Norwegian Østberg, fourth in the 2015 drivers’ championship, returns to the squad he represented for three seasons between 2011 and 2013 before moving on to Citroën the following year. However, the French manufacturers’ decision to take a sabbatical from WRC in 2016, pooling all resources into the development of its 2017 car, saw Østberg left without a seat for next season. His previous ties with Malcolm Wilson’s British-based outfit clearly payed dividends in landing him a drive in an M-Sport Fiesta next year.
The veteran of 90 WRC rallies will be joined in the M-sport stable by a largely unknown face in 2016; Eric Camilli. The 28 year-old Frenchman’s WRC experience amounts to just 10 rallies, none of which were driven in a full-spec WRC car. 10th place in WRC2 last year represented a solid, if unspectacular result although Camilli did come within a whisker of a category win at Wales Rally GB where mechanical issues scuppered his challenge on the final stage. Nonetheless, the Frenchman is clearly highly regarded by team bosses at M-Sport who have reportedly awarded him with a multi-year deal.
With Østberg and Camilli confirmed for 2016, out of the M-Sport door go 2015 pairing Ott Tänak and Elfyn Evans. Tänak has wasted little time in finding new employment for the upcoming campaign and announced last week that he will be plying his trade on all 14 rounds of WRC 2016 with the newly formed DMACK world rally team. The Estonian already has strong ties with the Cumbria-based tyre manufacturer, which has fielded its own WRC2 team in each of the previous three seasons. He piloted a DMACK-run Ford Fiesta in the lower category in 2014, prior to his switch to WRC with M-Sport last year.
The WRC future of Welshman Evans is less clear. Despite assurances from within the team that there remains “the potential for him to have some form of programme in 2016”, the 26 year old is increasingly likely to be without a drive for large parts of the 2016 season. This news will come as a particular disappointment for rally fans in Wales, which will host the penultimate round of the championship next season. It may also be considered harsh treatment for a man who amassed 2 podiums and 7 top six finishes for the relatively unfancied M-Sport squad in only his second full WRC campaign. In any case, Evans’ dismissal makes it increasingly likely that Great Britain will have no representative at the wheel of a WRC car in 2016, with Kris Meeke also left high and dry after Citroën’s temporary withdrawal.
Team principle Wilson has not yet to confirm if M-Sport will take part in all 14 rounds of the 2016 WRC campaign. A scaling back of rally operations, similar to that of Citroën, would appear likely as attention shifts to the design and production of the all-important 2017 car.