Three years, three teams – Neuville switches to Hyundai

But of course, we knew it all along, right? Thierry Neuville will start his 3rd season in the World Rally Championship in a brand new team, which makes me think – is this a record of some kind? Three switches in three years? Comments today are no different to the comments we heard yesterday – there is no doubting this particular decision stirred some discussion. Plenty of people are happy to see Hyundai going all out in an effort to snatch Neuville from Qatar M-Sport and Citroën. It shows they (Hyundai) are ready (and able) to invest – this time they really want to do it right, they must do it right, otherwise images of certain Accent will start popping up. WRC fans are also happy to see Neuville ready to embrace this challenge and leave the safety of Qatar M-Sport to join a very young and who-knows-how-competitive Hyundai. Surely, Hyundai have some idea about their competitiveness and I am positive this also played a major part in convincing Thierry to jump from one team to another. And, of course, the favourite argument of many discussions, “he did it for the money” is also very present today – but I don’t see any problem in that. Hell, even if Hyundai fails miserably, Thierry will still be young enough to restart his title bid in another team few years from now, but with a healthy bank account – how’s that bad? If they can pay and they want to pay, why not make them happy and say “hell yes!”.

But ultimately, was this the right thing to do for Neuville? As I said, he’s still young, so time is not of the essence here. He is also fast, so it’s not like he’ll be learning how to drive in a brand new team. I’m not really buying all the “oh it’s a brand new challenge for me” idea, because I somehow think he’s got few other challenges to complete first, like his first WRC win and then more wins after that. Sebastien Loeb can speak about new challenges and have us believe it, but when you’re still pursuing your first win I don’t think you need extra challenges, especially if they’re more on the PR side. To me, Thierry wanted a team built around him, he wanted to be recognized as the undisputed leader and he wanted to be payed accordingly. He received some guarantees of car’s performance and team’s intentions and that was enough to make him switch camps. Another important fact is the PR effect – Hyundai is a manufacturer team. Qatar M-Sport is not. Abu Dhabi Citroën (or whatever their name will be) most likely is not either. And all seats are taken at Volkswagen. Qatar and Abu Dhabi are not automotive brands, Hyundai is. As irrelevant as it may seem at the moment, I do believe Neuville’s decision was also influenced by the fact that this is a manufacturer team. And the company behind it is investing hard globally.

Perhaps Thierry knows a thing or two about Citroën and M-Sport plans for 2014? Maybe he would not be able to secure a number one status and a solid salary in those teams if either M-Sport or Citroën decide to hire a more successful driver? Numbers are still numbers, and they say anyone with at least one WRC victory is still more successful than the very fast, very talented but not yet victorious Belgian.

Ultimately, Thierry Neuville did not, in fact, have too many options available. Citroën are going to focus on WTCC next year, and I can only hope their 2014 will not be just a year of “let’s think of a proper way to end this thing”. I am afraid their long term plans included too many “maybes” for Neuville to be genuinely interested. Same thing can be said about Qatar M-Sport, yes they will be here because they’re selling R5 Fiestas like hotcakes and Ford undoubtedly likes that, but how serious are they about the long term prospects and investments, compared to Volkswagen and Hyundai? I would be THRILLED if both teams could dismiss my fears by pledging their long term love to WRC in the coming years!

Hyundai did not reveal the length of Neuville’s contract, but no worries, we’re bound to find out through “unofficial” sources. Multi-year phrase tells me both parties want to see what happens next year.

As for why Thierry did it, let’s wait a bit more and see what Citroën and M-Sport come up with – their plans and lineups might shed some light on the Neuville deal as well.

Official PR from Hyundai follows below.

Hyundai Motorsport reveals Thierry Neuville as 2014 driver

Hyundai Motorsport has today reiterated its bold approach to the World Rally Championship by confirming rising WRC star Thierry Neuville as its lead driver starting from the 2014 season.

25-year-old Neuville, who is playing a key role in this year’s championship, has signed a multi-year agreement with Hyundai Motorsport that represents a serious commitment by both parties to build towards long-term success in the competitive WRC series.

“I am thrilled to announce Thierry Neuville as the lead driver to our new WRC team,” says Hyundai Motorsport Team Principal, Michel Nandan. “Thierry is having a fantastic 2013 season and is proving himself to be one of the most exciting young drivers in WRC. His raw speed, driving skill and dynamic approach to rallying make him the ideal lead driver for Hyundai.”

“By signing a driver of Thierry’s talent, we can show that Hyundai’s WRC engagement is serious and focused on long-term success after signing with the talented young driver, Thierry. It is also great recognition for the work that the entire team has carried out in such a short time. We both share similar values and objectives to win the championship in the long-term so we are proud to have Thierry in the team and as an ambassador for the Hyundai Motorsport brand.”

Neuville, along with his co-driver Nicolas Gilsoul, will join Hyundai Motorsport behind the wheel of the new i20 WRC rally car in all 13 WRC events in 2014, beginning with the team’s debut at the Monte-Carlo Rally in January, signalling the start of the Belgian driver’s third consecutive WRC season.

Neuville’s experience will be invaluable to Hyundai Motorsport as the manufacturer begins its first fully-fledged championship WRC campaign with a team and car that have been developed from scratch, impressively in under a year. Neuville’s eye-catching performances this season have challenged the established competitors in WRC and have resulted in his reputation as one of the most exciting, young and dynamic drivers coming up through the WRC ranks.

“I am pleased to be joining Hyundai Motorsport for the 2014 World Rally Championship,” comments Thierry Neuville. “I believe Hyundai Motorsport is the perfect fit for me because it is a young, emerging and ambitious manufacturer team with long-term objectives for championship success and I have long held aspirations of driving for a manufacturer team. I was impressed with the team’s facility, their approach to the rally programme and their clear potential. I hope my two years of experience in WRC will be beneficial to the team as we build a harmonious working partnership. We know we have a steep learning curve ahead of us in our first season but I am convinced we will have a successful future together.”

In two competing seasons in the World Rally Championship, Neuville has contested a total of 32 rallies. He finished seventh in the 2012 championship, which acted as a prelude to a championship challenging 2013 season in which he has so far claimed four consecutive runner-up results (Italy, Finland, Germany and Australia), in addition to two third-place finishes (Mexico, Greece), leaving him second in the WRC standings with one rally left to run.