The contracts have all been completed and the drivers are all in place. We now know exactly who will be competing for the coveted 2022 World Rally Championship title.
Confirmation that Adrien Fourmaux will remain with M-Sport and complete his first full season at rallying’s top table and that Sébastien Loeb will also join the team – for the Monte Carlo Rally at least – were the final pieces in the driver market jigsaw ahead of the WRC’s first season of hybrid Rally1 power.
Each team has a world champion, with Hyundai retaining Ott Tänak’s services and Sébastien Ogier staying at Toyota – albeit on a part-time basis. Thierry Neuville joins Tänak at Hyundai, while Dani Sordo and Oliver Solberg will share the third ride.
Over at Toyota, continuity has also been key with Elfyn Evans and Kalle Rovanperä staying on for a third season while Esapekka Lappi – a Toyota driver in 2017 and 2018 – returns to the fold.
M-Sport meanwhile has poached Craig Breen from Hyundai to lead its line, with Gus Greensmith competing in another Puma Rally1 alongside Fourmaux and Loeb.
Making predictions is never easy – particularly when the entire field is being reset to zero with a big technical change – but which team, on paper, has the most competitive driver line-up?
That’s the question we put to our team of writers as we begin to prepare for the 2022 season.
The statistics say Hyundai
Go with the numbers. Statistics never lie. On that sensibly mathematically scientific basis, it’s got to be Hyundai Motorsport.
Taking each of the team’s full-timers – because that’s where the foundation of points for prizes will be laid – makes Hyundai the all-out favorite – Andrea Adamo or no Andrea Adamo. Between them, Ott Tänak and Thierry Neuville have 29 wins and one title.
Toyota’s Elfyn Evans and Kalle Rovanperä have seven rally wins, while M-Sport Ford’s team, led by Craig Breen with Adrien Fourmaux and Gus Greensmith alongside, is yet to chalk up its maiden WRC success.
Now let’s add in the part-timers. Hyundai has Oliver Solberg and Dani Sordo, drivers at the opposite ends of their careers; that could and probably should be a good thing for Hyundai. Solberg will be looking for experience on events rather than an opportunity to demonstrate how quickly he can take every single corner. Sordo’s evolved into the ultimate, dependable points-paying team player.
What? Evolved into? Sordo’s forever been the most bankable of drivers. That will serve the squad very well. So, Hyundai first for me.
A car share between Sébastien Ogier and Esapekka Lappi will bring Toyota a whole lot closer to Hyundai – the third Yaris Rally1 has the most potential of all third cars to deliver consistent wins. Would you bet against Ogier in Monte? Or Lappi in Finland? Or Estonia? Exactly. So, Toyota’s a close second.
Breen will win in 2022. A driver of his speed and consistent speed has to find his way to the podium’s top step at some point. But a win for Greensmith or Fourmaux would be slightly more surprising given the shallower depth of their experience at the highest level.
Sébastien Loeb is, of course, a massive coup for M-Sport. But what can he do? He’s a decade down the road from his absolute prime but, even 10 years on, this fella can still turn it on. Can he win? Quite possibly yes. He seemed a touch short of motivation when he left Hyundai at the end of 2020, but he’s raring to go again now.
Now, if we were looking at the complete package, it’s quite possible that ranking would be turned on its head. M-Sport’s Ford Puma Rally1 Hybrid has been running longer than any other car and Chris Williams’ ability to deliver a winner out of the blocks is well documented.
– David Evans
Toyota has the perfect blend (with or without Ogier)
While we have no idea which team will begin the 2022 season with the most competitive car, I believe Toyota has secured itself the most competitive driver line-up next season – and potentially one of the strongest in WRC history.
Forget the notion that Sébastien Ogier’s exit from full-time competition has made the team weaker. The eight-time champion will still be present at points throughout the year, and will ironically likely be stronger than ever as he’ll be unleashed and able to drive in favorable road positions for a change.
But even without Ogier, Toyota’s driver roster is sparkling. With the champion unable to defend his crown, it has the driver that finished second to him in the last two seasons – Elfyn Evans – and the most exciting driver in a generation in Kalle Rovanperä; who is only likely to exceed his lofty heights of 2021.
And then there’s Esapekka Lappi. While there may justifiably be a question mark over his head given he’s missed out on the same level of competition as his rivals in the last 12 months, Lappi’s results in that time period speak for themselves. With enough time in the car, he is a mouth-watering addition to complement the super quick and reliable Evans and the blistering Rovanperä.
Hyundai’s line-up is undoubtedly strong – how can it not be with Thierry Neuville and Ott Tänak in the team? But for me, its third car is weaker than Toyota’s.
Dani Sordo is a safe pair of hands but, in the twilight of his WRC career, lacks the dynamic edge of Lappi. Oliver Solberg could prove to be the ideal solution, but he’s got a year of learning to do and as he’s likely to play the supporting role to his championship fighting team-mates at times, could that actually stunt his development slightly?
M-Sport has greatly improved its line-up from 2021 but still enters the season with the weakest selection of drivers, albeit with the most potential to improve. Craig Breen has a big chance next year and is even more capable than his current WRC CV suggests, but there’s pressure on his shoulders to deliver from the off.
Adrien Fourmaux and Gus Greensmith are both worthy additions and capable of punching above their weight, but don’t offer the same assurance of results that Toyota and Hyundai’s drivers do. Sébastien Loeb remains a big unknown: can he still cut it? I’m not so sure he’ll be as effective as some expect (or hope) on the stages themselves but who better to have in the ranks to develop both the Puma and the younger drivers?
– Luke Barry
Hyundai comfortably has the best
How do you rank the best line-up? Surely it’s on its ability to win rallies and the two major championships (constructors’ and drivers’). In 2022, that lies with Hyundai.
Of course, Ott Tänak’s adaptation to the i20 was not ideal, but he’s been at Hyundai long enough for the squad to bake in some characteristics he’ll like next year. And he’s the only WRC champion competing full-time in the series next year. We know Thierry Neuville is as good as anyone on his day and that Dani Sordo is mega consistent. If this line-up doesn’t sweep the titles, something will be wrong with the car.
Toyota’s line-up is weaker but Elfyn Evans may have won a title without Sébastien Ogier in the mix. With a new car, there’s potential for Toyota to steal a march and Evans is certainly capable of delivering. Kalle Rovanperä doesn’t appear ready to overcome Evans in a straight fight but perhaps he may emerge stronger in 2022, plus Ogier will be a threat to steal points from Hyundai when he’s present. Esapekka Lappi might struggle to match his regular team-mates coming back in after a year out but has plenty of natural talent.
M-Sport is the curveball here. If Sébastien Loeb is getting involved properly with the development of the Puma, that’s a frightening prospect for the opposition. To be fair, most of the work was done on the 2017 car when Ogier arrived and he still elevated the team even further. Perhaps Loeb can help do the same.
Craig Breen will be an interesting proposition given a full-year and I feel like this is a crucial year for Adrien Fourmaux and Gus Greensmith. But with Loeb around there should be plenty of learning and absorbing in order to step things up a level. Fourmaux has the potential to become a proper contender but will he realize that or become another WRC midfielder? And can Greensmith make a similar step to being a more threatening option for M-Sport? All eyes will be on this group.
– Jack Benyon
Toyota has the most consistent performers
Statistics may well show that Hyundai has the upper hand when it comes to its driver line-up for 2022, but I’d argue that Toyota is in a better position heading into next season when the new set of regulations arrive. While none of its drivers has a world title just yet, it’s probably the most complete line-up and one I’d put money on taking at least one of the championships again.
Elfyn Evans has shown himself to be not just capable of mounting a title challenge, but he’s also molding into a natural team leader. If the new Yaris is anywhere near as reliable as the outgoing WRC version, expect Toyota to be in the mix again in 2022, and Evans to be leading the charge.
Then there’s the ever-maturing Kalle Rovanperä, who will surely, surely be a contender next season. You get the sense that Rovanperä is still not the finished product but some of the errors and lack of experience will be ironed out even more next year, leaving a much more rounded driver. Indeed, there’s a touch of Tänak’s ruthlessness in the Finn and you have to imagine that when all the pieces fall into place, he could be unstoppable.
Factor in part-season drivers Ogier and Lappi and you have rally winners across the board: experienced campaigners who know what it takes to win titles. And at the end of the day, that is what Toyota wants and expects from its roster. A drivers’ title is fine, but a manufacturers’ title is the ultimate.
Take nothing away from Hyundai, it’s a close call and one I’ve mulled over plenty. But that’s what the current – and new – era of the WRC has been incredibly successful in producing. It’s one of the most competitive and talented fields in the history of the discipline: every point will count and when it comes down to it, you want the fastest, most consistent performers producing the goods when the title is on the line.
– Stephen Brunsdon
Depends on which title is being chased
With Andrea Adamo at the helm, Hyundai did whatever was needed to chase the manufacturers’ championship title in the last few years. He strategically deployed his drivers based on which would have the most favorable road order position on gravel and which were strongest on sealed surfaces.
Even nine-time world champion Sébastien Loeb had come into the Hyundai fold when Peugeot pulled the plug on its rallycross and Dakar programs in one swift yank. In years prior they’d shuffled drivers between the senior and junior teams based on recent form. The manufacturers’ crown was evidently not a goal but an obligation for Hyundai Motorsport.
But there’s a pivot now. Based on comments from both Dani Sordo about his own schedule and the teasing from Adamo – before his departure – that a fourth works i20 N Rally1 may show up later in 2022, it looks like Oliver Solberg will effectively be Hyundai’s third full-timer. That’s a stark departure from rotating Sordo, Loeb, Craig Breen and Andreas Mikkelsen in and out of the line-up over the past two years.
Solberg’s still a learner. He can’t be leaned on for consistency and ensuring Hyundai puts big points on the board if either Ott Tänak or Thierry Neuville hit trouble.
This was Toyota’s problem a few years back. An inexperienced Kalle Rovanperä was its designated third. Not these days. Two seasons and two WRC wins later, Rovanperä is one of the elite now. Better still for Toyota, its third car is going to be occupied by a mix of the reigning world champion and 2017 Rally Finland winner Esapekka Lappi.
As the 2020 season demonstrated, that third car can make all the difference in the makes’ points tally. And having one of Sébastien Ogier or Lappi as the back-up, should drama befall Rovanperä or Elfyn Evans, has to be a comforting thought for Toyota team principal Jari-Matti Latvala. The ball is firmly in Toyota’s court for the manufacturers’ title based on driver line-up alone.
But if the i20 is up to snuff this year, Hyundai can finally set its sights on the drivers’ crown that has eluded it all this time. Tänak would then surely be the favorite. We’ve seen what he can do at his absolute best; demolish the entire field rally after rally. Team-mate Neuville will be the most experienced full-time driver in next year’s field now that Ogier has entered semi-retirement, as Monte Carlo 2021 will be his 130th start.
On paper, Tänak/Neuville looks a more formidable force than Evans/Rovanperä: 252 starts, 29 wins, and a world title up against 144 starts and seven wins. But who cares what the numbers say? Maybe the guy with zero wins in 68 starts that’s driving a Ford Puma could beat the lot of them in 2022…
– Alasdair Lindsay