Thierry Neuville says it was “a bit disappointing” that new Hyundai team-mate Oliver Solberg did not attempt the final three stages of the Monte Carlo Rally and finish the World Rally Championship season opener.
Solberg completed Sunday morning’s first stage but his Hyundai i20 N Rally1 – fuel fumes from which had been seeping into the cockpit for much of the rally – was retired from the rally on the road section afterwards.
The 20-year-old told DirtFish on Saturday that he was considering retiring because the situation was “not healthy”, and the following morning the team announced that Solberg and co-driver Elliott Edmondson would be withdrawn on health grounds.
I think there was a solution to continue. It was important for the manufacturers' points. I don't like seeing that we give up so quickly.Thierry Neuville on Solberg's DNF
Neuville said that was a shame because “we both could have rewarded the team with two cars at the finish”.
“There was a huge amount of hard work that went into the preparation, not only for me and Martjin [Wydaeghe, co-driver] but for the whole team,” Neuville told DirtFish. “To not get the reward [in Neuville’s result] is very disappointing.
“Also, to see somehow that Oliver couldn’t get to the finish today and not bringing home the car for some little issues is a bit disappointing.”
Neuville limped his i20 through two stages on Saturday with a damper failure and lost almost six minutes in the process, but was able to get the car back to evening service and despite his issues still finished the rally in sixth.
Solberg was 44th and already out of contention by the time he retired, following an off on Saturday, though his car could still have contributed points to Hyundai’s manufacturers’ championship total.
Asked if he thought Solberg had made the wrong decision by stopping, Neuville said: “I think there was a solution to continue.
“It was important for the manufacturers’ points. I don’t like seeing that we give up so quickly.
“I have fought very hard, even if I think back to last year with all the troubles we had, we could fight for the championship again and were fighting hard every time with the problems.
“I’ve started this season more or less like I ended last year’s, and [to see] that not everyone was pushing in the same way was a bit of a disappointment today, but it is what it is.”
Solberg said he and co-driver Edmondson “started the day with some hope” but said the decision not to continue was made jointly with the team “as we were not feeling well after what we’d experienced over the past couple of days”.
“It’s been a long, tough weekend but I am happy with what I’ve done,” he said.
“Even if it’s been tricky, we’ve set some good splits and stage times. There are always positives to take away.
“Big thanks to the team too, it’s been long days and the dedication is fantastic. Together as a team we’ll keep pushing and working to improve for next time.”
This weekend hurt Neuville. At his best, he’s got a real case to put forward as the fastest driver in the world championship. But, as he put it on Saturday to DirtFish: “I need the tool to do it.”
Currently, Hyundai’s i20 N Rally1 is not a tool capable of winning rallies on merit. Neuville gave it his all to try and rescue as many points as he could from the weekend – you could really see that by his exhausted reaction at the end of the powerstage – so it’ll sting to only finish sixth and be the only Hyundai driver home in the process.
But, as understandable as that is, Neuville’s criticism of Solberg’s commitment feels very unfair and is undoubtedly an emotional retort he’ll likely not truly mean.
It’s impossible for us to know how much Neuville knew about Solberg’s problem. You’d like to assume not too much as that makes his comments less insensitive.
We did however hear plenty from Solberg, and what he told us was quite alarming: headaches, sore red eyes, and difficulty concentrating. As much as Solberg’s car was still running, it would have been dangerous to have continued further. In fact, you could argue that the car should’ve been retired much earlier, for instance on Saturday afternoon – an option Solberg himself had considered.
Neuville is a big team player. He wants Hyundai to win the manufacturers’ championship as much as he wants to secure his first drivers’ title, and for a team that is a dream scenario.
But that doesn’t mean to say Solberg isn’t either. After all, before the event he was talking about just acting as Neuville and Ott Tänak’s wingman and giving them any help or information he may be able to.
Neuville has therefore misjudged this one, but it’s refreshing to hear a driver speaking from their heart and not just reeling off a rehearsed PR script.
His comments must be taken in the context of his bruising weekend that really did deserve to reap more rewards, but equally mustn’t be believed as an accurate depiction of Solberg’s drive and work ethic either.
– Luke Barry