As soon as the WRC season ended, it was time to prepare for the short turn around that is the 2012 campaign. However, the future of M-Sport and Ford’s involvement in the World Rally Championship was brought into question as the latest deal between the two came to an end. Mikko Hirvonen left the team to pair with eight times champion Sebastien Loeb and dark days loomed for fans of the blue oval. Recent events in the media have shown that perhaps the standoff between Ford and M-Sport have come to an end and we may be ready for a new deal announcement on Monday.
The FiA had extended the manufacturer entry deadline to 19 Dec 2011 as news broke of CSI being put into administration. CSI was the parent company to North One Sport who oversees the commercial development and promoting of the WRC. During the most recent World Motorsport Council (WMSC) meeting in France, the motorsport governing body announced the deadline had been moved to help secure the commercial future and development of the World Rally Championship. That new deadline falls on Monday when it is assessed Ford will announce perhaps a long term extension with M-Sport.
I have spent a great deal of time trying to analyze what may be the fate of Ford and M-Sport for 2012. As I look at the situation between the two, it becomes increasingly clear. Like the other manufacturers, Ford is looking to promote the Fiesta in the WRC. That is the purpose really of any manufacturer looking to go motor racing. Ford Europe wants the Fiesta and all of its products to get maximum exposure. When CSI went into administration, the commercial future of the sport went into question with it. Would some of the promises of online streaming and better promotion go away completely? Would the WRC lose the momentum it has worked so hard to obtain? I think these were good questions Ford had to ask themselves before committing to a future in the sport. The FiA had to be aware of these concerns and pushed back the entry date for all of the teams as they themselves sorted through the mess Mr. Antanov had allegedly created. After talking with the FiA and hearing the reassurances from the governing body regarding growth and success of the WRC, I am led to believe Ford gave the ok to sign the M-Sport deal. Remember, exposure and promotion is the name of the game in motorsport. Exposure leads to sponsors, and sponsors lead to teams being able to compete.
I also look to the signs of Petter Solberg testing the Fiesta this week as a glimmer of hope too. Solberg has made it clear that he wants to be in a factory ride. Now we have to realize that Petter has been footing the bill for his team the last couple seasons, so a “factory” ride may be anything that he does not have to pay for. He will be testing the Fiesta Thursday and will be around M-Sport all weekend if the test goes well to sign a deal. I think that if Ford was leaving, we would see a driver like Ott Tanaak or Mads Ostberg take over the second seat. I would have to think a bigger budget would be needed to house Solberg and M-Sport just don’t have that budget without manufacturer support.
Gerard Quinn has also tweeted he will be at M-Sport this week. So regardless of the decision Ford have made, Quinn was inbound today in preparation for it. I think the pieces have fallen into place at Ford to be honest. Wilson, Quinn, and Solberg are all going to be in the area for what I think will be an announcement Monday of Ford’s continuation in the sport and Petter Solberg as the second driver.
So to wrap it up, I will be either very happy this coming Monday or very unhappy and flat wrong with everything I just wrote. I just can’t simply see Ford walking away from a sport that compliments its products like the WRC. Then again, the same was said about Subaru a few years ago. I suppose time will tell.