Subscribe

Sign up for free

  • Get quick access to your favorite articles

  • Manage alerts on breaking news and favorite drivers

  • Make your voice heard with article commenting.

Motorsport prime

Discover premium content
Subscribe

Edition

Global Global

How the FIA's U-turn delivered a much needed "rocket" for the WRC

Six months of uncertainty and heated debate over the World Rally Championship technical rules has ultimately ended in a U-turn from the FIA, with regulations remaining unchanged until the end of 2026.

Sami Pajari, Enni Mälkönen, Printsport Toyota GR Yaris Rally2

During this period the WRC has gone full circle. There was a concept to abandon the hybrid-powered Rally1 cars entirely and install Rally2 as the top tier. There was the idea of creating a Rally2 plus category by downgrading Rally1 cars and upgrading current Rally2 cars. But on balance stability in Rally1 and Rally2 technical regulations for the next two years is the most sensible and logical outcome.

It is important to note that fundamentally stakeholders in the WRC want change to improve the championship; from its manufacturer involvement to better promotion.

This is why the FIA initially took action in the first place by setting up a working group to evaluate the future direction of rallying, which resulted in a raft of proposals, including a move to change the technical rules for 2025, communicated in February.  

As FIA road sport director Andrew Wheatley explained in April there were a number of reasons why the FIA took action to try and help the WRC reach its potential.

"There were three key elements, the first was Pirelli not committing [to a new tyre deal]," said Wheatley.

"The second, the drivers not wanting to do the [full] championship [Kalle Rovanpera going part-time] and the third was, and we always have this discussion about Ford, whether they are in or out, but there was an additional layer and that was about Hyundai continuing [in the WRC]. That has been a fundamental change in the discussion going forward."

The teams and manufacturers at the end of the day are effectively customers and if a customer doesn't like what is being presented, they simply won't buy it. This in a nutshell is what has happened in the WRC. The FIA presented a radical vision which was resoundingly rejected as WRC teams united together and wrote a letter to the FIA in April requesting the technical rules to remain unchanged.

In hindsight, if the reforms were pushed through the change could have risked losing one of the three current Rally1 marques given their concerns about investing more funds into changing the current cars in a race against the clock for a two-year period, before new rules in 2027. Losing a manufacturer would have left the championship in a much more difficult predicament.

It will be seen as a victory for teams and the WRC Promoter, who also wasn't in favour of the change either. Making changes for 2025 and 2026 was always unlikely to attract a new marque and could have shaken confidence among car makers if a five-year homologation cycle was cut to three years.

Toyota's 2025 prototype testing also proved the top-tier product wouldn't have been as exciting as the current hybrid formula, which has yielded five different winners in six rounds to date. After such a rejection by the manufacturers, ensuring the technical regulations remained unchanged was really the only logical option.

Adrien Fourmaux, Alexandre Coria, M-Sport Ford World Rally Team Ford Puma Rally1

Adrien Fourmaux, Alexandre Coria, M-Sport Ford World Rally Team Ford Puma Rally1

Photo by: M-Sport

It also suggests that following the blueprint of the World Endurance Championship that carefully and methodically navigated its way from the collapse of LMP1 to its now hugely successful Hypercar formula is perhaps the best practice rather than trying to place an immediate band-aid on a formula to solve its problems.

There is an argument that this debate has wasted a lot of time and energy that could have been focused on ensuring the 2027 regulations are the best they can be and the most enticing for prospective manufacturers.

However, there is actually a silver lining to all of this upheaval. Over the last six months, every aspect of the WRC has been thoroughly analysed which has instigated plenty of discussion and triggered much-needed changes to improve the promotional aspect of the series that may not have happened had the FIA not acted.

The under-fire WRC Promoter delivered its vision for the future in Portugal which has responded to concerns held by drivers and teams. The promoter has now committed an investment into making the WRC's long-awaited venture to the USA happen in 2026, which could be a game-changer for the championship.

This coincides with moves to improve the fan experiences at events, and for those watching at home with testing of a new F1-style team radio package underway, while helmet cameras are also being tested. Some in the service park have suggested that there has been more progress to improve the championship's appeal - and therefore return on investment for manufacturers - than ever before as a byproduct of the FIA working group.   

"With everything that has been done recently, one thing I can say that despite a lot of this not being what the teams wanted and wasting a lot of resource, we can't argue that it didn't put a rocket up the back of the championship," M-Sport team principal Richard Millener told Motorsport.com.

"We now have a lot of movement, some strategies, some goals and a lot of talks. We know what is coming. The Promoter has told us their bit and the FIA has told us their bit. We need to keep that momentum going and I'm not sure we would have had that without some of what was discussed and put forward [by the FIA] and it has made everyone work together to get that going, so that is a positive."

Interestingly Hyundai's Thierry Neuville, who has been the most vocal about stability in technical regulations and improving the WRC's promotion, was quoted in the FIA's announcement this week alongside team representatives.

Neuville has arguably been the most critical of the FIA's technical proposals and the WRC Promoter's running of the championship, but it seems the decisions that have emanated from this six-month period of uncertainty have started to win the Belgian round.

"We got the roadmap a few weeks ago [from the WRC Promoter] already and it looks interesting and promising we have to say," Neuville told Motorsport.com.

Thierry Neuville, Martijn Wydaeghe, Hyundai World Rally Team Hyundai i20 N Rally1

Thierry Neuville, Martijn Wydaeghe, Hyundai World Rally Team Hyundai i20 N Rally1

Photo by: Red Bull Content Pool

"I think some work will be done which is positive but however I think our input is still needed by the teams and the drivers.

"That is why we are very pleased that there will be a communication between us and the promoter through [former co-driver to Sebastien Ogier] Julien Ingrassia, who will have an important role as well as Scott Martin [Elfyn Evans' co-driver] who is the drivers' voice in the WRC Commission.

"I think that is good and we will have a big input in terms of the promotion of events thanks to the opportunity of communication through Julien."

But as they say, talking is one thing and actions are another. As Millener explains, the key now is to deliver on the conversations.

"We have had a lot of news over the last four or five weeks. The key now though is delivering on that. It is very easy to talk it but talking is the first element. We need to deliver now and that is still now down to all people involved. We can't just do this one big push and then back off."

Be part of Motorsport community

Join the conversation
Previous article WRC to retain hybrid-powered Rally1 cars until 2026 after FIA U-turn
Next article WRC champion Rovanpera reveals Le Mans ambition

Top Comments

Sign up for free

  • Get quick access to your favorite articles

  • Manage alerts on breaking news and favorite drivers

  • Make your voice heard with article commenting.

Motorsport prime

Discover premium content
Subscribe

Edition

Global Global