After two World Rally Championship titles with Sebastien Ogier, M-Sport Ford is going into 2019 facing uncertain prospects following its champion's exit for Citroen.
Malcolm Wilson has insisted there will be no dip in performance from his M-Sport Ford World Rally Team, if the squad returns to the WRC next season.
Wilson admitted the loss of Sebastien Ogier was significant for 2019, but added his team had learned from the Frenchman and – after four years without success – now know what it takes to win at the highest level.
“The target is still to try and stay at highest level,” Wilson told Motorsport.com's sister publication Motorsport News. “If we are running [next season] then it will only be two cars unless the third car is paid for.
"We learned a lot from Seb and I have absolutely no intention of doing anything to decrease our level of performance. For sure, we won’t be staying in as good hotels, and there are things we won’t be doing next year, we’ll be looking at costs – every cost – but we won’t do anything that could have a detrimental effect on the car.”
The team has already begin preparations with Teemu Suninen for next season’s opener in Monte Carlo and Wilson said there is significant development in the pipeline for the Ford Fiesta WRC.
“There’s still a lot going on with the development of the car,” he added. “We’ve got new aero and new engine parts. The aero would be for a March homologation, so in time for Mexico if we’re there.”
The new aero is intended for the front and rear of the car, which prompted Wilson to defend the deployment of a new rear aero package in the middle of this year.
“I wouldn’t say the revised rear aero we ran this year was wrong [in terms of performance], but it was wrong from a durability point of view. No disrespect here, but we can’t afford to keep putting parts on our car like Toyota did in Australia – they must have spent around £200,000 on panels.
"These parts are a lot of money, the aero’s so intricate with so many pieces – that’s why it costs so much. Maybe it would be good to find a way, with the next set of regulations, to see if we can get the same aero effect but by reducing the costs.”
Teemu Suninen, Mikko Markkula, Ford Fiesta WRC, M-Sport Ford
Photo by: M-Sport
Wilson praised Ford’s input into ongoing development of the car, adding: “We could have some new engine parts for Monte, things like changes to the injectors – bigger stuff will come later, when we’re looking at a completely new cylinder head. These are big parts needing big investment and this is where Ford is really helping on the technical side of things, they’ve been doing a lot for us.”
It remains to be seen if Elfyn Evans is retained for next season. The Welshman is understood to be on Wilson’s shortlist, along with Ireland’s Craig Breen, if the team does remain in WRC.
In losing Ogier, Wilson accepted M-Sport’s potential for wins had dipped, but he refused to see those odds returning to the lengths of 2016, when Mads Ostberg and Evans fronted a winless season in the old Fiesta RS WRC.
“We’ve got a more competitive car [than in 2016] now,” said Wilson. “Don’t forget, the previous [Fiesta RS] WRC was an evolution of our S2000 car. This current car is designed as an out and out World Rally Car and I just know from what we’ve got coming technically that we are going to remain competitive.
“If we weren’t getting the same level of technical support from Ford, then I’ve got to be realistic and say no, we wouldn’t be able to remain as competitive. But Ford gives me the confidence – and I still believe we’ll get a sponsor, something will happen. I know we will have a competitive package.”
While the car remains at the sharp end, Wilson admitted the commercial side of the operation would be more complicated with the Cumbrian outfit still counting the cost of two years funding Ogier.
“I wouldn’t swap those two years for anything,” said Wilson, “but I can’t continue. It’s proved we have still got the ability to win – I never lost that faith. I knew the new car could be enough to do the job and the last two years have given everybody at M-Sport the confidence that we can do it. If we have to take 12 months away without the same success, then OK.
"We hadn’t won a rally for four years before Seb joined us and, don’t get me wrong I don’t want to go another four years… We know we have the package to win with this car.
“I’ve got people telling me we don’t need to be in the WRC and if this was a corporation, then you would probably say: 'I won’t do it.'
“But, it’s just me. I feel I have to be at the highest level, but I’ve also got to be sensible and understand the commercial implications.”
Wilson’s decision will have to be made before December 21 when the FIA closes its registrations for next year’s World Rally Championship.
2018 WRC champions Sébastien Ogier, Julien Ingrassia, Ford Fiesta WRC, M-Sport Ford, Malcolm Wilson
Photo by: M-Sport