Can we really judge Kris Meeke, is it even fair?
Even Sebastien Ogier makes mistakes, even Sebastien Loeb made a few, everyone does. Just look at just about any rally driver (or co-driver, they hate it when media fails to mention them) currently competing in the World Rally Championship. Offs, punctures, rolls, missed or misheard pacenotes, poorly timed entries in the time controls… And somehow, unless you’re extremely unfocused, these mistakes are too few to worry about as they blend in with the rest of the season and we all learn to forget about them come November and December, celebrating new champion and remembering only good things from the past year.
But how do you blend in two mistakes and offs if your season consists of two rallies? You’ve probably heard it by now – Kris Meeke and Chris Patterson rolled on the 13th special stage in Australia, throwing another very solid finish away. After similar thing happened in Finland Meeke was under “strict instructions” to finish the event in Australia and he often replied with “there is no race” to questions about whether he will try and fight for the podium. Citroën gambled in an effort to collect much needed manufacturer points – some said the gamble was too bold and risky, some said betting on Kris was a good move. In a way, he proved them both right and wrong.
I for one do not believe Citroën was testing Meeke for the sake of publicity or because they had nothing to lose. Plenty of thought went into that move, from the pure points perspective to the messages sent to Dani Sordo and to some extent Mikko Hirvonen as well. Meeke was out in a mission to get points, even in Finland. If points did not matter (as they do not in that wonderful wonderful Whose Line is it Anyway? show) Citroën would just stick with Sordo (who regained huge amount of confidence after his brilliant win in Germany) and Meeke would be given a car and a testing schedule away from the official WRC events. He had a job to do.
Two out of two – if you’re allowed two mistakes per season, you’re screwed. On both occasions Kris was in a great position – together with very motivated Mikko Hirvonen the points haul would be significant in Australia. But that’s the problem really. You go out to do your job, knowing you can do it, but then all of a sudden you’re actually fighting for some very shiny positions. You’re seeing podium within your reach. You’re trashing drivers with more recent WRC experience with ease. In such circumstances I do suppose it’s possible to just get into the rhythm and in the zone, you sort of forget about the instructions as you try to push just a little bit harder in every corner. Not too hard, just a little bit harder. All Meeke heard in Australia in Finland was “Wow, your pace is amazing, being away from WRC for so long!” You cannot tell me that does not get to you in some way. If you’re good worker, you like to see your work recognized and praised, so perhaps if you do your job just a little bit better, you could not only earn even more praise, but maybe few more important things.
Colin McRae would laugh at instructions to finish safely I believe. Sebastian Vettel laughs at them – he just whips out his finger and everyone in Red Bull instantly forget about how mad they were at him for risking too much. The point is, you don’t achieve unless you try, and try hard. With huge desire to score and achieve, Kris Meeke was not the ideal candidate to test the “instructions” strategy on. Kris was screwed by BMW and Mini, he was sidelined for so long, all while knowing his potential. It was a huge pressure, even if we’re not aware of it.
Perhaps both mistakes were really small, one of those things that happen and sometimes you walk away and sometimes you roll. The crappy thing about it is that Kris made his mistakes in his only two outings this year. No driver can say they would do the job better, except maybe Sebastien Loeb. With just two events, plenty to prove and a career on the line, Meeke cannot actually be compared to the guys doing full season or those with solid contracts for 2014. Only after full season or two we would be able to judge Meeke’s worth.
It was a fuck up on Kris’ side, no doubt. But aside from that he displayed pure talent, great control and raw speed. His place is in the WRC, but it’s up to WRC to expand and grow to allow all other Meekes, Atkinsons and other drivers to get a chance of competing, gaining experience and seeing whether they’re really that good or not.