Could Toyota move for Ogier after Tanak makes Hyundai WRC switch?
|By David Evans||Wednesday, October 30th 2019, 12:38 GMT|
After new champion Ott Tanak's shock move to Hyundai, the biggest question surrounding the 2020 World Rally Championship season is whether Toyota will move for Sebastien Ogier.
Ogier tested the Yaris WRC in 2016 after Volkswagen's withdrawal from the WRC but signed for M-Sport, where he added two more titles in a Ford Fiesta WRC.
The six-time champion joined Citroen on a two-year deal at the end of last season and he has one year remaining on that agreement - after which he has already confirmed he will retire from the sport.
When asked about his future after Rally Spain - where his WRC title hopes ended - Ogier said: "This is maybe not the time to think about those questions, when the emotions are high from this rally."
Citroen team principal Pierre Budar added: "We have a contract for next year with him."
Rumours remain about an Ogier move and history has shown it is possible to extricate drivers from apparently binding contracts.
Ogier's own chances of a seventh title were scuppered in Spain when his Citroen suffered a hydraulic failure which forced him from the lead on Friday morning.
Relations between Ogier and Citroen have been strained at times this season - especially when he greeted a seventh-placed finish in Germany by being candid enough to say he "cannot drive this car".
Following Rally Spain, the relationship is likely to be tested further by a social media post from Ogier's wife Andrea Kaiser, one of Germany's preeminent sports reporters, where she criticised the marque and the performance of its car relative to Ogier's talent.
Asked for his feelings on the situation, Toyota team principal Tommi Makinen said: "I don't know what it opens. It could open many, many discussions.
"It is also not so good, like I told you before, to potentially have two [top] drivers in one team - we need one each in all of the teams to make sure the fight is fair and good for the championship."
Asked if some of his future discussions would be with Ogier, Makinen replied: "I have seen many times during this season, a not so happy face from him.
"Many rallies we have seen things that have been not so absolutely correct and I mentioned to somebody that I have been worried that he is going to retire, maybe even at the end of this year.
"Things have been bad [for him], but you never know what can happen."
Tanak's move could work in favour of his Toyota team-mates Kris Meeke and Jari-Matti Latvala.
But, while Meeke and Latvala bring experience and speed, there would remain a question mark over the Japanese manufacturer's ability to sustain a title threat - especially with Kalle Rovanpera already signed to drive the squad's third Yaris WRC.
There is talk of Toyota following Hyundai's lead and running drivers in part-programmes in an effort to exploit running order regulations.
Makinen is not a fan of such a policy, but with the likes of Hayden Paddon, Craig Breen and Andreas Mikkelsen available next season, it could prove a viable option for Toyota.