David Evans: Lappi needs to be patient at Hyundai

If it wasn't clear before, Portugal made it abundantly clear that this is Thierry Neuville's team this year


Don’t tell him I said this, but it would appear Colin Clark is right. I know, you’re right. I’m with you. It is. Deeply frustrating.

But he called the Hyundai sketch absolutely bang on.

It took until Sunday for me to truly appreciate the full extent of his rightness. It took until I’d read the Hyundai press release for a third time to understand Esapekka Lappi and Dani Sordo really are understudies in the Korean firm’s 2023 story.

In my defense, I’d missed México and Croatia, so I hadn’t spoken directly to Cyril Abiteboul about the situation. Yes, I’d read transcripts, but they’re only half the story. Sometimes less.


The real story’s in the body language. It’s in the eyes. It’s in what’s not said in as much as what is said.

And now I get it.

This is Neuville’s year.

From here on, we need to knock any questions about strategy on the head. This is Abiteboul’s plan, so let’s let it roll out.

The line in the press release?

“It [Portugal] was another demonstration from Esapekka on his ability on gravel; he is slowly but surely cementing his position in the Hyundai Motorsport family.”

Slowly but surely.


Talking to DirtFish, Abiteboul couldn’t have been clearer.


“I think with Esapekka,” he said, “it’s about getting into the groove with the team, not trying to burn stages. He knows what the problem is. I think he also knows the strategy of the team and the priority of the team this year.

“That’s for this year and I think what we need with Esapekka is [to] get him to understand that we are here for the long-term.

“We are willing to be with him for the long-term, but for this to be done he needs also to understand that it’s not just about the tactic of today – but it’s a long-term strategy.”

Does Lappi get it? Of course he does, he’s an intelligent guy who’s been around the place for a few years now.

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Does Lappi want to get it? Of course he doesn’t. He’s a driver with a full program and what, from the outside, looks like a solid shot at winning rallies and potentially stringing a title tilt together.

It’s not going to happen.

Hyundai’s eggs are very firmly in basket #11.

Is that bad? For me, yes. For me, it would be better to run your drivers on an equal footing, at least until one or the other starts to make a move and looks like a solid championship challenger.

But what do I know?


Abiteboul has managed teams at a high level of motorsport, he knows his onions.

But I’ve been in the World Rally Championship for a few years now. I’ve done two terms of super Sébs and on neither occasion was Citroën (for Loeb) or Volkswagen (for Ogier) quite so slavish in its determination to back one driver over another.

Would this have happened under Julien Moncet or Andrea Adamo? Not a hope. Could you imagine telling Ott Tänak about a strategy of short-term pain for long-term personal gain?

So, Clarky’s completely right. Hyundai Motorsport is Thierry’s team this time around.

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And this is absolutely nothing for the Belgian or anybody to be uncomfortable with. Neuville has to focus on himself and make the absolute best of 2023. He has the speed to be world champion, I’ve always firmly believed that, and now he clearly has the absolute, cast-iron backing of the whole team.

Almost the whole team.

One thing is for sure, questions of team tactics are entirely superfluous from now on. Dani Sordo and EP will be sacrificed for Neuville. It’s the way it’s going to be. And good luck to them. I’d love to see Neuville as a world champion – he’s a monster talent and a thoroughly accommodating and nice guy.

And Lappi? Stick with it and your time will come.