WORD BY: PAUL HANAPHY IMAGES BY: RED BULL CONTENT POOL
M-Sport team principal Richard Millener has admitted that his team could benefit from bringing in one of rally’s big names to bolster its 2024 WRC campaign.
Since it was revealed that Ott Tanak would be departing to rejoin Hyundai for next season, Millener has consistently said M-Sport’s young drivers can fill the gap left behind.
But at the season-ending Rally Japan, he changed tack slightly, saying “it would be great to have an A-lister in the car” as they “allow you to compete for world championships.”
However, with budgetary concerns continuing to surround M-Sport heading into the new campaign, he added that his team “have to be realistic.”
“We’re not going to be able to have two ‘Class I’ drivers to mount a full attack on the championship,” he said.
“We need to keep bringing younger drivers through, and this is a great opportunity to do so and get some benefit, just by being consistent and not going out there with the goal of winning outright.”
While this admission leaves the door open to signing a ‘Class I’ driver, it also suggests that he’ll stick with at least one from his existing crop, despite a difficult 2024 campaign.
Aside from Tanak, M-Sport only fielded one full-time driver in 2023, Pierre-Louis Loubet, who led in Portugal and ran third in Sardinia, but never actually finished higher than sixth.
He was later replaced by Adrien Formaux at Rally Japan.
Having put in a string of strong Rally2 performances, Formaux was rewarded with a Rally1 return, but this ended abruptly on day two when he crashed into the same ditch as Dani Sordo.
Although Millener has since asserted that the Frenchman’s future won’t be decided “just on what happened in Japan,” it certainly didn’t do him any favours.
With the M-Sport boss also calling Loubet’s season “very challenging,” and suggesting that “he lost his confidence mid-season,” the future of both drivers is now up in the air.
To the media, Millener has talked up their chances, but assuming M-Sport opts to run two cars again next season, it’s worth considering who else could be in contention.
This year, the team fielded private entries for Jourdan Serderidis, Alberto Heller, and Gregoire Munster. As the youngest of this bunch, Munster would appear the obvious solution as a left-field choice, and he was competing at the front in Rally2 in Japan before sliding off three stages from the end.
That said, none of these have a history of competing for top-level WRC honours, so with M-Sport’s 2024 line-up still undecided could a big name still swoop in for a seat?
Ahead of the 2023 season, the team considered Oliver Solberg, a driver with two wins in this year’s Rally2, whose family name is synonymous with rally success. But his Monster Energy backing previously clashed with M-Sport’s Red Bull deal, preventing his drive.
While Millener has done nothing to silence rumours that this deal could still happen, It remains to be seen if a viable commercial resolution can be found.
Sebastien Loeb, who led three rallies for M-Sport in a part-time campaign last year, also appears to be tied up with commitments to race in Dakar.
All this leaves M-Sport facing a new campaign with a Tanak-shaped hole in its driver lineup, and unless it signs a surprise A-lister, a mountain to climb to compete at the front.