The drivers who’ve repeatedly had WRC title near-misses

Just missing the world title once hurts. But just missing it three times or more? A few have suffered that exact fate


After just losing out to Sébastien Ogier in each of the past two seasons, this was supposed to be Elfyn Evans’ year.

But with his Toyota team-mate Kalle Rovanperä seemingly running away with the crown it could end up being another year of what might have been.

If Evans manages to climb up the championship order but falls just short again, he would become the eighth driver to have been runner-up three times or more in the 44-year history of the WRC drivers’ championship.

And what about Thierry Neuville, who’s currently occupying the runner-up position in the championship? It’s an all-too familiar tale for him.

With thanks to our partner site, eWRC-results, here’s a look at the seven drivers with that perhaps-unwanted record to their name, listed in ascending order.

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Hannu Mikkola

Three-time runner-up (1979, 1980 and 1984)

Hannu Mikkola has the distinction of being the first runner-up in the WRC’s drivers’ championship, which was run for the first time in 1979 after two years as an FIA Cup for drivers.

That year, Mikkola combined a works Ford program with Mercedes outings on the rougher rallies, just like eventual champion Björn Waldegård. But a late surge wasn’t enough to stop the Swede from scooping the inaugural honors by a single point.

In a mixed program of outings for four different makes, Mikkola was a much more distant runner-up to Fiat’s Walter Röhrl in 1980.

The new Audi Quattro’s reliability woes left Mikkola third in the standings for the next two years before he finally clinched the title in 1983.

There was still time for another runner-up placing, to team-mate Stig Blomqvist in 1984, before Mikkola – now well into his forties – began to wind down his top-line career.


Colin McRae

Three-time runner-up (1996, 1997 and 2001)

Like Mikkola, Colin McRae’s celebrated talents went under-rewarded, with only one world title to his name.

Having clinched the 1995 crown with a fine drive on home ground, McRae’s title defense struggled to get going in 1996. Only two late wins lifted the Scot to a distant second behind Tommi Mäkinen.

It was a different story when the World Rally Car era began a few months later. Subaru’s Impreza was the car to beat but a mid-season run of retirements left McRae with too much catching up to do. Three wins to end the year weren’t enough to prevent Mäkinen’s well-sorted Group A Mitsubishi Lancer from pipping him by a point.

McRae’s big-money move to Ford was also hampered by too many non-finishes, including perhaps the most disappointing of all in the 2001 four-way showdown. Leading the standings going into the Rally of Great Britain, McRae’s infamous roll on Rhondda left him second in the points to Richard Burns.

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Petter Solberg

Three-time runner-up (2002, 2004 and 2005)

A switch from Ford to Subaru in 2002 gave Petter Solberg the chance to be a genuine championship contender. Marcus Grönholm walked away with the title that year but a maiden win on Rally GB lifted Solberg to second in the standings.

A slow start the following year left him playing catch-up but four wins in the final seven events – including a famous triumph in Corsica after a massive pre-event crash – clinched the title by one point from Sébastien Loeb.

Over the next two years Solberg, like everyone else, could do nothing to halt the rise of Citroën and Loeb. Best of the rest on both occasions meant the Norwegian was placed in the top two of the WRC for four consecutive seasons.

But there would be no more title challenges – or even wins – as Subaru’s star waned.

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Jari-Matti Latvala

Three-time runner-up (2010, 2014 and 2015)

At least the other names so far on this list did all get to call themselves a world champion. That was not the case for Jari-Matti Latvala, despite some 18 WRC event wins.

Having become the WRC’s youngest event victor when he won Rally Sweden in 2008 aged 22, much was expected of the Finn. But he never truly fulfilled his promise when pitched against Sébastiens Loeb and Ogier.

Wins in New Zealand and Finland helped pip Solberg and Ogier to second in the 2010 points. Loeb, though, was in a different league.

Joining Volkswagen’s super-team for 2013 gave Latvala his best chance of overall honors, but he allowed Ogier to assert his authority within the squad.

Crushed by Ogier’s nine wins to his sole victory in 2013, Latvala bounced back the following year to give the Frenchman a run. But a crash in Germany derailed his challenge and he had to settle for second.

Latvala recovered from a dreadful start in 2015 to end as runner-up once more but he couldn’t challenge the dominant Ogier.

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Carlos Sainz

Four-time runner-up (1991, 1994, 1995 and 1998)

Two-times a title winner, it could have been so much more for Sainz, a consistent championship challenger for over a decade.

After charging to a maiden title with Toyota in 1990, he built a big lead in the ’91 title race with five wins from the first eight rallies. But Juha Kankkunen and Lancia came on strong and won the RAC Rally showdown, with Sainz delayed by a head-gasket problem.

Sainz turned the tables to reclaim the crown in ’92 but was nowhere in ’93 after an ill-fated switch to the Jolly Club Lancia team.

A move to Subaru in ’94 pitched Sainz into a three-way title fight with Toyota’s Kankkunen and Didier Auriol. But a crash on the RAC cost Sainz his chance and left him second behind the Frenchman.

The following year, Sainz would be runner-up for a third time, this time to team-mate Colin McRae. Sainz built an early points lead but missing New Zealand through injury allowed McRae’s challenge to gather momentum.

Subaru’s implementation of team orders in Spain left the pair level on points going into the RAC, where McRae was in inspired form to consign Sainz to second.

Two years at Ford brought third-place finishes in the standings before Sainz’s fourth and final runners-up position with the returning Toyota team in 1998.

Three late-season wins propelled Tommi Mäkinen into the championship lead but when the Finn retired in Britain, Sainz looked set to cruise to the title, only for his engine to fail yards from the end of the final stage.


Mikko Hirvonen

Four-time runner-up (2008, 2009, 2011 and 2012)

Following Marcus Grönholm’s retirement, Mikko Hirvonen took over from his former Ford team-mate as Sébastien Loeb’s chief challenger from 2008. Hirvonen briefly led the standings mid-season that year before Loeb’s relentlessness allowed him to seal the title.

It was even closer in 2009 when Hirvonen led by a point going into the Rally GB finale before losing out by the same margin after Loeb beat him in Wales.

After a difficult year for Hirvonen in 2010, Loeb’s intra-team rivalry with Sébastien Ogier helped the Finn challenge again in ’11 but damage from a final-round spin ultimately ended his chances.

What next for Hirvonen? If you can’t beat them, join them. His Citroën switch for 2012 yielded plenty of podiums but only one win on his way to a distant second in the standings behind a dominant Loeb.

Two more seasons were less fruitful for Hirvonen, who wouldn’t add further to his tallies of 15 WRC rally wins and four championship runner-up positions.

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Thierry Neuville

Five-time runner-up (2013, 2016, 2017, 2018 and 2019)

The only active driver on this list, Neuville will be desperate not to extend his record of being five times the WRC runner-up.

His first came in an impressive 2013 season when Neuville stepped up to lead the line for an M-Sport team that had lost its full manufacturer backing from Ford. There were no wins but seven podiums helped Neuville to second behind the dominant VW of Sébastien Ogier.

Switching to the new Hyundai squad, Neuville took a maiden win in Germany in 2014. But he was never really in the title hunt despite placing a distant second to Ogier in ’16.

Thierry Neuville

The 2017 rules reset, and VW quitting the championship, offered an opportunity. In a closely fought season, Neuville took four wins to Ogier’s two but greater consistency for the incumbent world champion – now with M-Sport – took him to the title.

Neuville led the standings for much of 2018 but was overhauled by Ogier to the tune of three points going into the final round in Australia. After both struggled to overcome the handicap of their road position, Neuville ultimately a lost wheel on the final morning, ending his title hopes and leaving him as championship runner-up yet again.

With Ogier returning to Citroën for 2019, it was Toyota’s Ott Tänak who consigned Neuville to his fourth consecutive runners-up finish. A fine run of form from mid-season allowed Tänak to pull clear of both Neuville and Ogier in a three-horse race.