Has Hyundai overturned a key Toyota strength?

The Korean marque's 2024 driver lineup arguably boasts more title contenders than its Japanese rival


“I don’t want to talk about championships just yet, I think it’s a bit too early,” insisted Hyundai team principal Cyril Abiteboul on the eve of Rally Japan.

The Frenchman was facing the media a mere hour or two after his team had confirmed Esapekka Lappi as a part-time driver for 2024. He would be joining Hyundai lifer Thierry Neuville and re-hire Ott Tänak.

“We need to understand also what the dynamic is with our competitors, as we have announced quite early, we’ve shown our cards,” Abiteboul continued.

“So far, M-Sport Ford has not said a lot about their season, Toyota has not said a lot. So it’s a bit difficult to make statements when you don’t know what the competition is looking like.”

Two and a half weeks on from those comments, one of those statements is true. M-Sport Ford still hasn’t shown its cards, to coin Abiteboul’s phrase.

But Toyota did with a press conference on the very day after Rally Japan. That announcement was perhaps key in understanding where the early bets should lie for the 2024 World Rally Championship battle.

Because, likely at Kalle Rovanperä’s behest, Toyota has relinquished the full-time services of its world champion for next year. It already had one world champion on a part program, now it has two.

There’ll only be one World Rally champion completing a full season in 2024, and he’ll be driving for Hyundai.

To take stock (or catch you up if you somehow have missed the flurry of announcements to-date), Toyota goes into battle with Elfyn Evans as its biggest championship hope, with Takamoto Katsuta joining him for a full season. Rovanperä and Sébastien Ogier will both compete, but not on all 13 rounds.

Hyundai has retained Neuville but recruited Tänak to drive the full-time i20 vacated by Lappi, who reduces to a partial program. The rest of Hyundai’s lineup is yet to be publicly confirmed.

But – and it’s a big but because this is a very subjective comment to make – it almost doesn’t matter in terms of where the balance of power now sits on the driver front. Hyundai looks to have overturned a key strength Toyota has held for years.


It now has the best driver lineup to fight for the drivers’ championship.

It’s a big statement to make, and qualifying it is key. If you look at Toyota’s quartet, three of them are world class and the other is showing signs of making it there. Hyundai has two A-listers, but some question marks still linger over Lappi and his consistency to perform, and we don’t know who’ll be joining him on a partial season.

And of course there’s the very obvious potential for fireworks between Hyundai’s two heavyweights – intriguingly, on multiple occasions already Neuville hasn’t denied the fact his and Tänak’s relationship could prove testy at points.

But the bottom line is there are three very obvious contenders for next year’s title, and two of them are in i20s. Just one of them is in a Toyota. Ever since Tänak jumped from M-Sport to Toyota in 2018, I’d argue Toyota has always had the best driver lineup in the championship – certainly superior to Hyundai’s which has occasionally been a touch imbalanced.


The acquisition of Tänak corrects that for 2024. Hyundai has started three seasons before (2020-22) with Neuville and Tänak as its two top contenders, but that was always against Toyota’s terrific trio of Ogier, Evans and Rovanperä for 2020 and ’21, and matched by the Evans-Rovanperä axis of ’22.

None of this is to say that Hyundai is guaranteed a drivers’ championship next year. Its car needs to be up to the job, and Elfyn Evans is a formidable contender who looks ready to step up to the plate.

But Hyundai should have more cars in the championship fight than Toyota for the first time ever in the WRC, which naturally boosts its odds. Whether it can exploit that advantage or not is one of the main reasons we are all already counting down the clock to the Monte Carlo Rally, 2024.