LOEB'S HYUNDAI DEAL EXPOSES FRACTURES IN WRC'S DRIVER MARKET
Yesterday it was officially announced that 79-time rally winner and nine-time world champion Sebastian Loeb would indeed be returning to the sport part time for six of the fourteen rallies on the 2019 WRC calendar, sharing the third car with Dani Sordo. This is a great sight to see arguably the greatest WRC driver of all time return for half of the calendar in a very competitive car, however, there are some tears involved in this process.
This deal has meant Kiwi Hayden Paddon will be exciting the sport after failing to seal a deal with Hyundai. In an interview with autosport, the 2016 Rally Argentina winner said,
“I always said Hyundai was my only realistic target for next season, there just aren't the seats anywhere else.After the signing of Sebastien Loeb we've been left high and dry - a seat [and] position which was planned we had after several months of discussions. The last few months have been mentally very difficult. There have been many discussions in the background, we were promised and told many things which haven't come to fruition. We were made aware of the Sebastien Loeb decision yesterday and after that we were offered just one rally, which in everyone's best interests - that's not an option for us."
Paddon stated in an emotional social media video that he would not give up on his WRC dream, and as he stated, there are only 8-10 seats currently in WRC and many believe he will continue to build a strong relationship with Hyundai for the 2020 season, or will make a leap of faith into a manufacturer that is rumourdly possibly thinking about entering the sport soon; Subaru.
However this deal with Loeb has exposed the massive problem in the World Rally Championship teams configuration. The fact that a driver who has performed exceptionally well in the final half the season, including taking two fourth places and a second place in Australia has resulted in a rally-winner driver being left out of the next season just breaks my heart.
One could relate this situation to the Raikkonen situation in Formula One with Sauber, arguably denying the chance for a new hotshot or driver trying to stay in a seat in 2019.
Paddon, aged 31, had always stated that it was hard for a driver outside of Europe to succeed in WRC. However the Kiwi has managed to take eight podiums in his career including a win in Argentina back in 2016, with 43 stage wins to his name, Paddon isn’t some amateur.
This article may be slightly biased because I’m a huge Paddon fan who has been rooting for him for years now, and the longevity of WRC drivers are meaning that drivers like Paddon, who were once considered the next generation of top-level rally drivers cannot breakthrough or have to stick in WRC2 for over five years. This is just not acceptable.
There needs to be another team in WRC. This is highlighted even more by the facts that team-principal of M-Sport Malcolm Wilson said that due to Ogier’s departure to Citroen, the team are likely to scale down to two full time cars, one of those being occupied by Brit Elfyn Evans. This means currently there eleven seats in WRC, and considering that Paddon is being forced to take a sabbatical just shows how hard and cruel the current situation can be.
The lack of WRC seats also mean that drivers like Pontus Tidemand, who has been at the forefront of WRC2 for nearly five years now just cannot break into WRC despite his clear talent. It’s not like any of the current WRC drivers are near retirement bar Ogier, with most of them aged in their early to mid thirties, meaning they have another five years on their clocks.
Divulging from the main point of the Loeb/Paddon situation, WRC needs another team. Maybe this will be Subaru in 2020. If a fifth team joined WRC with three permanent seats, then we would have roughly fifteen seats. Now that would be enough for all of the current WRC drivers plus three from WRC2, likely Tidemand, Finnish hot-shot Kalle Rovanpera and maybe Brit Gus Greensmith.
This deal has highlighted the problems in WRC’s silly market, and like F1, there needs to be some changes sooner rather than later.
Meanwhile on the 21st of December the entries to the 2019 World Rally Championship will be officially announced by the F1 with testing already underway for the first Rally of the season in Monte Carlo in mid-January.
I would love to know what you think about this dire situation, and what you would do to fix this problem, so leave your thoughts in the comments section below: