There is little doubt Andreas Mikkelsen deserves a spot in a competitive WRC team. He is established champion after all, with two IRC titles under his belt. The decision to hire him was not that hard for Volkswagen, I imagine, and I am pretty sure he will be very valuable asset to the team.
It’s a shame he didn’t get a spot for first few rallies this season, especially for Rally Sweden, but nonetheless it’s encouraging to see him compete and challenge for victories in the meantime – just goes to show you cannot stop competitors from racing and champions from pursuing victories. No doubt, this is exactly the attitude this young Norwegian will adopt as he joins the “big boys” in the WRC.
What’s best about Mikkelsen is not his obvious talent, but the huge amount of experience he managed to gather during relatively short career – he is fast on all surfaces. Yes, even on tarmac, stop the teasing already! Such driver will no doubt bring new ideas to the Championship, but he can also quickly become one of the constant points scorers and more. Of course, his pace will depend on that of Volkswagen’s WRC machine, and also on his ability to learn and adapt to more demanding schedule of WRC events over the course of the year.
But as a former champion and top competitor, Mikkelsen is one of the new generation of drivers, very much deserving a spot in WRC ranks. We all like to consider Sebastien Ogier, Jari-Matti Latvala and Mikko Hirvonen as the frontrunners of this new generation, but there are even younger youngsters knocking hard and loud on the WRC doors. Volkswagen played its hand and grabbed three of the most talented ones, but there still many looking for work. The arrival of new privateer, semi-privateer and full-blown factory team(s) cannot come soon enough. And when those teams do come, Craig Breen should also be leading the list of possible employees.
Ultimately, what I am looking forward the most regarding Mikkelsen is his fights with Mads Ostberg (especially after superb battle on recently finished Rally Finnskog in Norway) and Thierry Neuville – so many points to prove, it’s a whole new (sub)generation! Shame Sweden was not in Andreas’ calendar, but still, enough rallies to learn and prove his points this year. And make some of the established WRC stars a bit more nervous. At the same time, he will not be under so much pressure to perform, I believe, especially compared to the established members of the Volkswagen’s A team. This is actually good, because it may give him more breathing space, to learn and test his own and the abilities of the car.
And even if he decides not to push 110% right from the start, just to ensure more mileage and experience, I am sure we’ll see some big surprises and major achievements from the Norwegian this year. And his and successes of other younger youngsters are what WRC needs – investors, backers and sponsors need to feel safe giving out their cash to the upcoming and young drivers as well, just to avoid the dreaded scenario of talented ones sitting on the bench, while the whealthy pay-to-drive boys crash their toys around. Formula 1 can have those for all we care, right?