Hyundai Motorsport will take the bold step of dropping its lead driver Thierry Neuville for the final round of the 2015 WRC season in Great Britain. The Belgian pilot, who sits fifth in the world championship standings behind Citroën’s Mads Østberg, is currently the highest-placed of the i20 drivers. However, a series of sub-par performances and a modest haul of 16 points from his last three outings have prompted bosses at the Korean team to wield the axe. Neuville will step down to the second-string ‘N’ team whilst his seat in the senior squad will be taken by young-gun Hayden Paddon for the Wales-based event.
This week’s decision has been prompted by two key factors, the first of which concerns recent public criticism aimed at Neuville by team manager Alain Penasse. Penasse was particularly critical of his team leader’s relative lack of form through the whole of the 2015 campaign, during which he has bagged two podiums and 86 points from eleven rounds. Compare those figures to this time last season, when the 27 year-old had accrued two podiums, one win and 93 championship points, and Neuville’s lack of progress aboard the i20 becomes apparent.
For his part, the Belgian star has rightly highlighted his team’s inability to provide him with a car capable of challenging the pace-setting Volkswagen Polo Rs. This has seen him reticent to take risks and push harder when in point-scoring positions.
Either way, Neuville will be spared the pressure-cooker environment of the manufactures’ championship battle at Rally GB.
It is precisely that battle which provides added impetus for Hyundai chiefs to go with their most in-form man on the final outing of the season. Hyundai lost second spot in the constructor’s standing to Citroën last time out in France but remain locked in a fierce tussle with their French rivals for the runners-up position. One point separates the warring factions heading into the penultimate round of the season in Spain and and the stakes will be even higher by the time rally GB comes around.
Enter Hayden Paddon, the young Kiwi who ripped up the form books this year with some superb performances on gravel. A relative unknown 9 months ago, the New Zealander has enjoyed a breakthrough season in WRC and is now Hyundai’s go-to man when a spot of firefighting is required. The gravel specialist previously stepped up to play with the big boys at Rally Austalia where he deputised admirably for Dani Sordo, so is not unfamiliar with the rigours of the WRC manufacturers’ battle.
Both parties stressed that the decision to demote Neuville to a secondary role was reached amicably and that the driver himself is fully committed to the team. The Belgian will now have extra time to refocus in preparation for the start of the 2016 campaign when he will pilot the much anticipated next-generation Hyundai i20 WRC.