The Five Contenders That Could Replace The Outgoing Champion Tanak At Toyota
With the outgoing departure of new WRC World Champion Ott Tänak from Toyota to Hyundai, Tommi Makkinen and Toyota are in a bit of a pickle for their 2020 drivers line-up.
With no drivers confirmed for the 2020 season and the 2019 season drastically coming to a close, Makkinen and co. will need to work out the best way to fill the huge void that Tänak is leaving after taking six wins this season alone for the team.
The departure of Tänak has been seen as a positive influence on the future of Kris Meeke and Jari-Matti Latvala at the team, but both inside and outside the team, the rumours that have been fluctuating is that Toyota don’t have confidence in either of them to lead the team despite their combined twenty-three rally wins between them.
It is likely that Kalle Rovanperä is coming into the team in the third Yaris, with speculation arising that he signed his 2020 contract as early as 2020, with the thinking that Latvala or Meeke would depart at the end of the season.
Makkinen could play it safe and have a team-up of Rovanperä, Meeke and Latvala, but the thought is that the team would not be able to challenge in the drivers championship, with the manufacturers cup being their aim whilst Rovanperä matures in the car the way Esapekka Lappi did three years ago.
The big rumour in the paddock is that Sebastien Ogier is courting a move to Toyota for his final season in WRC. The six time World Champion announced six months ago that 2020 would be the final season for him in the sport, and it was assumed that he would fulfill his contract with Citroen and finish with the team where it all started for him, however the relationship between him and the team has been strained to say the least over the past six months, with a hydraulic problem in Spain causing him to lose the championship, not to mention a seventh place Germany led him to state that the Citroen is at times, ‘undriveable’.
The former M-Sport driver tested the Toyota in 2016 when he was leaving the outgoing VW team, but decided to go to M-Sport of where he claimed two more titles with the British outfit.
Makkinen has played down the chances of Ogier joining the Japanese outfit, however he has stated that he was worried that Ogier would move up his retirement plans to the end of this season due to his testing relationship with Citroen.
If Ogier does move to Toyota, then it’s a simple deal. Ogier and Rovanperä would have two full-time seats, whilst Meeke and Latvala would either share the third car, or one of them would likely be saying goodbye to their WRC career.
For Citroen, they would likely choose between their two former Citroen WRC drivers that still maintain close ties to the team: Mads Ostberg, who has been running around in WRC2-Pro with a Citroen, with the Norwegian currently residing in third place in that championship, and Andreas Mikkelsen, who after having a stellar season with Hyundai, who is currently fourth in the championship, will be leaving due to the arrival of Ott Tanak in the team, who is taking his seat.
Mikkelsen would provide a better option for Citroen as the Norwegian has had a full season of experience at the top end of the sport, claiming three podiums and seven top six finishes out of his ten starts, not to mention the team-up of Ostberg and Lappi doesn’t sound like the most confident line-up.
However if Ogier decides to remain with Citroen for his final season in the sport, then there is a whole multitude of opportunities for Makkinen.
Whilst the former four-time WRC champion has stated he is against the idea of running four drivers in three seats like his rivals Hyundai, it would help Toyota in the future to manipulate the running order of stages in their favour depending on the rally.
Whilst Rovanperä is almost a given, and one of two from Meeke and Latvala at the very least, there are a trio of drivers out of contract for 2020 who could all provide Toyota with the experience and talent needed: Andreas Mikkelsen, Craig Breen & Hayden Paddon.
Whilst we’ve already talked about Mikkelsen’s strong CV with three rally wins, it’s time to talk about Paddon and Breen. Breen has taken part in two rallies this season with Hyundai after being axed by Citroen in 2018, and whilst he impressed in Finland, taking sixth, he crashed out in some style in Wales.
The Irish driver had raced for Citroen in 2017 and 2018 season, and claimed two podiums, including a second place in 2018 in Sweden, and whilst he is consistent, he is consistent in the P5-P8 positions, not quite what Toyota are looking for when you have the experts with that with Kris Meeke and Jari-Matti Latvala.
That leaves Hayden Paddon. The Kiwi will be making a return to WRC with M-Sport for the season-closing Rally Australia next month, after being cruelly axed by Hyundai after choosing Loeb for their 2019 and 2020 seasons.
The thirty-two year old has taken one rally win in his career in Argentina in 2016, nine podiums in the space of three years and 45 stage wins, so he has the experience needed for the job.
There is a possibility of him joining M-Sport on a half-season contract, however he could be pried away by Toyota as they currently have the fastest car on the grid.
If I were Toyota, I would sign Rovanperä on a full-time contract, whilst letting Kris Meeke and Jari-Matti Latvala share a car after their disappointing turns this season, with the duo fifth and seventh in the drivers championship.
For the third and final car, on the thinking that Ogier will not jump ship, I would pick either Andreas Mikkelsen or Hayden Paddon for the third Yaris. They both bring rally-winning experience and potential, and have not quite had the teams to fulfill their capacity, so for both of them, it would be a golden opportunity, not to mention a zero sum-game for Toyota.
So what do you think? Will Ogier jump ship at join Toyota for his final season in the sport, or will Toyota just sign Rovanpera? Or will they sign the outgoing Mikkelsen, or take a gamble on Breen or Paddon? Please leave your thoughts in the comments section below.