Ford team director Malcolm Wilson has revealed that Jari-Matti Latvala was ready to give up his number one status in the squad following his third mistake from four rallies in Portugal last week.
The Finn crashed out of the lead of the Rally of Portugal on Friday. With Sebastien Loeb already out, a victory would have played Latvala right back into the fight for this year's World Rally Championship. Latvala's teammate Petter Solberg also crashed, but he returned to finish third and is now closest to series leader Loeb; Solberg trails the Frenchman by four points while Latvala is 38 down on the defending champion.
Wilson declined the Finn's offer to support Solberg and says Latvala retains his full support.
"Jari did actually offer [to step down as number one]," said Wilson. "He said he accepted that maybe the time had come [for a change of tactic]. But the way out of this is to give him as much support as I possibly can – and that's what I intend to do. For me, he's the only driver in a straight fight who can take the fight to Sebastien and beat him. And, for us to win championships, we have to win rallies.
"Granted, three mistakes from four rallies is not good, but again he has proved he's the quickest guy at the moment and I've been in the sport long enough to know that it's coming. There's nothing to say he's not going to win the next four rallies – it's happened in the past. Remember when Colin [McRae] went a very long time without finishing a rally and then, bang, he won three rallies on the trot in 2001."
Wilson added that the key to Ford's season now was to remain together as a team.
"This shouldn't have happened," said Wilson, "but I know that Jari's got the ability to bounce back and the most important thing is that we are a team. If we suddenly start splitting within the team then we are finished and we will not have that happen. It's times like this that he knows he can rely on me and the team around him."
While Wilson continues to support Latvala, he says he will reassess the team's tactics at the mid-point of the season based on the championship position.
"The strategy doesn't change," he said. "If we do [get to the midpoint of the season] and the situation is the same, then of course we will change."