Elfyn Evans’ decision to move on to Toyota hit the British-based squad harder than it might have imagined.
Yes, the Ford Fiesta World Rally Car is recognised as one of the best balanced and more straightforward cars to get up to speed with, but Evans was a man who’d lived with that car from conception to delivery. He knew it inside out and the team will forever wonder what if the 2020-specification Welshman had remained with them for another season.
But he didn’t.
And his decision to vacate the M-Sport-built machine and slap his #33s on the door of a Toyota Yaris opened the door for then Citroën refugee Esapekka Lappi (above).
Lappi lining up alongside resident Finn Teemu Suninen was a mouth-watering prospect for Ford fans who remembered the halcyon days of Hannu Mikkola and Ari Vatanen or, more recently, Marcus Grönholm, Mikko Hirvonen and Jari-Matti Latvala.
Ultimately, 2020 didn’t live up to the billing. Lappi made good progress in the first two events before losing his car to a fire in Mexico. After that, a lack of testing, in part due to restrictions on movements through the coronavirus lockdown, made it difficult for the drivers to return with quite the same speed in the season’s second half.
That’s not to say there weren’t flashes of inspiration. Lappi led after the opening super special in Estonia and Suninen was out front after a superb display on a particularly treacherous opening loop in Sardinia.
Arguably Lappi’s finest hour came on the opening day of the season’s finale when he led ACI Rally Monza through some of the year’s most complicated conditions.
Third driver Gus Greensmith started all the rounds except for Rally Sweden and continued to level the learning curve, with fifth place at Rally Turkey a memorable highpoint for the Briton.
Those stage wins and that time spent at the top of the leaderboard demonstrates there remains both speed and potential in the Fiesta moving into the final season for the current cars.