The events of the World Rally Championship in Greece opened the driver market of the World Rally Championship once and for all, at least in rumours.
Hyundai’s decision on the garage order by Thierry Neuville in favor of the champion candidate Ott Tänak too instead finally brought to the surface a possibility that had been bubbling under it for a long time – the Estonian star might leave Hyundai.
In Greece, Tänak criticized the team management very bluntly. On Sunday morning, he wondered why the team had not made a team order, even though the situation was clear. When the decision was made, Tänak did not think it was right.
– Of course it wasn’t in my opinion and in terms of world championship hopes, Tänak told Urheilu before the final special test.
Hyundai’s decision was questionable, as Tänak would have been seven points closer to the World Series leader with a win Kalle Rovanperää.
– A special solution. Tänak lost points he could have gained. Hyundai would have had a triple win, even if Tänak had been named the winner, Urheilu’s expert Henri Haapamäki described the events after the race.
So will Tänak leave Hyundai or not? A long-term rally influencer Timo Jouhki considers it unlikely that Tänak would leave the team. The Estonian’s contract with the team is very valuable. Urheilu’s rally expert Miikka Anttilan according to Tänak, the possible departure will be affected by the termination clause in his contract.
In this story, Urheilu goes through three arguments about the possibilities that Tänak has if he leaves Hyundai despite the contract. Jouhki and Anttila comment on these claims. Both are still strongly involved in the world rally world: Jouhki is as much Kalle Rovanperän as Teemu Suninen manager, Anttila, on the other hand, is the series’ most experienced competitor of all time, measured by the number of World Cup rallies.
You can familiarize yourself with the justifications of the claims by reading or listen to the duo’s most essential views in the audio version.
1. Tänak moves to Toyota
Even today, public statements have been the topic of conversation since the World Rally Championship in Jyväskylä at the latest. The Estonian repeatedly raved about his car’s performance, which is not usual in the rally world. The only task of drivers and garages is to promote the brand value of the car brand.
Miikka Anttila worked with Tänak in the same team at Toyota for the 2018 and 2019 seasons. He does not consider Tänak to be a problem driver.
– I never had any problems with him. You could talk about things openly. Of course, I wasn’t pumping adjustment issues or other things from him. He probably had a bad relationship with the team leader, Anttila recalls.
– Of course, if you’re aiming for the world championship, then you have to be a little rude at times, Anttila continues.
Timo Jouhki says that one should not draw too direct conclusions from Tänak’s speeches. The manager also does not believe that Tänak is returning to Toyota, although everything is possible in the world of rallying.
– His way is to complain about everything. The comments about the car were also very negative at Toyota. As far as I understand, he didn’t get along with people at Toyota, Jouhki reminds.
Tänak left Toyota stormily after the world championship he won in 2019. Intervals to Toyota CEO To Akio Toyoda however, they are known to have not cooled down. This was at least partially underlined when Toyoda mentioned Ott Tänak separately in the press release after the World Rally Championship in Belgium.
– Congratulations on your victory! I sent you a message in December 2019 that we will meet again at the podium, when I will spray you with champagne! It didn’t happen in Belgium, so it has to happen in Japan, the announcement stated (you will switch to another service).
It is very unusual that the team’s official announcements mention half a word about the competitors. Timo Jouhki doesn’t think that the announcement is about the warming of Tänak and Toyota’s relations, but mainly about the Japanese way of communicating.
– I think Akio’s sayings are more related to how things look on the outside. There is no reason to be angry in public. Only fools do that, Jouhki points out.
According to Miikka Anttila, Tänak’s relationship with the car brand’s decision-makers has never cooled.
– As far as I know, the Japanese have not thrown Tänak out of the team by slamming the doors, but on the contrary he has been told that he can come back to the team in the future, Anttila explains.
In Jouhki’s opinion, Toyota doesn’t really have a reason why Toyota needs Tänak. Toyota is locked in both championships with the current driver line-up. Also according to Anttila, Toyota’s current driver palette is the most functional in the series.
Toyota has not yet confirmed its drivers for the upcoming season. It is known that Kalle Rovanperä and With Elfyn Evans have valid contracts for the 2023 season.
– Both have two-year contracts. The last of them is next year. Both contracts will have to be negotiated after that. Then the situation is completely different, because I understand, although I’m not completely sure, that Tänak and Neuville’s contracts expire after next year. Hyundai may still have an option for a third year, but I’m not sure about that, says Jouhki.
End of season races in Toyota’s third car Sebastien Ogier has expressed to Toyota his desire to drive at least the opening race of the 2023 season in Monte Carlo. Team manager Jari-Matti Latvala told Urheilu on Monday that he was very satisfied Esapekka Lapin for performances as a three-driver, but he does not alone decide on driver contracts.
In Latvala’s opinion, Tänak is a very fast driver who can drive for the world championship.
– But is Tänak the kind of driver who also thinks about the best of the team? You should think about that for him. For Toyota, the brand championship is really important, says Latvala.
2. Tänak moves to M-Sport
Tänak’s move to M-Sport is one of the most frequent rumors in the rally world. The Estonian visited the owner of M-Sport by Malcolm Wilson under a tough school, but on the other hand, he got to the top of the World Series with M-Sport.
M-Sport also needs a number one driver. Wilson has openly hoped (you switch to another service) for example Sebastien Loeb driving for an entire season in 2023. The team has not been satisfied by Craig Breen performance, not to mention the other drivers in the team.
Breen is reportedly the only M-Sport driver who is paid by the team to drive. His contract still covers next season.
– I see that if Tänak could get Hyundai’s salary, then he could go to M-Sport. Another option is for Malcolm to get a budget from Ford or elsewhere to hire Tänak, Miikka Anttila emphasizes.
The corona times put a heavy strain on M-Sport’s finances, as its rally business is based on selling cars and running racing and spare parts operations. According to Urheilu, the team fired several people who had worked in the team for a long time during the worst times.
As world champion, Tänak is one of the most expensive drivers in the World Series, although the exact values of the contracts are only known to a small circle.
– M-Sport would not take such a risk, where they would pay Tänak something close to what Hyundai pays. They didn’t even pay such sums to Sebastien Ogier when he was in the team, says Timo Jouhki, referring to the French star, who moved to M-Sport for 2017 and 2018 after Volkswagen withdrew from the World Series.
3. Tänak ends his career
Of course, nothing prevents Tänak from ending his entire career. The 34-year-old Estonian is the father of two children, for whom family is everything.
The native of Saaremaa has already built his future during his career. Through his own company, he runs, among other things, a rally garage as well as a repair shop and a spare parts store. This season, he has supported Saaremaa’s next rally promise – the Junior world champion – Robert from Virve.
– I don’t consider quitting to be an impossible option at all. It feels like the joy of making has disappeared, says Miikka Anttila.
Regardless of what Tänak does, Timo Jouhki is the protector Teemu Suninen foot firmly between the door of the Hyundai. The Finn, who competed in Hyundai’s WRC2 team this season, is one of the options for Hyundai’s third car in the coming season. They have shared a third car this season Dani Sordo and Oliver Solberg.
Team manager Jari-Matti Latvala hopes that Esapekka Lappi would continue at Toyota – Sebastien Ogier is interested in continuing
Hyundai’s strange team order made it easier for Kalle Rovanperä in the championship fight – “A special solution”