With four rounds of the World Rally Championship behind us in 2023, a mere 11 points separate the top five drivers.
Compare that to this time of the season in 2022, when the top five were split by 70 points – with Kalle Rovanperä holding a 46-point lead – and there’s already a big difference to the competition this year.
But it’s this battle at the top that could be causing a problem for the drivers in the cars.
Numerous competitors complained of various issues on Croatia Rally, not feeling 100% behind the wheel.
Toyota team principal Jari-Matti Latvala noted as much when discussing the closeness of the 2023 season so far, with his team battling Hyundai and M-Sport together.
The intensity of this year’s title battle has been increased as both Hyundai and M-Sport have developed the reliability of their machines.
“If you look at last year, Toyota was strong because we had the most reliable car. The other teams had problems,” he explained.
“And then quite early on Kalle ran away and did an amazing performance.
“But now the playing field has actually got… it was towards the end of ‘22 more close.
“The cars are very close to each other and now to win the events you need to be very consistent, and the competition is tougher and harder.”
It’s because of this tough competition, Latvala says, that drivers appear a lot less at ease behind the wheel as they try to push it more and more past the limit.
“And I think when the competition is tougher and harder it’s also then you can see that the drivers can be a little bit less comfortable, I would say,” he added.
“Then you can also see that… OK, the conditions being a little bit special.
“So [they are] suffering a little bit more with the cars and the setup.
However, the former WRC driver said despite these troubles, the setup of the cars can be nailed more regularly in 2023 as the drivers get a better feel for the Rally1 cars.
“Last year it was not optimized in the setup,” he said, “but now you try to optimize the setup to the events more than last year.”