Speculation has begun about Estonian WRC star Ott Tänak's tenure at M-Sport Ford, following a string of disappointing results. On the other hand, the team would be unlikely to attract another driver of Tänak's stature for 2024.
Team boss Richard Millender told Finnish rally portal: "Of course, it's always nice to have a top-level driver in the team."
"But this brings us challenges with regard to budget. M-Sport always holds the same discussions at the end of each year about where to find funds; we have a lot of work to do on these issues over the next few months," he went on.
Aat the same time, Millener stressed that Tänak remains a priority for 2024.
M-Sport made major financial investments into Tänak for 2023 alone.
M-Sport focused much of its investment in Tänak. The 2019 champion, this year, as a way of giving the team a chance to fight for the WRC title.
While Tänak and co-driver and compatriot Martin Järveoja won in Sweden in round two, and got to the podium in Croatia, disappointment in the Ford Puma before a home crowd at Rally Estonia, and then at Rally Finland, meant any title hopes against the larger works Toyota and Hyundai teams had all but evaporated.
This has led to speculation that Tänak may be leaving the team at the end of the season, in November.
Richard Millener nonetheless said that while the starting position for further negotiations is far from easy, the team would want to retain the Estonian's services, where possible.
"Tänak is one of the best drivers in the series, so it's not easy to retain him. But we want to," he went on.
In Rally Estonia, an engine switchover at the start of the race led to a five-minute time penalty which Tänak was never able to fully recover from, finishing eighth before a home crowd.
Rally Finland meanwhile saw Tänak have to pull out in day two, again due to engine trouble, after winning stage one.
Millener said that ultimately if Tänak did not stay with M-Sport Ford, the team would have to investigate the younger crop of drivers.
"Realistically, I don't see the other top drivers changing teams, because they have no reason to do so," Millener said.
Tänak joined M-Sport Ford almost at the eleventh hour ahead of this season, after leaving Hyundai last year.
He won the 2019 drivers' title with Toyota.
Tänak is currently in fourth place in the drivers' championship standings on 104 points, 66 points behind table topper and reigning champion Kalle Rovanperä (Finland, Toyota).
The next WRC race starts on September 7, in Greece, and is followed by rounds in Chile, Germany (Central European Rally) and Japan.
Editor: Andrew Whyte, Helena Lindeberg