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EXCLUSIVE Malcolm Wilson, Ford WRT – Q&A

17 January 2012

Q:
It's been a difficult off-season for M-Sport with issues about promotion in the WRC and question marks about whether Ford would continue into 2012. As a company, you must be delighted that after all that, you have a new deal with Ford and things have fallen into place for the new campaign.

Malcolm Wilson:
You're right. The last three months of last year was a very difficult period from my point of view, just because of what we had created at M-Sport with a team of 230 people. Everyone knows what was happening in the world, it wasn't a good economic situation so negotiations were ongoing with Ford and the great thing was that there was always the desire to stay in WRC and we wanted to as well. That was great, but at the same time, everyone has to look at their business and what is happening.

Fortunately, we got to a position where we could find a solution to allow us to continue and then the issue of the promoter arrived. But we got the reassurances from the FIA that the WRC would continue in a sustainable way, so that gave Ford the confidence to commit to another two years with M-Sport. It was a tough period but it was a big relief when the deal was done and great timing for all the staff as it was confirmed just before Christmas, so it was the present that all the staff were hoping for. Of course, we'd never stopped pushing development and testing and we continued to work hard as the one thing we didn't want to do was stop everything and then find we were on the back foot when Monte Carlo started. Hopefully we are going into the season in really good shape.

Q:
The promoter issue is ongoing and changing all the time, so how difficult does it make it for you as a team principal to prepare for the Monte Carlo rally?

Malcolm Wilson:
As you say, the situation is always changing but the one thing we do know is that the organisers of the Monte Carlo Rally have organised a lot of rallies in the past. We were there in 2010 with Mikko [Hirvonen] for the debut of the Fiesta S2000 and we know that the rally will run and that they will do a good job. Obviously we need to work with the FIA to make sure that we can maximise the promotion so that everyone gets the value out of the investment they are making in the World Rally Championship. There is a lot of work to be done but we have a clear road map that was presented to us four weeks before Christmas and it is a case now of the FIA, manufacturers and all of the stakeholders working together to make sure we can implement that plan as soon as possible.

Q:
The Fiesta has a new livery for this season but also a new name on the side with Petter Solberg coming in to partner Jari-Matti Latvala. How strong will that line-up be as you look to challenge Citroen?

Malcolm Wilson:
I'm really happy. We have a strong line-up and I think everyone could see the performance of Jari-Matti in the second half of last season. He only won Rally GB but we know he could have won more, He was clearly the fastest driver and had more fastest times that any other driver, including Sebastien Loeb, last year and as lot of that was in the second half of the year. We know that Jari-Matti has developed to the point where we feel he can now go to every rally and challenge for victory, even on tarmac – some of his performances there last season were sensational. He finished the year on a high and is in great spirits and we know he is up for it. He has the back-up of Petter Solberg and we have made it clear that Jari-Matti is the number one and that Petter is there to back him up. That isn't to say that Petter won't win a rally as they both have equal equipment but I think Petter can bring a lot of experience as an ex-World Champion. Petter needs to concentrate in the first few rounds on running Jari-Matti's set-up so he can learn the car and then we can get some good feedback from him that will hopefully take the whole team forward.

Q:
In Petter, do you think you have a driver with something to prove as he's been running his own team for the past few years and has been working to try and get a works drive again. Is that something that will help Ford?

Malcolm Wilson:
Its an incredible opportunity for him. Now he really understands what is it like to run your own team so I think it will be a big weight off his shoulders. When you are doing it – and I know as I ran my own team - you think you can do it all and that you can run the team and drive the car and still win. But when you get into the position I am in now, you realise that to win at this level you can't have any distractions and you have to have full commitment. There is so much weight that has been removed from Petter's shoulders and he knows that it is his last chance and he will give 100 per cent into it to try and re-establish himself and get a seat in the Ford team for 2013.

Q:
A lot of people when Mikko moved to Citroen thought we would see Sebastien Ogier replace him – did discussions take place before he went with VW?

Malcolm Wilson:
There is no question we were in discussion with Sebastien and that was one of my targets, to try and pair Jari-Matti and Sebastien together in the team. Sadly, things couldn't go in that direction due to the financial situation and then he had the offer to go with VW. We wish him well but at the end of the day, we are very happy with our driver line-up for this year and have a strong team to challenge for both titles.

Q:
M-Sport is more than just the works Ford team, you run your other WRC cars as well. What's the state of play at the moment?

Malcolm Wilson:
A lot of it is still ongoing discussion. We have one team entered by M-Sport and that will contest of Ott Tanak doing all 13 events as the lead driver. At the moment, Evgeny Novikov is entered in that team for Monte Carlo and Sweden and that combination might change as the season goes on. We are still in discussions with sponsors for Matthew [Wilson] and Henning [Solberg] and of course there will be other private drivers in the team as well - Mads Ostberg will be back from Sweden. There are a lot of exciting young drivers coming through who will be in Fiestas.

Q:
When you throw the other Fiesta cars outside the WRC machine into the mix, how busy does the whole Ford programme keep you?

Malcolm Wilson:
The fact is that have 230 employees in Cockermouth and another 15 at our branch in Poland, which runs the FIA Academy R2 Fiestas, and we run various Fiesta one-make championships around the world. We have sold 46 or 47 Fiesta S2000 models that have been really successful in various championships around the globe, but is what we wanted to create and what Ford wanted us to create. They wanted a ladder where a driver could start in a Fiesta in a small formula and go all the way to the WRC car. There are more exciting models coming in the future which is great for us and for the sport, and also for the competitors as it shows Ford is committed to the sport.

Q:
You went close last year so is this the year where you end Sebastien Loeb's astonishing run of success?

Malcolm Wilson:
I think we saw last year that there are possibilities. There is no question that Jari-Matti had Sebastien in a position he hasn't been in for a long time on Rally GB and of course Jari's performance on tarmac has improved – although with Sebastien's record on tarmac I wouldn't be so brave as to say he is going to win all the events there. However, I definitely think he can mount a strong challenge of those asphalt rallies and on the gravel rallies, if he can continue where he left of in GB, I don't see any reason why he can't challenge. In my eyes, he has to be one of the favourites for the gravel events.


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