2018 WRC REVIEW: WHAT COULD HAVE BEEN FOR NEUVILLE & TÄNAK
2018 was the closest season in WRC history for fifteen years, when Petter Solberg nicked the World Rally Championship in the UK by one point from Sebastian Loeb. This season heading into the finale in Australia we had a possible three different winners, with Sebastian Ogier leading the way by just three points from Thierry Neuville.
Eventually as I'm sure you all know Ogier was able to clinch his sixth consecutive World Rally Championship as he bears down on his former rival Sebastian Loeb's nine titles, however that might be difficult as he moves to the struggling Citroen team for his likely final three years in his career.
However looking back, you can't help but think that if they didn't have bad luck Neuville and Tänak would have had a great shout at the title. I know, speculation is speculation, but let's look back at an exciting season which all began in January last year in Monte-Carlo and see what could have happened, and after that, I'll rate each drivers season out of ten.
ROUND ONE: MONTE CARLO (JANUARY)
The opening leg of the rally started on the evening of 25 January and featured two stages. Conditions proved to be difficult as the forecasted rain and snow did not materialise; however, there were icy conditions on the roads in the first few kilometres. Here some drivers struggled including Thierry Neuville, who lost four minutes on the opening stage of the rally, meaning the rally for him was simply already over, managing to finish in fifth place, with title defender Sebastien Ogier leading after every stage.
If he hadn't spun, maybe he could have finished third or fourth, so I'll give him +2 points, with Ott Tänak doing well finishing in second place.
NEUVILLE: 16 (+2)
ROUND TWO: SWEDEN (FEBRUARY)
The early starters lost time ploughing a clean route though fresh snow, including Ogier, Latvala and Tänak. This gifted Neuville the lead and he never gave it up again, taking his first win of 2018 responding to Ogier laying down the gauntlet in Monaco, with Tänak and Ogier only managing to finish ninth and tenth. Unfortunately there is nothing you can do when you're the first out, so I cannot give Tänak any extra points.
NEUVILLE: 43 (+2)
ROUND THREE: MEXICO:
Rally Mexico was a nightmare for Thierry Neuville. The road opener fared worst in the conditions and lost more than 20 seconds due to a fuel pressure problem and a power steering issue in his Hyundai i20. This mean't he was all the way down in eighth place after the third stage of the Rally, and was able to only finish in sixth place, although he was seven minutes behind Sebastian Loeb in fourth place, so I won't give him any extra points despite the nightmares. As for Tänak, his Toyota had overheating problems throughout Friday and finished in fourteenth place, so I will push him up to seventh place, because that is where he would roughly finish if he didn't have these problems.
TÄNAK: 32 (+6)
NEUVILLE: 54 (+2)
ROUND FOUR: TOUR DE CORSE (APRIL)
Defending world champion Sébastien Ogier was absolutely flying during Friday. He set three fastest stage times out of four and built a lead of over half a minute over the last year winner Thierry Neuville, who was struggling with the brakes.
To be absolutely honest the result conveyed the right classification, Ogier taking the win, Tänak in P2 and Neuville rounding out the podium, so no added points needed for this round.
TÄNAK: 51 (+6)
NEUVILLE: 69 (+2)
ROUND FIVE: ARGENTINA (APRIL)
Ott Tänak was just dominating Rally Argentina, winning most of the stages and almost always leading the rally. I think we can all agree that it was here where he launched his campaign in the drivers standings, taking his first win of the season.
As for Thierry Neuville and Sebastien Ogier; they just could not match them. Like Rally Corsica, there isn't much that should change here.
TÄNAK: 78 (+6)
NEUVILLE: 92 (+2)
ROUND SIX: PORTUGAL (MAY)
At Portugal there was a lot of drama. Ott Tänak and Sebastien Ogier both had serious problems, with both failing to score any points whilst Thierry Neuville was able to take a dominant win in the hot weather of Portugal.
Ott Tänak retired early on in Friday after damaging his cooling system, and lets say that didn't happen, then we could probably award him fifth place, which would be an extra ten points.
TÄNAK: 88 (+16)
NEUVILLE: 121 (+2)
ROUND SEVEN: ITALY (JUNE)
Well Rally Sardinia was absolutely a classic. Thierry Neuville was able to continue to mount his charge on Ogier and M-Sport's title after snatching the win by just seven tenths on the final stage of the Rally, becoming the third closest Rally in WRC history, tied with Rally Argentina in 2017.
On Friday Tänak had some serious engine problems, costing him at least four minutes. If he did not have those problems he would have finished approximately in seventh place, an extra four points.
TÄNAK: 98 (+20)
NEUVILLE: 151 (+2)
ROUND EIGHT: FINLAND (JULY)
Arguably the best race on the calendar; Rally Finland is the fastest rally of the season, where drivers average 80mph, causing multiple mistakes.
Ott Tänak didn't dominate the rally, but was always in control as he took his second rally win of the season. Sebastien Ogier was in fifth place, and Thierry Neuville was in ninth. He was far down the leaderboard to him being first on the road, so I cannot really add any points onto the tally because that's just the way WRC goes.
TÄNAK: 127 (+20)
NEUVILLE: 155 (+2)
ROUND NINE: GERMANY (AUGUST)
Rally Germany was a fairly fought rally between the big three, with Ott Tänak taking another win, finishing nearly fourty seconds ahead of championship leader Thierry Neuville, whilst Sebastien Ogier could only manage fourth place. No changes needed here.
TÄNAK: 156 (+20)
NEUVILLE: 174 (+2)
ROUND TEN: TURKEY (SEPTEMBER)
Thierry Neuville responded to the threat of the Toyota driver Tänak by leading the rally after one day on Friday. The second leg of the rally turned out to be disastrous for some of the crews. Friday leader and championship leader Thierry Neuville retired from the day when the front left suspension punched though his i20's bonnet in the morning's opening stage. This enabled Tänak to take his third consecutive win. This was not Neuville's fault, but a technical fault, so I would give Neuville a second place finish. Even though he was leading the rally when he retired, that doesn't justify him automatically taking the win.
TÄNAK: 184 (+20)
NEUVILLE: 197 (+20)
ROUND ELEVEN: GB (OCTOBER)
Ott Tänak and Martin Järveoja continued their form through the opening stages of the second leg until they were forced to retire. Tänak damaged his radiator after a heavy landing off a jump. This mean't he finished all the way down in nineteenth place, and if this didn't happen, well, who knows. However this was a drivers error, but not enough to make him retire from a rally, so I'll give him a seventh place finish. Meanwhile Neuville drove to a decent fifth place finish, seventy seconds behind rally winner Ogier.
TÄNAK: 194 (+26)
NEUVILLE: 209 (+20)
ROUND TWELVE: SPAIN
Ott Tänak suffered another blow in Spain, a front-left puncture mean't he lost two minutes. Meanwhile it was a closely fought battle at the top but Sebastian Loeb took his 79th Rally win. I would promote Tänak to fifth place, an extra two points for his problems with tyres.
TÄNAK: 207 (+26)
NEUVILLE: 221 (+20)
So coming into the final round in Australia, Neuville should have had a 14 point head over Tänak and seventeen point lead over defending champion Ogier, so all three drivers would have had a chance heading into the final round in Australia.
ROUND TWELVE: AUSTRALIA (NOVEMBER)
Australia was just Ogier's rally. Though he finished in fifth place, that was enough to control the championship title with his two challengers struggling, although Tänak was pushing too hard when he was in the lead, meaning he had to retire. One could argue that he should get +25, but that was a drivers error, not a mechanical, so I'm not going to add any points on to his tally.
TÄNAK: 207 (+26)
NEUVILLE: 221 (+20)
And those final figures sum up 2018. It was really close! If luck had been on Thierry Neuville's side, he would have won the world championship.
And now it is time to look at how each driver fared during the 2018 season.
The Frenchman was made to fight hard for his sixth World Rally Championship title, and it was his mental resilliance later on in the season which enabled him to win the title in 2018. At one point he was over 20 points behind Neuville, yet he kept his head down and in the final three rounds he drove consistently, winning Rally GB, meaning he was able to fend off Neuville and Tänak for the title.
RALLY WINS: 4 (MONTE CARLO, MEXICO, CORSICA, GB)
Each season the Belgium has got closer to clinching the title. He finished second in 2017, and will have to settle with second again in 2018. This year he was leading for much of the season, and definitely had the upper hand heading into the final leg of the season, but he was not able to compete with his competitors experience when it comes down to the wire. Onto 2019.
RALLY WINS: 3 (SWEDEN, PORTUGAL, SARDINIA)
Well, he was the dark horse for the title heading into 2018 after leaving M-Sport for Toyota, and though his season started off slowly, he was able to gather momentum and nearly clinch the title, but you couldn't help but feel it was too little to late. He had some really bad luck near the end of the season, especially in GB, but he should feel very proud of what he achieved and will be looking forward to 2019. After all, he achieved the first triple rally consecutive win since Ogier back in 2016.
RALLY WINS: 4 (ARGENTINA, FINLAND, GERMANY, TURKEY)
Arguably the greatest driver not to have won a WRC title, but 2018 proved to be a difficult season for the Finn. It wasn't a great start to the season despite the podium in Monaco, but in the second half of the season he gathered momentum and was instrumental in making sure Toyota secured the manufacturers title. In the final four races, he finished second twice and ended the season nicely with a win Down Under, finishing fourth in the championship for a second year running.
RALLY WINS: 1 (AUSTRALIA)
Well, the third Toyota driver had a lot to live up to in 2018 after taking his maiden win in Finland in 2017, and he hasn't quite been able to live up to all of the hype.
The first half of his season was compiled with 5th-7th place finishes and scoring big points in the power stages, but he hadn't been able to pick up a podium until Sardinia in June. Two more podiums in Wales and Germany mean't he was able to finish in fifth place in the championship and will be looking forward to starting a new chapter at Citroen in 2019.
RALLY WINS: 0 (BEST FINISH: 3RD (X3) )
Well, he was pleased to have a seat again in 2018, and a contract for Hyundai in 2019, but hasn't made many headlines in 2018. He has lead a rally every now and again, but a podium in Sweden was the highlight of his season. He was a consistent finisher, finishing in the top ten nine times this season, enabling Hyundai to challenge for the constructors title, but will hope he can do more next year.
BEST FINISH: 3RD (SWEDEN)
After Tänak left M-Sport, Evans was promoted to the second driver and had a lot to live up too. He has had a fairly decent season, finishing second in Portugal and third in Spain, he hasn't done too badly for someone with his experience but in 2019 he will have a lot of pressure on his shoulders considering currently he is the No.1 driver at M-Sport.
BEST FINISH: 2ND (PORTUGAL)
Sharing a contract is never easy, but Dani Sordo has seemed to have gotten used to it. He's raced seven rallies with Hyundai this season, retiring in two but the other five times he finished on the podium twice and the rest in the top five. He has done everything he could have in the situation he is in and will continue doing his best in 2019 for Hyundai.
BEST FINISH: 2ND (MEXICO)
He had a tough start to the season but has really grown into the car in the second leg of 2018. Paddon hasn't had the best of chances of showing his potential, but his consistent scoring (Despite a major crash in Portugal) has mean't he has a seat for 2019 with Hyundai. His highlight of the season will be second place at the finale in Australia, and he will aim to win a rally next season.
BEST FINISH: P2 (AUSTRALIA)
So who do you think deserved to win the title? and who was the best driver of 2018? Leave your thoughts in the comments below: