Monte Carlo Day One - Tanak leads Rovanpera

Hyundai's Ott Tanak claimed victory on both of the first two stages but tyres were the major talking point of the day, as Pirelli replaced Michelin as the WRC's new control supplier. In addition, a shortage of pre-event testing meant challenges for teams as no Shakedown was permitted under the tight enforcement of COVID-19 controls in the Haute Alps prefecture.

It is considered that Pirelli tyres have less grip in wet and snowy conditions, but this escalates whenever the road dries and wet road surfaces fringed with snow were far from optimum. However, Tanak is a man on a mission to regain the number one on his car and at the start of his second season in Hyundai's i20 WRC, the Estonian felt considerably more at ease than at this time in 2020.

Keeping Tanak honest is Toyota's young Finnish star, Kalle Rovanpera, who sits five seconds in front of British teammate Elfyn Evans at the end of the first day. Reigning champion Sebastien Ogier suffered a serious accident in pre-event testing which limited his experience of the new tyres, and his performance was further blunted by an intermittent brake problem.

Ogier held fifth place overnight, behind the Hyundai of Thierry Neuville, joined for the first time by a new co-driver, Martijn Wydaeghe, who was only recruited last week after contract negotiations broke down with Neuville's long-standing partner, Nicolas Gilsoul.

M-Sport's Teemu Suninen, whose Ford Fiesta WRC was right on the pace of Tanak in the first two sectors of the opening stage, got caught out by a 90-degree right-hander, understeering into an earth bank, and rolled into the trees halfway down a hillside. The resulting broken roll cage meant the Finn will not restart and M-Sport's team principal, Richard Millener, was far from amused: "So after everything we've done to get here, it's a pretty big kick in the teeth really!"

Some consolation to the Cumbrian squad was the performance of its French prodigy, Adrien Fourmaux, in the team's WRC2 entry. A dominant second stage time saw Fourmaux almost three seconds faster than Gus Greensmith in the team's second full WRC car. The youngster's time hoisted him to second in WRC2 behind the Skoda of former WRC star Andreas Mikkelsen, who spent 2020 developing this year's Pirelli compounds, and wants to use the second-tier category as a springboard back into the big league.

Russian driver Nikolay Gryazin holds third place in WRC2 at the wheel of his privateer VW Polo, just ahead of the man who took his seat for 2021 at Hyundai, Oliver Solberg. In WRC3, Citroen ended the day with a 1-2-3 lockout for its French drivers Yohan Rossel, Nicolas Ciamin and Yoann Bonato.

COVID-19 curfew regulations must be strictly adhered to, requiring an early finish to each day, and requiring a very early start with the first stage of the second day starting at 06:10 local time.

22nd January, 2021