Ranking Neuville’s 10 seasons at Hyundai

Luke Barry takes a closer look at the Belgian driver's record with the Alzenau-based squad


It’s hard to believe that at one stage in his World Rally Championship career, Thierry Neuville was a nomadic driver.

Making his debut with Citroën in 2012, the Belgian joined M-Sport Ford for his sophomore season before accepting an offer to lead Hyundai’s charge when it re-entered the championship in 2014.

Hyundai is where Neuville has remained for the past decade, and the team he has won all 19 of his WRC rallies with.

His 11th season could be the one where he finally gets the championship title he’s long looked capable of claiming, but of the 10 seasons he has contested so far, which has been his best?

Context has been key in reaching this final ranking. It’s not necessarily about which season Neuville scored the most points or won the most rallies in, but considering where he was at that stage of his career, how impressive was his campaign?

As always this is a subjective assessment, so we welcome all debate in the comments! But here is Luke Barry’s ranked top 10 of Neuville’s Hyundai years – which was far from easy to determine:

10 – 2015


Although ranking Neuville’s decade behind the wheel of an i20 has proved difficult, 2015 was a fairly straightforward pick as Neuville’s weakest campaign to date.

The Belgian did achieve some strong things, such as second place in Sweden, but was clearly frustrated by the promised upgraded i20 failing to be ready in time.

Neuville’s 2015 was therefore such a struggle that despite being signed as Hyundai’s team leader, he was actually demoted to the second-string Hyundai Motorsport N outfit for Rally GB, where he rolled out.

9 – 2020


Neuville’s 2020 season started in the best possible fashion with a well-crafted, and long-awaited, victory on the Monte Carlo Rally – a rally he had come so close to conquering the year before and badly wanted to tick off his list.

There wasn’t too much wrong with the way the rest of his final season alongside Nicolas Gilsoul panned out, but the brevity of the year (thanks to COVID-19) means it’s hard to rank 2020 any higher than ninth in this list.

A crash at the Monza season finale was Neuville’s only real major mistake of a season in which he would finish fourth in the world championship.

8 – 2014


The season that started the Neuville and Hyundai story might come in at number eight, but all things considered it has to be deemed a successful maiden campaign.

There was of course that famous breakthrough victory in Germany where Neuville crashed on shakedown but in a day of drama as both Jari-Matti Latvala and Kris Meeke crashed from the lead, Neuville swooped in to lead home a Hyundai 1-2 ahead of Dani Sordo.

And then there was the legend of the Corona-fueled first podium for Hyundai in México. But there were a few disappointments too – not least the crash on his very first stage in the car and a poor result immediately after in Sweden.

7 – 2018


For the first half of 2018, Neuville was in sensational form. The season began badly as he got stuck in the ice on the Monte’s first stage, but a win in Sweden was a huge result and signaled Neuville’s intent.

However it was his back-to-back successes in Portugal and Sardinia that really outlined him as the driver to beat, particularly Sardinia where Neuville epically stole the lead from Sébastien Ogier on the final stage to win by just 0.7 seconds.

It looked for all the world that Neuville would become champion, but a bad run in Finland, suspension failure in Turkey, a scrappy Wales, a sub-par run in Spain and then ultimately a crash in Australia as he attempted to achieve the impossible meant he lost the crown to Ogier once more.

As good as the start of his campaign was, the second half just didn’t live up to it. Which was starting to become a growing theme…

6 – 2017


In many ways, Neuville’s 2018 was a far stronger campaign than his 2017. His victories were more emphatic (Argentina in 2017 aside), he arguably had stronger competition and he didn’t throw results away as readily as he did in 2017.

But 2017 was equally a breakthrough year for Neuville where he proved he could be a fully fledged title contender (and won a ridiculous 56 stages, almost double what anybody else managed). In 2018 we knew that, so letting it slip was less forgivable.

Neuville’s 2017 was therefore both a brilliant but brutal display of his capabilities. Leading both Monte Carlo and Sweden with an i20 Coupe WRC that was clearly a strong machine, he crashed out on Saturday’s final stage of both and let victory go begging.

Up against a weakened Ogier who was adapting to M-Sport, Neuville did hold a championship advantage but a cut in Germany’s Panzerplatte arena wrecked his campaign. Another lost wheel in Spain was the final nail in Neuville’s campaign.

Those two retirements perhaps said more about Hyundai than they did Neuville, but the pair of retirements to start the season most likely did cost Neuville the world title.

5 – 2022


Hyundai’s start to the Rally1 era was difficult to say the least, which made it all-but impossible for Neuville to fight for a championship Kalle Rovanperä ended up making his own.

Considering this, he performed rather well for most of the season to drag performance out of the car that wasn’t always there.

There were some low points – notably the crash in Sardinia and then particularly his mistake on home ground in Ypres that allowed team-mate Ott Tänak to steal a victory that should have been Neuville’s – but the Belgian ended the season strongly with a controversial win in Greece and salt-rubbing Japanese triumph over Toyota.

The nature, and consequence, of the Ypres mistake however really counts against 2022 in this top 10 ranking.

4 – 2019


Neuville was beginning to build a reputation as a nearly-man by 2019, and that year’s campaign didn’t do much to repair that image. The one year the Belgian did manage to beat Ogier in the championship, he was defeated by Ott Tänak.

A monster smash in Chile aside, 2019 was a polished campaign from Neuville though who was less at fault for his title defeat. Instead, Tänak and Toyota just looked that small percent stronger.

Arguably Neuville shouldn’t have lost the Monte to Ogier – an overshoot cost him dearly – and his Sardinian and Turkish results weren’t the healthiest, but otherwise he was achieving either the absolute maximum, or very close to it, that he could.

Even on the weekend in Spain where Tänak put the title out of his reach, Neuville still did everything he possibly could with a rally win.

3 – 2021


If it wasn’t for the 11th-hour co-driver swap which put Gilsoul out and Martijn Wydaeghe in, then 2019 would probably have nudged ahead of 2021. But for Neuville to grab three consecutive podiums on his first three starts with a new co-driver was seriously impressive.

A crash in Portugal undid that positive momentum, but the podiums kept on rolling in. Neuville missed out on victory in Kenya, which didn’t appear to be his fault, and struggled to eighth in Greece where he was beset by a power-steering problem.

Otherwise 2021 was a clean season where Neuville proved the classic mistakes under pressure that had cost him championship may finally be ironed out.

2 – 2016


If you compare where 2016 finds itself on this list relative to the season that preceded it (2015), it’s clear how marked an improvement this was from Neuville who had the use of the NG i20 WRC for one season only. This was the year that laid the foundations for Neuville to become a title challenger in the future.

He was effectively overshadowed by team-mate Hayden Paddon early on, as the New Zealander scored a stunning victory in Argentina while Neuville struggled with a transmission problem in Sweden and crashed in México, but Neuville’s consistency was ruthless once the year progressed.

Victory in Sardinia was extremely important as it was his first since that maiden success in Germany, and really marked a turning point in Neuville’s year. Thereafter, the Belgian wasn’t outside the top four with fourth-place finishes in Poland and Finland, third places in Germany, Spain, Wales and Australia and a second spot in Corsica.

That allowed Neuville to claim a strong second place in the championship, making him the only driver to ever muscle his way into the top-three when Volkswagen was competing. It was the second time Neuville managed it, after coming second for M-Sport in 2013.

1 – 2023


However Neuville’s best season in the WRC, at least in this writer’s opinion, was his most recent: 2023.

It would be easy to claim this is some sort of recency bias, but Neuville was deceptively effective this year in an i20 N Rally1.

As ever there were some lows – the crashes from the lead in Croatia and while chasing it in Japan were hardly Neuville at his best, but he can be forgiven for both given the circumstances (and consequent pressure) of the Croatian weekend, and the fact the title was already decided in Japan so it didn’t cost him, or Hyundai, anything.

There was the exclusion from Kenya too, but Neuville feels he was a sacrificial lamb in this instance. It’s pretty impossible for us to prove him right or wrong.

So if we ignore that unfortunate circumstance, Neuville was on for a podium on every single other event. He matched world champion Rovanperä with eight for the season, but he could so easily have had one in Portugal had his turbo not failed and in Greece before his steering gave up.

And of the ones he did achieve, the drives in Estonia and Finland were particularly stunning – as was his composure on the extremely difficult Central European Rally, which he won.

More than any other year, it feels like Neuville did absolutely everything in his power to become world champion in 2023, which is why it has to rank at the top of this list.