Following Ford's announcement that it has signed Petter Solberg and will continue in the WRC until at least the end of 2013, team principal and M-Sport managing director Malcolm Wilson discusses what the deal means.
Q: The announcement of a two-year deal must come as a huge relief.
Malcolm WIlson: It certainly does. It's absolutely great news for everybody: Ford, M-Sport, the sport, the WRC and the fans. I'm delighted. And relieved. After all the time, the deal actually came together really quickly – it's been a fairly frantic 48 hours, put it that way. The good thing is that it's all sorted, which is fantastic for all the staff, especially just before Christmas. There's no doubt that this was a very worrying time for a lot of people.
Q: Why did it come together so late?
MW: There were a few reasons, with things like the Abu Dhabi contract coming to an end and the situation with North One Sport.
Q: There's no more Abu Dhabi?
MW: No. Abu Dhabi's contract with us was up at the end of this year. We've had a fantastic four and a half years with Abu Dhabi and we're very grateful for the part they played in helping us to win the World Championship. We've had some great, great times with them.
Q: It's well documented that you've had a few of these periods of waiting for confirmation. How does this compare?
MW: I'd say this has been the most difficult period. The scale of the company is such now that we have an awful lot of staff here, an awful lot of people who depend on us for their living and that's a huge responsibility and not one I take lightly.
Q: Talking about members of staff, you've got a former employee coming back...
MW: Yes, that's right. Petter [Solberg]'s coming back.
Q: How difficult was that decision? He didn't leave under the best circumstances when he went to Subaru in 2000...
MW: It wasn't a tough decision at all. You have to move on from these things and when he won his championship in 2003, I was one of the first to go and congratulate him. I told him he was in the wrong car, but I congratulated him all the same! You put all of that stuff behind you when you're looking for the strongest lineup possible.
Q: And you've got that?
MW: Absolutely. I firmly believe in the team we've got for next year. We've been clear with Petter that he's coming in as the number two driver – he knows that. We have always said that we want to put everything we can behind Jari-Matti [Latvala] becoming World Champion next season.
Q: What does that mean?
MW: Don't get me wrong, Petter will have exactly the same equipment and support as Jari-Matti next season and I'm sure he'll win rallies. And, if he's running first with somebody else second and Jari-Matti third, we're not going to ask him to pull over or anything like that. We've had a lot of discussions with Petter about the role he's going to play in the team and he fully understands.
Q: But just a one-year deal for him? Is he keeping the seat warm for Ott Tanak?
MW: We can't say that at all. Jari-Matti's contract is up at the end of next year and we want to keep him, but we'll be evaluating Petter throughout the season. We've made an investment in Ott as well and we will be evaluating his progress through the 13 rallies of next year as well. At the same time, it's good to have our options open at the end of next year because there are drivers like Mads Ostberg coming as well. Mads has shown fantastic pace in a Fiesta this season and clearly he's a driver we're going to be looking at this time next year. The likes of Mads are the future for the sport.
Q: What did Petter think of the car when he drove it for the first time?
MW: I haven't heard. I got a text a while ago from Christian [Loriaux, technical director], which said: "He's behaving himself..." I'm sure it went well. It's an exciting time for Petter and the whole team now.