Ott Tänak has said he is “not like my team-mate” Thierry Neuville who is “organizing the drivers in the team” in the wake of Hyundai’s decision to part ways with Oliver Solberg.
On the Thursday after Rally New Zealand, Hyundai announced that it would no longer be continuing its relationship with 21-year-old Solberg, citing a need to field experienced drivers instead.
Almost two weeks after the announcement was made, Hyundai’s drivers and its deputy team director all faced the media for the first time in the lead-up to the penultimate round of the 2022 World Rally Championship in Spain, where DirtFish asked both Tänak and Neuville for their opinions on the decision.
“Especially for him being a junior driver here, it’s been tough, it’s been challenging for us,” said Tänak, when asked for his thoughts and whether he had any say in the decision-making.
“I’m not like my team-mate, he’s organizing the drivers in the team. So actually I didn’t know anything about [it] and I heard it only on Sunday after the rally when Petter [Solberg] was telling me, so I had no idea it was coming.”
Tänak and Neuville’s relationship has grown frosty in recent months, beginning at August’s Ypres Rally Belgium where Neuville questioned the validity of Tänak’s claims that he had a transmission problem.
The Hyundai team-mates were then front and center of more controversy one month later when on Acropolis Rally Greece, Hyundai Motorsport president Sean Kim issued a team order for the pair to hold position – Neuville first, Tänak second – despite the fact the extra seven championship points would’ve helped Tänak reduce Kalle Rovanperä’s championship lead.
The two drivers don’t appear to have any personal beef with each other, but to some, the recent events have set a clear precedent as to who Hyundai’s favored son is, and it isn’t the driver who is currently ahead in the points table.
But Neuville insisted to DirtFish that he is not “Mr Magic” and can’t influence any managerial decisions.
“I think whatever will be the situation, the choice won’t be easy, but so far my only target has been to push for Ott to stay in the team,” Neuville said.
“But we have both been pushing for some changes, which we want to carry on like we have done so far.
“But yeah, at some point I’m not Mr Magic and I can’t just appeal for what I think is the best for the team. But after, I don’t take any decision.”
You have Mikkelsen, you have others; [Kris] Meeke for example, why not?Julien Moncet on potential Solberg replacements
Hyundai too is yet to make any decision about who will come in to replace Solberg, but Julien Moncet did confirm that the call had been a collective one between team management.
“In the end, it was a collective decision,” Moncet told DirtFish.
“We have a small group for decisions for the driver lineup and we decide together of course with the support of our president, our team manager and so on.
“And for all these kinds of decisions Korea is as well involved. I won’t say they decide but they know what’s going on of course. So it’s a collective decision.”
Pressed on who might be recruited to replace Solberg, and indeed if former Hyundai driver Andreas Mikkelsen is the favorite, Moncet added: “I’m happy that we give you some job so you have some articles to write and you can guess who is coming, who is not and so on but right now nothing is decided.
“For sure I cannot tell you everything but anyway the market in terms of drivers is not huge. This is one issue we are facing in the rally world and I think something we have to tackle for the future.
“But yes, the names are the same as you mention, you have Mikkelsen, you have others; [Kris] Meeke for example, why not?
“Everything is possible, but nothing has been decided yet.”
Asked who he thought Hyundai should consider hiring, Tänak replied: “I didn’t send Oliver away, and I’m not going to hire anyone else, so I have no idea.
“It’s the job of the management definitely. It’s always important to have a strong lineup and let’s see what the decision will be.”
Asked about his own future, Tänak added: “We need to do a good job so next year we can be happy with the car already before the rally, so this is the target.”