Thierry Neuville and Ott Tänak both feel something must be going wrong in the World Rally Championship for reigning world champion Kalle Rovanperä to decide to step back.
Toyota announced its 2024 driver lineup on Monday, retaining its current cast of Rovanperä, Elfyn Evans, Sébastien Ogier and Takamoto Katsuta.
But Rovanperä won’t compete full-time next year and therefore is extremely unlikely to retain his title, as he will share a car with fellow world champion Ogier.
Rally Japan winner Evans and Katsuta will be Toyota’s two full-time entrants.
Rovanperä will return to full-time competition in 2025 though; simply feeling that he would benefit from some time away from the intense WRC schedule next term.
Speaking to DirtFish before the news broke, Hyundai’s Neuville said “it would be a shame” for Rovanperä to scale back his commitment.
“I mean Ogier is not doing a full championship anymore, if Kalle would be out it would be even less contenders for the title fight,” Neuville said.
"If a young champion like this even doesn't want to do the championship obviously there is something very wrong"Ott Tänak
“There are already not a lot, so if there’s even one less I think for the championship… I don’t know what it means for the championship but it shows that something is going wrong.”
Tänak, who will be Neuville’s team-mate next year, echoed the Belgian’s thoughts.
“If something like this should happen, it shows that the sport definitely has something missing, if a young champion like this even doesn’t want to do the championship obviously there is something very wrong, and I hope this opens eyes from the FIA and promoter,” Tänak told DirtFish.
“But from our side, our approach really doesn’t change. Whoever is competing there, we still have our own job.”
Neuville agreed that the loss of Rovanperä from next year’s title fight wouldn’t affect his approach, but did suggest it would potentially cheapen the achievement of becoming champion.
“Ott will still be there and he will definitely be the strongest contender in that case,” Neuville said. “However I want to fight against all the drivers, I don’t take any pleasure about fighting only one driver.
“The pleasure is to be in the fight with everybody. The pleasure is also there to animate the people around, to animate the service park and give a show because I mean the best example this weekend [in Japan], there was a lot of spectators but there wasn’t a great show in terms of competition.
“And that’s something which is desperately missing in WRC at the moment. So any driver less is a problem.”
Rovanperä’s compatriot Esapekka Lappi – who himself will also undertake a part-time program – feels burnout could be a decisive factor, and wonders if Rovanperä is trying to prove a potential point that the WRC needs a redesign.
“It proves that he’s also tired, for this travelling here and there,” Lappi told DirtFish.
“To do a full season it’s a commitment. It’s not only the days what you see on the TV or media it’s a lot more as well.
“And I think there has been also some comments and statements about the format, so maybe he wants to show as well that something needs to be changed. But, who am I to say is this true.”