Abiteboul “not ruling out” sacrificing Lappi for a Neuville win

He is prepared to ask Esapekka Lappi to sacrifice his own position if needed

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Hyundai team principal Cyril Abiteboul says he cannot rule out asking Esapekka Lappi to move aside for Thierry Neuville on any World Rally Championship round this season, potentially even if Lappi is leading.

Team orders were brought into sharp focus at Hyundai last month when Craig Breen checked into the regroup before the powerstage one minute late to incur a 10-second time penalty and drop behind team-mate Neuville in the overall standings.

Ironically Breen still finished second, ahead of Neuville, as Neuville had a messy powerstage and the gap to fourth-placed Kalle Rovanperä was too slim to swap the drivers around and not lose the team a double podium.

Abiteboul’s decision, made on just his second ever rally working in the WRC, set out a clear strategy from Hyundai – one which driver Neuville said “sent a clear message” to everyone inside and outside the team.

But what remains to be seen is if Hyundai would ask Lappi, the only other full-time driver alongside Neuville in the lineup, to drop back if a similar situation manifested itself.

In Breen (or Dani Sordo)’s case, they have a nigh-on impossible chance at winning the world championship given they’re each contesting just half seasons, but Lappi has just as much chance as Neuville.


Asked ahead of Rally México what he would do if Lappi was leading on the final day and Neuville was close behind, Abiteboul accepted it would be a “tough call” but said “I’m not ruling this out”.

Abiteboul told DirtFish: “It’s very difficult to say because there are so many parameters. It depends what would be the impact of him swapping position.

“I would say I’m not ruling this out – obviously it’s much more straightforward with the third driver because they’re not really in this championship [fight].

“I’m not ruling this out for Esapekka but obviously the consequence would have to be really acceptable for him.

“So it depends who is losing position and therefore points in the championship. It would be a tough call, because when I look at the championship it’s going to be pretty tight for Esapekka for all the season.”

Neuville, who stands to benefit most from such team tactics, however suggested he wouldn’t expect Lappi to be asked to sacrifice his rally for him – at least not this early in the season.

“In Sweden there was this opportunity because Craig was just in front and he’s not doing the championship, Lappi would have been another story for sure so early in the championship,” Neuville told DirtFish.

“But I have to focus on my own race. If I can keep within the fight for victory on Friday, then Saturday we should have a better road position and everything is open. But Friday will be decisive [to how my weekend goes].

Lappi’s comments on the topic were concise.

Asked if he would move aside for Neuville, Lappi told DirtFish: “Well in the end it’s my boss who says that, so I think we need to listen to what he’s saying.”

Pressed on how Hyundai could potentially tactically help Neuville in México – with Lappi starting sixth on the road and Sordo ninth – Abiteboul said “it’s a bit too early” for such conversations but went on to explain why he felt it was important for Hyundai to make the call it did in Sweden.

“I’m quite glad in a way that we reacted in Sweden because frankly there will be pros and cons, I know that,” Abiteboul said.

“I know I will be criticised for making these types of decision but I think this is also what you expect from a team boss. There is a strategy, there is an objective for the team and I think there has been some question marks as to whether we had the capacity to be true to our strategy and our objective.


“That’s the sort of thing that you need to do, so we could have done it differently, we could have not done it all. But I think overall I’m pleased that when we were presented with the opportunity, we seized the opportunity.

“Eventually it turned out differently at the end of the powerstage, but it is what it is. I think if the same kind of situation occurs here at the weekend, I’m pretty sure we will react in the same way, but very much it’s too early to say.

“The only thing that I can say is that as always Thierry needs to think about the long game. The last thing that we want is some form or puncture on the Friday which could impact the rest of the weekend, it could have very negative impact on the championship which is a close championship for the top three position.

“We also know that Toyota and Séb [Ogier] will be very strong here this weekend, so the only thing that I’m thinking right now – let’s be a bit on the safe side on Friday morning and see how things are going to fall into place.”