What now for Tänak?

There's every possibility that Tänak's next move could be inextricably linked with Hyundai's decision making on Acropolis


There were lots of messages heading Ott Tänak’s way after his Ypres Rally Belgium win in the summer. One stood out. One shouted out.

It was a message of congratulations from Akio Toyoda.

Yes, that, Akio Toyoda. The Akio Toyoda. The president and CEO of Toyota.


“Congratulations on your victory,” said the car industry’s most important man.


“I sent a message to you in December, 2019 saying: ‘Let’s meet on the podium again and I will spray champagne at you.’

“It didn’t come true in Belgium, so it must happen in Japan for sure!”

There was a time when these two were firm podium pals. But not for a while now.

What should we make of that message from Toyoda?

Make of it what you want. The mutual respect is huge. Toyoda is something of a driver himself and fully appreciates what Tänak can do with a set of wheels and pedals. Tänak? He’s part-owner of a successful car firm, so he more than gets the Japanese.

So, Akio-san was offering genuine congratulations to a friend who’d driven brilliantly?


And… maybe a bit more.

It’s fair to say that – despite his recent outstanding run of form – Tänak’s not exactly in love with Hyundai Motorsport right now. Shortly before Toyoda messaged him with his champagne talk, Ott was telling DirtFish that Hyundai’s deputy team director Julien Moncet is not the best person to boss the team.

One round on and Hyundai turns its back on Tänak by refusing to switch him and Thierry Neuville for victory on the Acropolis Rally.

My DirtFish colleague Colin Clark was at his absolute dog-with-a-bone-best in Lamia on this subject. He pushed and pressed as hard as he could to get to the bottom of the thinking behind one of the most astonishing calls in the WRC’s recent history.

Colin did his job brilliantly.

Still, days later, it’s utterly perplexing why Hyundai would pilfer seven points from Tänak.

In case you’ve forgotten, here’s a reminder of the numbers: Tänak is 53 points behind Kalle Rovanperä, Neuville is 76. Had they switched the two i20 N Rally1s, Tänak would have been 46 down on the leader and Neuville 83.


Even typing those numbers, I’m still dumbfounded. I don’t know if it’s the psychology of being north or south of 50, but 46 sounds so much closer.

But 76 or 83? They both sound miles away.

This story’s taken a turn. I hadn’t intended to go back down this road, but Tänak’s next move could well be inexorably linked to the decisions made by Hyundai Motorsport president Sean Kim on Sunday.

And it’s not just me who thinks the same. The feeling in some corners of the team is exactly the same.

“We talk about a 1-2-3” one senior team member told me. “What difference does it make if it’s Neuville-Tänak-Sordo or Tänak-Neuville-Sordo? It’s still a 1-2-3, we still made history. Not changing the drivers, what does this say to our rivals?”

This being a family website, I won’t detail the rest of the conversation. The implication was that it’s not just Ferrari making a porridge of strategy in global motorsport this season.

“Last year,” my blue and orange-shirted friend offered, “we couldn’t stop making these calls. All the time, everywhere [Andrea] Adamo and Alain [Penasse], they were finding another smart way to make points. Now we’ve just given them away.”

It’s impossible to argue. A Hyundai decision extended Rovanperä’s lead by seven points.

Right now, Hyundai is winning in spite of itself rather than because of itself. Talking to those in the team, outscoring Toyota by 25 points and winning four of the last six WRC rounds has done little for morale. The squabbling simply hasn’t stopped.

And last Sunday could well have widened the divide between the Tänak and Neuville camps inside Hyundai.

To be clear, in my eyes, Thierry is blameless for what happened on Sunday. He’s a driver. He drove as directed.

Let’s get back to the start. Let’s get back to the point.


Sunday cost Ott seven points in his pursuit of a second world championship.

Time will tell if that decision costs Hyundai one of the fastest drivers in WRC history.

Could he really go back to Toyota?


The message is mixed from the senior management at the world champion. Some point to four drivers working in harmony right now, they point to the lead in both the drivers’ and manufacturers’ championships and they ask the question of why would they upset that balance.

More pertinently, why would they upset that balance by bringing back a driver who rocked the boat so firmly with his shock departure at the end of his own title-winning season in 2019?

And the rest? The answer is far more direct.

“Of course we’d have Ott back. This is business.”

And then there’s the M-Sport factor. Would Malcolm Wilson want Ott Tänak back?

Remember Monte Carlo and Hyundai’s disastrous start to the season? Where did Tänak seek refuge? M-Sport.

Yes. In a heartbeat. Or even sooner.

Along with Markko Märtin, it was Wilson who helped create Tänak the champ.

Would Tänak go back to M-Sport?

Yes. In a heartbeat. Or even sooner.

Remember Monte Carlo and Hyundai’s disastrous start to the season? Where did Tänak seek refuge? M-Sport.


The man who stood with family Wilson was a very different man to the one who stood on the lighter blue side of the harbor. There’s an affinity, an understanding and a bond between Wilson and Tänak that no other team can rival.

The problem? The obvious one: funding.

In case you haven’t noticed, M-Sport’s not exactly flush right now.

There’s no point in asking Wilson if he and Tänak have talked yet. They talk all the time. Have they talked about next season? Of course they have.

But can they find a deal?

Yes, I believe they can.

And can Tänak and co-driver Martin Järveoja extricate themselves from a contract which rolls into next season?

Yes, I believe they can.

I’ve got to be honest and say, I’d love to see Ott and MW back in business. They’re two of my favorite people in the championship and two of the sport’s ultimate competitors.

Sympathy for Hyundai? Not a bit of it.

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Hyundai Motorsport is packed with some utterly decent and thoroughly lovely human beings. But it has the look of a team struggling to be just that right now.

Best thing to do? Let’s just ask the man himself. Over to my brilliant colleague Colin.

“Will you be driving for Hyundai next year?”

Ott: “We will find out next year.”

We will indeed. If not sooner.

Words:David Evans