Interview with M-Sport Team Principal, Richard Millener, Autosport International 2020, Part One

Rich Millener had a lot to say about the new season at Autosport International.

Here is part one of my interview with M-Sport’s Team Principle.

Warren

Your feelings after the win that got away?

Rich

It was a bit of a baptism of fire for me in some ways. Doing the job in the background for the last three or four years. I approached Malcolm at the end of 2018 when Seb Ogier left and asked if I could do the team principle role, to which he agreed- this was surprising- if you don’t ask, you don’t get. It was a nice opportunity to be given. I think last year was a bit of a learning curve in some ways. It wasn’t hugely different from what I’ve done before- there were elements we knew – More involved in areas that I’ve not been involved with before, and then we had the Corsica issue. It was a very easy job at the start. Three rallies in and three good results. Fourth rally in and on for a win. I think people thought M-Sport were going to be in the way and pretty competitive, but unfortunately it unravelled. Then we had a tough mid-season and then we came back stronger at the end of the season.

I think overall not bad but there are a few things I’d like to change this year. There was nothing I wanted to change this past year, because you’re still learning. You don’t come in and try to change everything as you don’t have the experience to do it. Overall, I think we were very happy – the whole team is aware of the structure and how it’s working. We’ve tried to improve communication with mechanics and engineers, every part of the team really, just to work together as best we can, and just try to continue to improve. The drivers are all capable of winning, so we just want to perform as best we can, to give them everything we can to do well.

Warren

What do you think Lappi has brought to the team so far in terms of his experience with the previous cars he has driven?

Rich

Ah, difficult to say at the moment, as he’s done so little. He’s done two and a half days in the car so far, but the experience he has as he’s been with two manufacturer teams already, and we’re the third, all the current generation cars, which is great. He’s got experience and knowledge of the two rivals. He has been through the highs and lows himself and has won a rally and then had a tough season last year, so the kind of pressure of being in the top level of WRC, he’s been there which is great.

To promote a younger person into leading a team, you run the risk of that being difficult for them to get their head around and be prepared, but he’s kind of ready and nothing seems to stress him out which is great and like Malcolm said, the team and environment is very good, we’re a younger team with all the same goals, we’re all hungry to improve and win and so is he. If we can make him feel comfortable, then we know he can perform well. That’s our main goal at the minute. He seems to understand British humour, which is helpful so he can see a joke and be serious at the same time, and I think if he feels comfortable, then he should be on the pace right away.

Warren

Are you looking at any events for victories?

Rich

I think Monte Carlo will be difficult. I’m not sure tarmac would be EP’s favourite subject, but on the other side, Teemu’s tarmac pace has been really good the last few rallies. We didn’t do any testing before Christmas, we didn’t have the budget to do that, so we did that this year instead, a really good test, but unfortunately no snow but, we know how much that rally can change, so Monte will be hard. Sweden, we expect to be strong, like last year with Teemu, again it will depend on the road conditions and how much snow there is. Now really the rest after that, we should be strong in all of them and there’s no reason we can’t challenge in all of them. So, we’re not focusing on anything in particular, just be the best for all the events.

Warren

Now, three new rounds and this is a question that I asked Esapekka and Teemu. How do you go about preparing for Rally Safari?

Rich

I think Safari realistically is going to be quite different from what people expect. I think a lot more of the European style event is likely. It won’t be horrendously rough, it won’t be huge great deep-water splashes, cars will look pretty much look as they are. If people are expecting snorkels and everything that goes with it, which is great but we have the reality of the costs of designing a one-off car and it’s not feasible for anybody. However, having said that all new stages, very different from what we’ve seen, it’s quite sandy in places which is a different skill, fast and actually narrow in some places and if you go offline, there’s big rocks and everything.

The temptation to cut will be there, but the reality of cutting might not be so ideal and there is the wildlife, you know that you can’t get away from wildlife, there’s still going to be that gone are the days of the star helicopters and everything that went along with that because going to that level again would be like doing two rallies for the price of one. We can’t really afford. It will be very interesting, we sent some people out to the candidate rally to try and understand what it’s about, the same with Japan, New Zealand we know a little bit more, but all these new rallies are good for the drivers, because everyone’s in the same boat, new stages and new pace notes. I don’t think any of the drivers this year have been to any of these places, so that will be interesting. We’ll just prepare in the normal way, testing is most difficult because we don’t know the exact conditions you’re going to get in Safari, so you don’t know where you’re going to test. We’ve got a few options in mind, and I think that will be a key part of doing well.

Warren

Do you know if Rally Chile is going ahead?

Rich

It looks like it will be cancelled, and I don’t think there will be a replacement to be honest, I think it’s too late in the day to be able to find a solution to the logistics, to change everything around. We’re all planned around the thirteen rallies. Fourteen was always a push to be honest. It’s hard on the guys, yes less rallies than say Formula One, but you’re away for a longer time, over a week and last year with Argentina and Chile we were away for over three weeks and it was hard to keep morale up in the team because a lot of people have families and kids and it’s a long time for fifty people that you work with day in and day out. Thirteen is not a big drama for me. I appreciate that we need to go to new places, and it’s a shame that we’ve lost them, but we can still have a good championship.

Warren

I’m of the opinion that Formula One has too many races.

Rich

Yes, you become a casual fan, because you switch it on and it’s always there, which is great because it’s in your mind at the time, you don’t build up to the weekend, ah F1’s on at the weekend, I’ll watch that, but then it’s on every other weekend and WRC isn’t strong enough to warrant that many events, so got to be careful. I think thirteen or fourteen is acceptable.

 

The 2020 M-Sport lineup. Photo credit, Warren Nel

Look out for Part Two soon!