Thierry Neuville believes that Hyundai’s decision to instill team orders so that he and Craig Breen swapped positions ahead of Rally Sweden’s powerstage delivers a message about the team’s approach this year.
Prior to the final stage of the weekend, Hyundai asked Breen to deliberately check-in late for the regroup before the stage so that he’d be hit with a 10-second penalty.
The penalty meant that Breen dropped to third behind Neuville, allowing Neuville to maximize his points tally for the drivers’ championship battle.
Unfortunately for the team though, the plan backfired after Breen completed the powerstage 1.8s faster than his team-mate when he was just 0.5s behind overall, promoting Breen back into second position at the end of the rally.
But although the strategy didn’t go to plan, Neuville believes it shows a clear statement of intent regarding how Hyundai plans to win the championship this year.
“I think Hyundai showed this weekend the plan and what’s the message,” Neuville said to Dirtfish.
“But for sure, I think at the end we maybe didn’t handle it as we could have.
“But I’m happy with third place, and Craig deserved very well his second position.”
When asked to elaborate on what ‘we didn’t handle it as we could have’ meant, Neuville expanded to say that he and the team were not fully prepared for Sweden.
“In general, I think we were not, I was not good enough prepared. I should have been better prepared,” he said.
“Obviously, I felt sick, it was a difficult start into the rally for me as well not feeling so well, but that’s what it is.
“Once I felt better and road position was better, we did better and we got a good result for the team.”
But while it would seem that Hyundai will be happy to instigate team orders again if needed throughout the season, Toyota’s Kalle Rovanperä has said it’s an approach he’d rather avoid at Toyota.
Toyota has famously avoided any team orders, only ever deploying them in recent years on the 2021 Monza Rally when it asked Rovanperä to drive safely to guarantee the manufacturers’ title with Sébastien Ogier and Elfyn Evans duking it out for the drivers’ prize.
“No, I think it’s quite clear that their team is doing it often,” the reigning World Rally champion said.
“And yeah, when you start in Sweden you will get many points during the season more.
“But yeah, it’s not our team plan to do it like this. We just need to try and do good work and have points also.”
However, although Rovanperä was keen to state that he’s not in favor of team orders, when pressed he refused to rule out asking for them if the championship battle got really tight towards the end of the year.
“It depends on the situation,” he said.
“We will see, but yeah, of course, like we see in their case, they always get quite many points during the season by that.
“So definitely we have to see if it’s needed at some point, but I always prefer to do it myself.”