Driver moves are already exciting, no matter the timing of them or even the discipline of motorsport in which they happen.
The World Rally Championship is certainly no exception. There have been some fairly incredible transfers in the past – not least when the reigning world champion elects to jump ship.
DirtFish recently reported that Kalle Rovanperä’s manager has opened talks with Hyundai about a potentially sensational switch to the rival team.
If Rovanperä were to win the WRC with Toyota again this year and then take the #1 door plate (metaphorically, as Kalle chose to keep his #69 this year) elsewhere it would be the latest example in a long line of moves.
Similar scenarios have unfolded on several occasions in the past, be that through the driver’s own choice or it being forced upon them. Here, we take a look at the full rundown.
Examples like Björn Waldegård have been omitted, as although he left Ford behind after winning the inaugural drivers’ title in 1979, he was also occasionally driving for Mercedes which he kept ties with in 1980.
1982: Walter Röhrl
The versatile Walter Röhrl combined racing sportscars with competing on rallies, including for Fiat/Lancia, when he won the WRC in 1980 driving a Fiat 131. He could appear on this list for that title, because he signed to drive for Mercedes in ’81, only for the Stuttgart marque to withdraw from the WRC.
Röhrl ended up joining Porsche instead, focusing largely on racing, and made only a single WRC appearance. For 1982, he returned to previous employer Opel and won his second WRC title in an Ascona 400. Röhrl took two wins and six further podium finishes to deny Michèle Mouton a fairytale title in her Audi Quattro.
But Röhrl fell out with Opel over sponsor commitments for the RAC Rally and joined Lancia for his title defense. He took the 037 to second in the drivers’ standings, with wins in Monte Carlo, Greece and New Zealand, and combined with Markku Alén to deliver Lancia the manufacturers’ title.
1986: Juha Kankkunen
Juha Kankkunen became the WRC’s youngest champion when he took the title with Peugeot in 1986. But the banning of Group B spelt the end for the 205 Turbo 16, in which Kankkunen took three wins on his way to the crown.
Triple K found a new home at Lancia and clearly made the right choice to remain at the sharp end. The Lancia Delta HF 4WD stole a march on the opposition at the beginning of the Group A era, winning nine out of 13 events in 1987.
While his team-mates Alén and Miki Biasion each snared three, Kankkunen’s pair of victories on the Olympus and RAC rallies, together with three other podiums and crucial points in Portugal and Finland, were enough to snatch the crown. In doing so, he became the first driver to win back-to-back titles.
1987: Juha Kankkunen
With little threat from the opposition, Lancia had committed to giving Alén, Biasion and Kankukken an equal chance of claiming the 1987 drivers’ title by entering them in seven rallies each. That was despite Kankkunen’s stormy involvement in team orders that allowed Biasion to win the Monte.
Come the season-ending RAC Rally, Biasion led the standings by 14 points from both Alén and Kankkunen. But Biasion had already contested his seven events.
And though it was Kankkunen who prevailed, his unease with team orders had contributed to his decision to leave the team before taking the crown. Kankkunen returned to Toyota for 1988, with whom he had come to prominence in 1983-85.
The new Toyota Celica GT-4 (ST165) proved unreliable, and Kankkunen’s only finish came on the Safari Rally at the wheel of the old Supra Turbo – while Biasion waltzed to the title with Lancia with five wins.
1992: Carlos Sainz
Joined: Lancia (Jolly Club)
Carlos Sainz’s switch from Ford to Toyota in 1989 heralded an incredibly successful four years with the Japanese marque. Sainz took 13 wins and scooped the WRC title in both 1990 and 1992.
With Kankkunen returning to Lancia for 1990, the pair spent three years slugging it out as team leaders for the WRC’s two biggest teams. But when Toyota agreed a deal with Castrol for 1993, Sainz’s connections to Spanish oil giant Repsol meant he moved on.
Sainz swapped places with Kankkunen, but the Spaniard’s switch to Lancia was a disaster. The Italian manufacturer disbanded its work team, leaving Jolly Club to run its Delta HF Integrales for its swansong season.
A pair of fourth places and second on the Acropolis were as good as it got for Sainz. Over at his former team, Kankkunen took five wins on his way to a record fourth world championship title.
2001: Richard Burns
Like Kankkunen in 1987, Richard Burns had already decided to leave his team before clinching the 2001 world title. Burns had returned to Subaru in 1999 following a three-year stint at Mitsubishi, during which he became a frontrunner and won his first WRC events.
Replacing Colin McRae at the Prodrive-run squad, the Englishman was runner-up in the 1999 and 2000 seasons. Consistency kept Burns’s Impreza S7 in the hunt throughout 2001 before he clinched the title in that famous four-way shootout on the Rally of Great Britain.
But the new champion’s relationship with the team was strained, as Burns challenged Subaru in the High Court as he sought to join manufacturers’ champion team Peugeot for 2002. Burns had signed for Peugeot earlier in the year but Subaru claimed his world title triggered an automatic extension to remain in an Impreza.
An out-of-court settlement was reached, and Burns joined Peugeot. However, it was a disappointing first year for the combination, Burns going winless and ending up fifth in the standings as team-mate Marcus Grönholm swept to a dominant title win.
2016: Sébastien Ogier
Joined: M-Sport Ford
After leaving Citroën to join Volkswagen’s new WRC assault – via a year of testing and development while campaigning a Super 2000 class Škoda – Sébastien Ogier neatly took over from Sébastien Loeb as the WRC’s dominant force.
But after four consecutive titles, VW made a hasty exit from the WRC amid the worldwide ‘dieselgate’ road car emissions scandal in which it was embroiled.
Ogier was forced to find another seat for the debut of the much-anticipated uprated-spec cars in 2017. He landed at M-Sport, which had been focusing its limited resources on the new car from an early stage.
Ogier picked up where he had left off, winning first-time out on the Monte, adding a second win in Portugal, and taking seven other podium finishes to top a close contest with Hyundai’s Thierry Neuville after Toyota driver Jari-Matti Latvala slipped back mid-season.
2018: Sébastien Ogier
Left: M-Sport Ford
Two years later, Ogier was on the move again. He’d actually taken more wins (four) in his second title-winning season with M-Sport. But before clinching his sixth world crown, Ogier made the decision to switch to a full manufacturer-backed team, rejoining Citroën.
Ogier had taken the Junior WRC title with Citroën in 2008, then claimed seven overall WRC event wins in the C4 WRC and DS3 WRC in 2010-’11. But, amid increasing tension with Loeb, he’d made the very successful switch to VW.
While Citroën had been the weakest of the four manufacturers for the previous two years, Ogier was convinced he could help it return to the front of the WRC. He also spoke of the desire to win the world title with a third different manufacturer, something only Juha Kankkunen had done previously.
The move wasn’t a great success. Ogier won three times, including first time out on the Monte, but finished third in the championship, 46 points short of champion Ott Tänak. His confidence in Citroën waned and, with Tänak switching to Hyundai, Ogier opted to take his seat at Toyota, before effectively being blamed by Citroën for its subsequent WRC withdrawal.
2019: Ott Tänak
Having learned his craft with M-Sport, including alongside Ogier in 2017, Tänak was ready to lead a team and fight for the world title. He joined Toyota for 2018, taking four wins on his way to third in the standing.
In his second year under Tommi Mäkinen’s leadership, Tänak delivered the title, winning nearly half the events in 2019. But various mechanical issues, and an uneasy relationship with Mäkinen, contributed to a growing frustration with the team, and he was convinced by Hyundai team principal Andrea Adamo to switch camps for the following year.
In the pandemic-disrupted season of 2020, Tänak took a dream win at home in Estonia and three second places, but was always playing catch-up after a massive Monte Carlo crash, and ended the year third in the points.
Two more rollercoaster seasons with Hyundai followed before Tänak exited his contract a year early to rejoin M-Sport for 2023.