Thierry Neuville’s not having it. He’s just not. No matter how you try to him, he’s standing by his side. For him, Hyundai’s World Rally Championship line-up is just as strong as that of defending world champion Toyota.
They are, for him, equals.
But it’s Jyväskylä and Toyota that provides the benchmark after doing the double in terms of manufacturers’ and drivers’ titles in 2021.
In terms of full-timers, you’d have to give Hyundai the upper hand. Between them, Neuville and Ott Tänak have 29 wins and one world title. Toyota’s Elfyn Evans and Kalle Rovanperä have mustered seven wins, but neither has worn the crown yet.
Hyundai also outscores its rivals in terms of experience with 252 starts between the two team-mates. That’s 108 more than the Yaris Rally1 pair.
“Toyota has a very strong line-up, we all know that,” said Neuville.
“I wouldn’t say our line-up isn’t strong enough to fight against them, to be honest. We’re going to see a different kind of season next year – I don’t think anybody really knows where we stand and I think we will have to cope with a lot of surprises.
“Experience is very important and is going to be a decider in the fight for the championship, I think that’s clear.”
He’s not wrong. But he might not be completely right.
Experience will be key and this is where the bench comes into play. Yes, Hyundai has Dani Sordo – a veteran of 177 WRC starts – warming up in the blue and orange. But we know the Spaniard’s going to be limited on the number of events he does this season – the thinking is we’ll see him on four rallies. The other nine? They’ll be down to Oliver Solberg, the least experienced of the two sides with just 17 starts.
On the other side of the pitch, limbering up ahead of stepping aboard the third car, is eight-time world champion Sébastien Ogier. And when he’s not there, it’s 2017 Rally Finland winner and still rising star Esapekka Lappi who’ll be in the driver’s seat.
Personally, I’d go with Neuville in terms of permanent runners. He and Tänak should have the pace and the experience to get the job done between them.
But, if we’ve learned nothing over the last six months, it’s that the fight for 2022 could be all-but over already. More than ever, the battle to get the foundations in place and to design and build a car that will work with the combination of sustainable fuel and electricity.
Maybe the biggest battle is between technical gurus. Between Toyota’s Tom Fowler, Christian Loriaux of Hyundai and the man whose hybrid car has put more miles down than anybody else’s, M-Sport Ford’s Chris Williams.