OPINION: The WRC is in danger of killing itself

18th April 2024
Ben Miles

Ask a lot of people in the UK about the World Rally Championship, and they’ll respond in quite a derisive manner. Something along the lines of it being dead since the 1990s or early 2000s. 


It’s a sort of British-centric, slightly patronising, viewpoint that stems from the fact that coverage and, to an extent, interest in the WRC has declined in the UK over the last two decades. It’s also wrong. 

The WRC is extremely popular across the globe. Countries still clamour to get a round, even the USA is desperate to find a way to get top-level rally cars on its shores. The recent Safari rally showcased just how popular the WRC is away from the enclosed island on which we live. Crammed fan zones, massive banks of crowds, noise, horns, everything that we love about the WRC was on show.

The thing is, your mate Dave who watched the WRC in 2003 and now says “rallying’s dying mate” whenever you mention it... is right. He’s just not right for the reasons he thinks he is.

The current cars are great, they’ve got 500PS, they sound great and they look spectacular. Crowds are high, potential rallies are plentiful. And yet the series is in peril, and it’s almost entirely of motorsport’s rule makers making.


And it’s all down to one thing, it’s a simple thing, but it’s the kind of thing that makes those who clutch the strings to the coin purses at major companies run in horror - uncertainty. 

When the current Rally1 rules were brought in at the start of 2022, the plan was they would coax a few more manufacturers in with simple hybrid regulations and less costly chassis based on spec parts. We started the Rally1 era with three manufacturers, which has since swelled to… three.

That has sent the world of rallying into crisis, after a couple of years of severe navel-gazing from the FIA and both drivers and organisers wondering why they can’t grow the sport in the way they want. First came the new points regulations for 2024, which absolutely no one understands, then a sudden revelation of a rules overhaul for 2025, aimed again at bringing more OEMs into the fold… again.

Except, this rules overhaul isn’t. It’s a set of wishes, hopes, almost dreams for how the WRC could lower its bar of entry. To get a few smaller-budget brands in, keep its current teams happy and perhaps increase the likelihood of Rally2 teams and privateers being able to step up to the top level.

That is fine in and of itself, but it’s not fine when it’s March of 2024 and all the teams have to go on for 2025 is a press release. Major manufacturers do not work this way. Budgets are not signed off the year before, but multiple years earlier.


The real crux of the issue was shown in Kenya when Hyundai’s three drivers were all massively fast, but all faced problems. Hyundai motorsport boss Cyril Abiteboul came out and very plainly said that the team wanted to do a complete overhaul of their fast-but-fragile i20N, but not knowing what the rules would be next year meant they had to just wait. He couldn’t spend the budget now in case he needed to spend it on a brand-new car for next year as well. In effect, Hyundai has a planned new car that’s now being binned while the engineers just, well, wait. Presumably playing cards.

I’m sure that the teams themselves have been told more about what the ruleset will be than the public, but the fact that Abiteboul seems so frustrated suggests that they don’t know that much more.

And that leaves Hyundai the company in a situation where it wonders whether it’s worth the investment. Why on earth would you fund a team that can’t actually do anything right now to take part in a sport with a set of rules you don’t know and therefore are not sure if they fit with your goals?

Whether or not you think the proposals made by the working group on the WRC’s future were good is not a matter for discussion here. The uncertainty around it is the killer. And it doesn’t just spread to giants like Hyundai. 


If you’re M-Sport, a brilliant, well-run team that has an amount of funding from Ford, but not as much as to be a total factory team, how do you plan your future? Yes, these rules should make life in the WRC better for you, but how can you tell if they will? And if you’re Toyota, how are you feeling about potentially being the only OEM left surrounded by some cheaper Rally2 cars that have been pumped up to be nearly as fast? Aren’t you just thinking about maybe competing with the Rally2 car you’ve just launched instead and saving a load of cash?

These are all questions that no one can answer yet because no one knows the future of the championship. We’ve seen crises come and go in every form of motorsport, but I’m not sure I’ve ever seen a championship not know its own technical regulations for the following season. If nothing gets sorted out we’re on the precipice of a potential collapse. And that’s not hyperbole. Thierry Neuville has openly wondered if he’s going to have to retire at the end of the season due to a total lack of teams involved. The Belgian might be prone to overly dramatic outbursts, but he’s being extremely pragmatic here. 

The only solution is a strong set of rules, and quickly. Getting the teams all on-side, showing a united front and allowing everyone to get on with it. Then we can all focus on what is turning into a brilliant title race between Neuville and Elfyn Evans.

Someone at the FIA had better be working on hurrying up these rules, or there’s a decent chance that Dave down the pub might be proved right. And there’s literally nothing worse than that.

Images courtesy of Motorsport Images

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