This weekend, the crews tackled the treacherous mixed surfaces of Rallye Deutschland, round 9 of the 2018 FIA World Rally Championship. It was an exciting rally to follow, courtesy of WRC: All Live, especially on the final day, with many incidents befalling the top drivers.
With just four rounds remaining, there are three men who could realistically clinch the Drivers’ Championship. Thierry Neuville leads Sebastien Ogier, the winner of the last five seasons, by 23 points, with Ott Tanak a further 13 points behind. Each has won three events this season and so it promises to be a very tight and exciting end to the WRC season.
But there is more at stake that the Drivers’ and Manufacturers’ Titles. Only two crews have had seats confirmed for 2019 so there are opportunities to impress their teams and secure their place on the calendar next year. Here are my thoughts on the crews, team by team.
Hyundai Shell Mobis WRT – 1st – 254 pts
Thierry Neuville – 1st – 172 pts
Andreas Mikkelsen – 5th – 65 pts
Dani Sordo – 6th – 60 pts
Hayden Paddon – 13th – 34 pts
Hyundai has built on the strength of their 2017 campaign to lead the Manufacturers’ Championship with just four rounds remaining. Theirs, without doubt, seems to be the most consistent car; the big points have started to dry up slightly now that the Toyota team seem to be improving their reliability.
Thierry Neuville seems to be getting more reliable every season, whilst keeping his lightning pace and at this stage he is in an excellent position to break the French domination on the Championship (last non-French winner was 2003). The other full-time driver, Andreas Mikkelsen, has been something of a disappointment, being largely unable to find the sheer pace he showed at Volkswagen. His is one of the two seats confirmed for 2019 but Dani Sordo has shown some brilliant speed on gravel as well as tarmac, obviously fighting to remain in the WRC. Hayden Paddon has only competed in four rounds this season but with three events remaining on gravel, he has a chance to prove his talents to his team.
Toyota Gazoo Racing WRT – 2nd – 241 pts
Ott Tanak – 3rd – 136 pts
Esapekka Lappi – 4th – 88 pts
Jari-Matti Latvala – 7th – 55 pts
In contrast to Hyundai’s consistency, Toyota have demonstrated that they have the quickest car in the field, though they are prone to having mechanical issues at times. This mainly seems to be targeted at veteran Jari-Matti Latvala and this, combined with a lack in pace compared to his younger team-mates, could see him leaving the series soon. Esapekka Lappi has improved massively in the last couple of years, showing what a great signing he was. Ott Tanak was 3rd in the Championship last season and, though he has won 3 rallies, this season sees him with only an outside chance to win. He has really pushed on in the last couple of rallies so we may see the first Estonian winning the WRC title yet.
M-Sport Ford WRT – 3rd – 224 pts
Sebastien Ogier – 2nd – 149 pts
Elfyn Evans – 8th – 52 pts
Teemu Suninen – 12th – 42 pts
It’s hard to gauge where M-Sport are at in 2018, as the reigning Manufacturers’ Champions. Sebastien Ogier has once again highlighted his talents but has also seemed annoyed with the car’s lack of competitiveness on a couple of rallies. Apart from a brilliant 2nd place in Portugal, Elfyn Evans has never completely set the stages alight, normally placing behind the Toyota and Hyundai cars. Teemu Suninen, in the third M-Sport car, took a great podium in Rally Portugal and seems to be steadily gaining experience on all surfaces. None of these drivers are confirmed for next season, so will M-Sport stick with their current line-up or take a chance for 2019?
Citroen Total Abu-Dhabi WRT – 4th – 159 pts
Mads Ostberg – 9th – 48 pts
Craig Breen – 10th – 47 pts
Kris Meeke – 11th – 43 pts
It seems like years since Citroen were challenging for the win on virtually every rally. But the semi-retirement of their star driver Sebastien Loeb, coupled with a lack of development on the C3 car, has left them languishing at the bottom of the Manufacturers’ Championship. Getting rid of Kris Meeke for crashing too often was a rash decision as he had the potential of getting spectacular wins, something the team has had a lack of recently. Mads Ostberg has been moved in to replace him and did a great job at Rally Finland to finish in 2nd place and it will be interesting to see how he fares in the remaining gravel rounds. Craig Breen has had a very mixed season with poor luck and road order on many rallies leaving him down the order. But he showed what he can really do with a 2nd place in the Swedish Rally. Once again, this is another team who are yet to confirm anyone for 2019; will they try and recruit a leading driver to pull them back up again?
What do you make of how the 2018 World Rally Championship season is shaping up?
Who do you think will win the Drivers’ and Manufacturers’ Championships and who is in danger of losing their factory seat?
You can let me know your thoughts in the comments section below!