The BP Ford Abu Dhabi World Rally Team which was also known as the BP Ford World Rally Team until mid-2007 and the Ford Motor Co team prior to 2005 is Ford of Europe's factory World Rally Championship team. In its current form it has been a competitor since the 1997 season, when Ford Motorsports selected Malcolm Wilson's M-Sport company to run its team, entering the Ford Escort World Rally Car. The team took their first victory in the 1997 Acropolis Rally.
As events transpired, neither driver would manage to mark the Escort's swansong year with a final victory. The Escort still proved, frustratingly for the championship hopeful Kankkunen, persistently ineffective in the task of scoring points on the asphalt rounds of the calendar, woes for which neither could Thiry's performances compensate. A late injury to the Belgian provided an early season cameo role for 1981 world champion in an Escort, Ari Vatanen, on the Safari Rally, who finished third on that event, behind compatriot Kankkunen and first-time world rally victor for Mitsubishi, Richard Burns. Kankkunen eventually scored sufficient points and podiums, including second ahead of Thiry in Britain, to finish fourth in the 1998 drivers' standings, although with the announcement of the looming high-profile arrival of Colin McRae to the team for the following year, this success did not deter the Finn from deciding to leave the M-Sport outfit, both he and Thiry proceeding to sign Subaru contracts for 1999.
During this debut season many drivers drove the second Focus of the team - Jean-Joseph for some tarmac events, Petter Solberg and Thomas Rådström on loose-surface rounds and Piero Liatti for the San Remo tarmac roads.
Sainz, meanwhile, endured a winless but not wholly uncompetitive season, even remaining an outsider for the title entering the final event. A crash of his own put paid to such ambitions, with the Spaniard slumping to sixth place in the points standings, with 33 points.
McRae and Sainz regrouped for both drivers' final seasons with Ford in 2002. Simultaneously, youngster Markko Märtin replaced Delecour as the team's third driver, having found himself crowded out by the presence of Richard Burns and Petter Solberg at former team, Subaru.
Sainz's third place in the championship beat his Scottish team-mate's fourth place in the standings. His only victory of the year came on that year's Rally Argentina, which he inherited after the unlikely exclusion of the both of the initially 1-2 finishing dominant works Peugeots of Marcus Grönholm and Englishman Burns. McRae began his own season with fourth place on the Rally Monte Carlo, but he suffered an injury to his hand when he crashed out on the Tour de Corse, which left him hampered and struggling to a single-point-scoring finish on the following tarmac round in Spain. Injury worries for Sainz, meanwhile, came not from himself, but in the form of long-time co-driver Luis Moya, who was forced to end his unbroken year-on-year chain of appearances with his compatriot in order to recuperate, with Marc Marti stepping in for the double world champion's home rally. Intrusive spectator parking on the event blinded Sainz, causing him to eventually crash out. With the Fords having initially dominated the stage times on the first rough gravel event of the year in Cyprus particularly through McRae, Märtin and François Duval, successive retirements left McRae as the sole occupier of the lead for the Blue Oval, which he lost after a number of unfortunate shunts which eventually left himself holding on to a mere sixth place overall, and the two factory Peugeots as 1-2 finishers on this event.
After Sainz's perhaps fortuitious Argentinian win, McRae resumed his role as rally winner on the Acropolis and Safari rallies. The first success came despite initially being unexpectedly led on the stages by an imperious Märtin, while the latter, achieved on the landmark occasion of the fifthieth running of the fabled endurance event, and its last at World Rally Championship level, in retrospect proved to be the last career victory for McRae and Welsh navigator Nicky Grist, ironically on the day on which the Scot became the first world championship driver to reach the quarter-century mark of individual WRC wins, and came to stand alone as the most successful driver in the history of the World Rally Championship.
Despite the profile of these attainments, both McRae and Sainz were to leave the team at the end of the year as team-mates to the then less seasoned Sébastien Loeb at new championship full-timers, Citroën.
In the absence of the departed McRae and Sainz, Ford opted to promote their younger supporting drivers, Estonian Markko Märtin and Belgian François Duval, to their top two seats. A comparatively thorough redesign of the Focus debuted at the 2003 Rally New Zealand, where Märtin in particular proved immediately competitive, leading only to later be forced into retirement. The team's new leader did score his first of five career rally victories on that year's Acropolis Rally, however, (notwithstanding a dramatic mid-stage moment for he and navigator Michael Park, when the car's bonnet unexpectedly flew up), as well as becoming only the third non-Scandinavian victor of the Rally Finland, formerly the 1,000 Lakes Rally.
The junior Duval, meanwhile, as had been publicly predicted by team boss Malcolm Wilson, secured his first career podium finish on this year's Tour de Corse.
The two drivers finished the season in 4th and 9th places respectively in the drivers' standings.
The 2005 season saw Ford take on two relatively inexperienced drivers; Finn Toni Gardemeister and Czech Roman Kresta. Gardemeister achieved podiums at the Monte Carlo Rally, Rally Sweden, Acropolis Rally and the Tour de Corse. Kresta's best individual rally result was sixth, which he achieved on five events. The duo respectively finished in 4th and 8th places in the drivers' championship standings.
The team's entrants for the 2006 season comprised the new-look, all-Finnish team of 2000 and 2002 champion Marcus Grönholm, codriven by Timo Rautiainen, and the youngster Mikko Hirvonen, who renewed his link with the M-Sport ran team for the first time since 2003, codriven by Jarmo Lehtinen. Grönholm joined the team from Peugeot, with whom, as planned, he ended his association after the joint withdrawal from the sport of both PSA Group marques. He won his first two events for the team, on the Monte Carlo Rally and the Swedish Rally, but was closely shadowed on both of them by the two-time champion and now driver with semi-works Kronos Citroen, Sébastien Loeb, who was soon to assert himself sufficiently in order to overtake the Finn in the points standings. Despite further victories, including Greece and Finland, Grönholm never regained the championship lead from the Frenchman and with the exception of Hirvonen in Australia, the two proved the only two drivers worthy of individual rally victories all season. Although with four rounds remaining and a 34-point lead, Loeb's injury from a mountain-biking accident shortly after the Cyprus Rally appeared to offer Grönholm a chance to close the deficit, the Finn's title challenge was finally mathematically ended with a crash on the penultimate round in Australia.
His team, however, were to benefit from Loeb's absence against a now weakened Kronos Citroen left to depend on their inexperienced Spaniards, Xavier Pons and Daniel Sordo (although the team initially called upon Colin McRae to substitute for Loeb on their first event without him, in Turkey). Ford, already gaining on the points lead due to the combined proficiency on gravel of their two senior drivers, soon reclaimed a championship lead they were never to lose, achieving its greatest success in winning the manufacturer's title, the first such win for Ford since 1979.
Unfortunately for the drivers' championship ambitions of both the Blue Oval concern and Grönholm, however, having announced his impending retirement from WRC competition at the end of the season, the elder Finn was to suffer an early exit on Rally Japan, in doing so surrendering the long-held lead in the standings to Loeb. Grönholm then shunted his Focus, knocking himself briefly unconscious, on the tarmac stages of the inaugural Rally Ireland and penultimate round of the year. Combined with adversary Loeb winning, this meant an almost impossible points deficit to overhaul for the rapidly fit-again Finn come the season-ending Wales Rally GB. It culminated in the Frenchman, settling for a safe third on the rally to the Finn's second, triumphing in the second long points duel between the pair in consecutive years. Ford, however, aided by supporting team-mate Hirvonen's continued superiority on loose-surface events over his Citroen counterpart Daniel Sordo, sealed a successful defence of the Constructors' Championship. Meanwhile, Hirvonen, for his part, in addition to ending the season in style by topping the timesheets after the three days' competition in Wales, had also earlier taken his second and third career world rally victories in Norway and Japan.
At the half way stage of the 2007 World Rally Championship, a joint venture between BP-Ford and the Abu Dhabi Tourism Board was announced to bring a third official Ford Focus RS World Rally Car to the team's campaign. Khalid AlQassimi and co-driver Nicky Beech contested the Neste Oil Rally Finland, ADAC Rallye Deutschland, Rally RACC Catalunya-Costa Daurada and Rally Ireland.
For their work in the 2007 season, BP Ford and M-Sport received the Rally Business of the Year Award from the Motorsport Industry Association.
The season got off to a promising start for both drivers, with Hirvonen taking second to the seemingly omnipresent Loeb on the Monte Carlo Rally in January, before Latvala shattered Henri Toivonen's long-standing record as youngest World Rally Championship-qualifying event winner by outpacing Hirvonen to victory on the following Rally Sweden. Hirvonen collected his second win of the year on the Jordan Rally and led Latvala in an astutely tactically judged Ford 1-2 on Rally Turkey to assert a slender points lead over Citroen's Loeb heading into both Finns' home round of the Championship in August. Unfortunately for Ford, however, neither Hirvonen nor Latvala were able to defeat Loeb, with the now dominant Frenchman proceeding to record his eighth and ninth victories of the season on the New Zealand and Spanish rallies.