Reigning World Rally Champion Ott Tanak believes the series faces the threat of being mothballed in 2021 unless organisers can establish how to run events safely during the coronavirus pandemic.
Only five of the rallies that made up the original World Rally Championship calendar for this year went ahead as planned, with these far outweighed by events in Argentina, Portugal, Kenya, Finland, New Zealand, Japan, Great Britain and Germany which all had to be called off due to COVID-19.
With M-Sport’s Team Principal Richard Millener agreeing at least six – but ideally seven – countries were needed to warrant a championship, Estonia and Belgium were added to help shore up the re-jigged schedule prior to Rally Monza joining the fray.
However, just last week, the FIA and WRC Promoter faced a fresh setback with the cancellation of the Ypres Rally as the number of positive COVID-19 cases across Belgium led to a national lockdown there.
Tanak told Autosport he did not have a problem with that decision, but suggested some blue-sky thinking is needed by all stakeholders to safeguard the 48th WRC season which is set to kick-off on 21 January in Monte Carlo.
“The cancellation of the Ypres Rally is on very obvious reasons and there was really no other choice,” said the Hyundai driver, whose hopes of retaining his drivers’ crown now appear all but over.
“The current circumstances in the world are extreme but still it is a shame to see how other [motorsport] disciplines are able to work out a plan to live together with COVID and the WRC’s still kind of hoping to run events.
“The first part of next year is currently not looking much different [in terms of the COVID-19 infection rate] and if we continue the same [approach] then also next year we won’t have any championship.”
The FIA’s Rally Director Yves Matton said the fluid nature of COVID-19 made it impossible to say whether a WRC round would go ahead or not, especially as special stages traverse large geographical areas.
“In the current circumstances, hosting international rally events is a major challenge and requires a close collaboration between all parties,” Matton told Autosport.
“The nature of rally is that it touches the communities that we visit – we cannot isolate ourselves from the environment that is around us.
“The COVID-19 situation is rapidly evolving and every country, every region, has different rules and restrictions to manage the pandemic.
“In this context, it is difficult, and in some cases not possible, to set a deadline on whether an event can take place or not.
“The situation is constantly changing and in conjunction with all the stakeholders, we will continue to have a pragmatic, flexible response to enable the sport to continue as much as it is safe to do so.”