M-Sport driver to step back in order to progress. What does 2024 hold?

Adrien Fourmaux

There’s a distinct sense of déjà vu about Adrien Fourmaux’s return to the top class of the World Rally Championship for this season.

Having secured a seat in an M-Sport Ford Puma Rally1 for 2022, following his meteoric rise from national level rallying to the WRC, the affable Frenchman’s season went downhill in a hurry, literally. A spectacular roll down a mountain in Monte Carlo set the tone for a disastrous campaign that left Fourmaux demoted to M-Sport’s Rally2 operation for 2023.

But another year, and numerous Rally2 successes including the British Rally Championship title, and the Frenchman has earned a second chance at the WRC’s top table.

Taking its young drivers out of the WRC for a year to focus on re-building confidence is an approach that has worked for M-Sport numerous times in the past. So, is Fourmaux better prepared this time around? M-Sport managing director Malcolm Wilson certainly thinks so.

Fourmaux Finland

While he took to the air in Finland, 2022 was a forgettable season for Fourmaux

“Adrien, I personally think is now ready for the transition [to Rally1],” Wilson told DirtFish. “We tried to do a lot with him last year, giving him as much seat time as possible and giving him events that bring him confidence – the British Rally Championship, plus some other stuff. And he did some great results with our upgraded Fiesta Rally2. So I think he’s ready for it.”

Fourmaux’s path back to Rally1 is almost identical to that of M-Sport prodigy and now Toyota team leader Elfyn Evans. Following a difficult 2015 WRC season with the Cumbrian-based outfit, Evans was demoted back to the British series for the following year. The Welshman duly won the BRC in 2016, earning him a place back in M-Sport’s WRC squad for the following year, where he would deliver a maiden WRC victory on Rally GB.

Estonian Ott Tänak also had a stint back at national level in his homeland after his initial WRC foray with M-Sport, before returning to sport’s top level and similarly winning rallies for the team.

So, is Fourmaux on the same trajectory as the M-Sport youngsters who have gone before him?

Malcolm Wilson
He’s a clever boy, he’s got a good understanding of the Puma Malcolm Wilson

“I think he has the potential, but in all honesty he’s doing it earlier in his career than Elfyn and with what we did with Ott,” said Wilson. “He definitely doesn’t have as many rallies under his belt, as much experience under his belt, but I’m confident that he’s ready for it.

“He’s a clever boy, he’s got a good understanding of the Puma [Rally1]. For sure he’s made a lot of mistakes that he shouldn’t have made, considering his all round ability, but I think he’s matured a lot. I think he understands now that he doesn’t need to be the fastest on every stage. If he has a measured year, then I’m sure he can end up with a good position in the championship.”

Arguably, Fourmaux’s position in the drivers’ standing come the end of the year might not offer a true indication of the quality of his season; a top-five finish shouldn’t be too much of a stretch given there are only six full-time drivers in the WRC – with one of those being his inexperienced team-mate Grégoire Munster. As the de facto team leader, it’s his individual results that will count the most, as M-Sport looks to prove it can still contend at the front of the field without a WRC winner in its line-up.

Asked if Fourmaux needs to contend for podiums in 2024, Wilson emphatically replied “For sure.” But for the Rally1-returnee to achieve such results, the M-Sport chief acknowledges his team need to improve the reliability and speed of the Puma Rally1.

“We’ve still got some work to do on the car,” he admitted. “We had some reliability issues last year that we shouldn’t have had, so the key for this year is that we’ve got to give both guys a reliable package, which I know we can do. And obviously we’ve still got to look at improving the performance as well.”

If Fourmaux can deliver on his undoubted potential, he will join a long list of established WRC stars who have cut their teeth with M-Sport. After a lifetime dedicated to the sport, his team’s reputation for getting the best out of young drivers is still something that brings Wilson a lot of satisfaction.

“Every driver is different, you never get two guys the same,” he said. “Working with young guys is challenging, but that’s what I enjoy.”