Abiteboul bemoans Hyundai’s missed opportunities in 2023

The Frenchman is rueing the number of 'what ifs' from this season, and wants the team to be more ruthless in 2024

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Cyril Abiteboul has wasted little time making an impression since his arrival in the World Rally Championship at the top of the 2023 season.

A self-confessed newbie to rallying, the ex-Formula 1 man joined a captain-less Hyundai squad in January, with last year’s Rally1 team overseen by powertrains manager Julien Moncet – but the Frenchman was never given full control in the role.

That changed when Abiteboul walked through the door.

Whether it was his decision to let the world know how early Hyundai was backing Thierry Neuville in the drivers’ championship (which in the end proved futile), his outspoken desire to bring in a technical director (which Hyundai did in François-Xavier Demaison), his bullishness in the driver market (hello Mr Tänak and Mr Mikkelsen, goodbye Mr Suninen) or his entertaining exchanges with the media, Abiteboul hasn’t hidden behind the curtain.

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Even ahead of the off-season, he’d given us golden soundbites like this: “We could be 200 points higher than where we are.”

Two hundred points! That’s nearly half Hyundai’s total for the 2023 season.

If Hyundai did score an extra 200 points, it would have finished well clear of Toyota. Toyota racked up 548 this year (116 more than Hyundai) and of course if Hyundai got those extra points, Toyota couldn’t have.

Of course Abiteboul is exaggerating in his claim, but it’s rooted in what he feels is an important point.

Fielding a question about a comparison he made between new hire Tänak and Formula 1 world champion Max Verstappen – which we have already explored on DirtFish – Abiteboul suggested that Neuville and Hyundai have become a bit complacent with one another after 10 years together.

“When you are an old couple, since 10 years, you are an old couple and you start to get a bit complacent,” Abiteboul told DirtFish.

“And it’s not Thierry’s fault, it’s not our fault, it’s like an old couple, the two are a bit at fault. So we don’t want to be complacent.”

So we dug a bit deeper. In what area is that complacency creeping in?

“It’s really down to the results,” Abiteboul explained.

“I see that we are more than 100 points behind Toyota in the championship. I see that we have had lots of wasted opportunity in general and that’s a collective waste of opportunity.

“I think with counting the points that we’ve lost – some car performance, maybe we could have scored 200 points more. Two hundred points. That’s going to be some headline for you!”

You read us like a book there, Cyril…


“Always these things are a bit exaggerated,” he continued, “because it’s always going to question ‘what ifs’ and those sort of what if games we are all playing, and I’m sure that Toyota will be doing the same.

“What if Ogier had not retired in Italy? What if Kalle had not retired in [Finland].

“So there are lots of ‘what if?’ scenarios in a season. All ‘what if?’ scenarios, including everything, we could be 200 points higher than where we are.”

Whether or not you agree with Abiteboul’s math, you can’t dismiss his sentiment. He wants Hyundai to be more ruthless in 2024. Take its chances better. Leave nothing on the table.

If the way Hyundai has attacked the driver market is anything to go by, Toyota best keep its wits about it. Hyundai has been title-less since 2020. Abiteboul is deadly keen, and super serious, about changing that.