Speaking to World in Motorsport this week, Clark mused that, while there doesn’t appear to be a specified number of events required to complete a WRC season, he believes there may need to be at least four more events to validate the championship.
Beginning in January, the WRC was able to run three events before the spread of the deadly Coronavirus stopped the season in its tracks during Rally Mexico in mid-March.
According to Clark – a regular reporter for the online magazine DirtFish, following several years as stopline report for WRC Rally Radio and All Live – a number of events may potentially be viable, but quarantine measures could hamper event participation and preparation.
“Remember M-Sport are based in the UK, a lot of the media, an awful lot of the WRC infrastructure is based in the UK,” says Clark. “This quarantine period that [the government] are introducing into the UK – if we have to spend two weeks in quarantine every time we come back to the UK it makes the whole thing very, very difficult. Difficult to schedule and difficult to logistically manage.”
One of the most respected and knowledgeable voices in the Service Park, Clark thinks there are opportunities to run the likes of Rally Turkey and Rally Germany, but beyond that, the championship could struggle to pull events together. “I think they’ll struggle to get four more rounds before the end of the year. Very much doubt we’ll go to Italy; GB’s in a lot of doubt; we pretty much know we’re not going to Kenya; Argentina I’m certain won’t be rescheduled and Japan also has to be in a bit of doubt, so I think we’ll struggle to get four rounds by the end of the year.”
So critical are the circumstances, Clark admits that it may be time for the FIA to cancel the rest of this season’s WRC competition, particularly as advice from various governments remains fluid and open to change and differing interpretations. “It’s almost at the point where we say, ‘bin it, bin the season.’
“We need to plan; we need to sit down and talk. We should use the time to address what it is going to be for manufacturers, for privateers, for media, for everyone – it’s going to be a challenging three or four or five years. Rather than constantly firefighting […] because things are changing, or working through potential scenarios, then it changes the following week, just bin the whole thing and let’s plan for a very difficult period to come.”
Beyond the current campaign, Clark also believes the economic aftereffects of the pandemic could also frustrate plans to introduce the new Rally 1 technical regulations. The new rules – planned to begin in 2022 – would see the introduction of a common hybrid drivetrains, as well as a standardised safety structure and a number of common parts.
However, with the collapse of car sales due to the pandemic, Clark believes that a rethink may be required. “We can’t go ahead with plans that were formulated before this virus and this crisis. I think any plans that were formulated, that were discussed, that were decided upon before the virus need to be reworked and looked at again, in particular, the 2022 regulations need to be considered again.
“Now is the time to do that. Now there’s plenty of time for people to virtually sit around the table and discuss, work out and address what are going to be enormously challenging times.”
For the full version of this interview, as well as conversations with Richard Millener of M-Sport and Rubens Barrichello – Formula One’s most experienced driver – come back for the next issue of World in Motorsport, to be published in July.