“VW is eat­ing cor­po­rate hum­ble pie”

Motor Sport News - - Rally News -

hat a dif­fer­ence a cou­ple of years makes. Novem­ber 21, two years ago, I was in Wolfs­burg watch­ing Jost Capito hand the keys to a Ducati 1199 Panigale S Senna to Se­bastien Ogier.

There was an­other bike for An­dreas Mikkelsen. Jari-matti Lat­vala got a Volk­swa­gen Golf GTI Mk1.

We drank wine spe­cially com­mis­sioned ‘Seb & Jari’ cu­vee made from the Mosel grapes har­vested in spec­tac­u­lar fash­ion by crash­ing Volk­swa­gens ear­lier that sum­mer. Every­thing in the world was well. Now? Not so much. Last year, Volk­swa­gen skipped its post-sea­son party. Next year, it’s skip­ping the cham­pi­onship. Af­ter win­ning 42 of the 51 world ral­lies en­tered since Monte Carlo, 2013, Volk­swa­gen will sign off on its World Rally Cham­pi­onship chap­ter in Aus­tralia next week.

Turns out a goal-hit­ting emis­sions test-tin­kered ECU wasn’t such a good idea in the end.

Volk­swa­gen talks about realign­ment and fo­cus­ing on fu­ture tech­nolo­gies as rea­sons for its hasty re­treat. Non­sense. And it’s not about the money. Spend­ing £30m or what­ever it costs on a WRC pro­gramme is small change com­pared with a £12 bil­lion out­lay build­ing in Amer­ica.

No, this is about per­cep­tion and the fact that Volk­swa­gen’s not al­lowed to be seen to be en­joy­ing it­self, not al­lowed to be spray­ing cham­pagne around the world af­ter an­other dom­i­nant and all-con­quer­ing suc­cess.

That im­age isn’t en­tirely in keep­ing with a feast of cor­po­rate hum­ble pie be­ing read­ied. So, they’ll be gone. No fan­fare, just farewell. And that’s a tragedy. For Hyundai, M-sport, Citroen and Toy­ota, the tar­get’s gone. For fans around the world – and VW’S ex­cep­tional mar­ket­ing cam­paign has at­tracted mil­lions of them – like the Han­nover team it­self, the end of the road has just come into sight.

Be­yond the per­son­al­i­ties in­volved, there’s the hard­ware to think about: the world’s fastest rally car will never post a stage time. In­stead, Volk­swa­gen prefers to pre­tend its 2017 Polo R WRC never hap­pened.

That’s all bad enough, but what’s also con­cern­ing me is the po­ten­tial im­pact on the next gen­er­a­tion of driv­ers. The need to ab­sorb three top-line driv­ers into the re­main­ing four teams could, and likely will, have a sig­nif­i­cant ef­fect. Cur­rently, VW’S de­ci­sion is far­reach­ing, but its im­pact on tal­ent de­vel­op­ment could be felt for years to come.

Talk­ing of young driv­ers, I’d like to con­grat­u­late Craig Breen and Stephane Le­feb­vre on their 1-2 at last week­end’s Con­droz Rally. Team prin­ci­pal, Yves Mat­ton? The boss did the de­cent thing and al­lowed his young guns to demon­strate just how quick a DS 3 R5 is against his two-litre C4 WRC. He fin­ished fifth.

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