Neuville’s Monte should be seen as a success

Despite a distant third place behind the two Toyotas, Thierry Neuville should be a threat once again in 2023


In many ways, Thierry Neuville was slightly anonymous in Monte Carlo.

With Toyota’s drivers consistently stealing the headlines, Neuville’s performance largely went unnoticed, but just how good was it?

Well, a quick look at the timesheet after the final stage would largely leave you feeling underwhelmed.

He might have got a podium position, finishing the rally in third place, but he completed the event 44.6 seconds slower than victor Sébastien Ogier.

At the back end of last year, Hyundai was the team to beat on asphalt. Toyota just didn’t have an answer for the pace of the i20 N. But that wasn’t the case on this year’s Monte.

Historically, Monte isn’t a traditional asphalt rally, but apart from some icy sections on Thursday and Friday, the road was predominantly dry making it more comparable to rallies such as Japan than it might have been in previous years.

Its performance on the Monte clearly shows Toyota has taken a step forward on asphalt this year. But although Neuville spent most of his time flying under the radar, there were flashes of performance that showed he was on it and could match his rivals more often as the year goes on.


The starting point for that assessment is the fact Neuville was the first non-Toyota driver to claim a stage victory on Monte. It didn’t happen until SS11, but he instantly proved it was no fluke by winning the following test as well.

When Neuville felt comfortable, he wasn’t afraid to push and was easily on the pace of those ahead of him. But that was the problem – he wasn’t feeling comfortable enough.

On Friday night, Neuville admitted that he’d gone in the wrong direction on car setup and that it wasn’t actually the performance of the car that was holding him back.


It also wasn’t the tight and twisty sections of Monte’s stages that caused him the most pain. It was the fast-flowing sections. The i20 N felt too nervous and twitchy at high speed as Neuville explained on Saturday evening.

“We see that in the twisty narrow sections, we are up to speed,” he told DirtFish.

“It’s in the fast section. We are moving around, we have less precision, the car is nervous a bit.

“So automatically you have to back off here and there where they can go just much faster.”

There was one other thing holding Neuville back, his own mistakes.

Neuville had been relatively quick out of the blocks on Monte’s opening stage on Thursday evening, ending up third fastest on the first test, but it fell apart on the following stage, at the worst possible moment.


In the opening two splits of SS2, Neuville was fastest of all. He was 1.7s up on Ogier in the first split, and although he lost some time to the eight-time World Rally champion in the second split, he was still 1.1s ahead.

He lost further time in the next two splits, struggling to find grip, but he was not too far off Ogier’s pace. Then, in the final part of the stage he came a cropper, hitting a patch of ice and sliding into the bank.

No major damage was caused on impact, but his car stalled in the process, causing him to lose over eight seconds. What looked to be a promising stage quickly became a frustrating one.

He also made a mistake on Sunday, spinning at the first corner of SS15. Again, it didn’t cost him huge amounts of time, but the error cost him vital seconds, nonetheless.


And yet, despite the mistakes, and lack of pace, Neuville should be walking away from Monte reasonably happy.

Yes, he might have been third, but that could easily be regarded as second since Ogier is only competing part-time in 2023.

It should also be noted that often Neuville was one of the fastest, if not the fastest, drivers in the opening couple of splits on the majority of stages.

It seemed that at times he was overheating his tires, or that the car’s fragile feeling on fast sections prevented him from matching the outright pace for a full stage.

These are all things that can be ironed out for future events this year and compared to last season where Neuville had to drag his car kicking and screaming over the finish line, this year’s Monte should be seen as a huge success.


Toyota, and Ogier in particular, were always considered to be the favorite for Monte. That played out as expected, but in the grand scheme of things, Neuville isn’t far away.

It might not have been a standout drive that will go down as one of Neuville’s strongest performances, but it didn’t need to be.

Neuville needed to walk away having set a strong foundation for the rest of the year. And considering the result, you’d have to say it was definitely mission accomplished.

He won’t be bouncing off the walls with positivity, but Neuville can head to Sweden with the knowledge that he’s in a much better place than this time last year. If he can finetune the setup to his liking, he has every chance of being a force to be reckoned with in 2023.