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Analysing the 2018 WRC driver market

Written by  Aug 21, 2017

The World Rally Championship's driver market had been static for a number of years until the all-conquering Volkswagen pulled out of the sport at the end of 2016, plunging the driver market into chaos.

With the ramifications of their exit are still very much being felt, as attention turns to who will be driving where in 2018, we take a look at which drivers hold the key to the market and which drivers could find themselves without a seat when the music stops.

Sebastien Ogier

All eyes were on quadruple WRC champion Ogier ahead of the 2017 season, he ultimately chose M-Sport and won on his debut in Monte Carlo.  He has led the championship ever since but he hasn't enjoyed the dominance achieved during his VW days. 

Rumours around Ford returning as a manufacturer won't go away and Ogier's future with the team may well depend on Ford's decision. He might be the best driver in the sport but are there really any realistic alternative options to driving the Fiesta next year? 

Hyundai has all three current drivers under contract for next year, and are surely happy with their lead driver Thierry Neuville's performances in 2017. 

Similarly, if Ogier signed with Toyota it would damage their current star, Jari-Matti Latvala who surely wouldn't welcome another stint as the champion's teammate. 

Citroen may be the most likely non-Fiesta option for Ogier but would the Frenchman rejoin the team considering how woeful their '17 season has been?   

Consequently, Ogier will probably end up sticking around at M-Sport with or without Ford's backing. 

Elfyn Evans 

Of Ogier's M-Sport team-mates, Evans is the only one who could be looking to move with Ott Tanak looking more than comfortable. Evans has been on DMACK rubber all season and DMACK hasn't quite been able to produce a consistently quick tyre to match Michelin. 

Reports suggest Evans has an offer from Toyota on the table to replace Juho Hanninen next year, and this may well be a very tempting offer for the Welshman especially if Ogier stays put. Evans has driven a Fiesta for his entire WRC career and a change may be necessary in order for Evans' career to progress and take that all-important maiden rally win. 

If Evans was to leave M-Sport, a spot would open up for Mads Ostberg who was dropped by the team at the end of 2016 to make way for Ogier. Ostberg has knowledge of the team and the tyre though may face competition from flying Finn Teemu Suninen, who impressed during his two outings in Poland and Finland. 

Andreas Mikkelsen 

Mikkelsen failed to land a seat in last year's reshuffling but should have no such troubles for 2018. Citroen will likely want to hold onto him but the Norwegian could have a couple of other offers on the table.

Replacing Evans at M-Sport could be one potential choice and Hyundai finding room for the 28-year-old can't be ruled out. 

Dani Sordo and Hayden Paddon

Sordo and Paddon have contracts for 2018 but their position in the team may not be completely safe. 

Paddon has had a difficult year with just two top-five finishes compared to team-mate Neuville's six and Sordo's five. 

The team know Paddon's potential is high and he was one of the most impressive drivers of 2016. The problem for Paddon is that other young guns have now come onto the scene and could jump him on the ladder to glory. 

Sordo is a safe pair of hands so Hyundai won't be looking to drop him but should there be a more attractive free agent on the market, the Korean manufacturer might have to let the Spaniard go. Should Sordo lose his Hyundai seat, he could return to Citroen. 

However considering Sordo is fifth in the championship and is one of the most consistent drivers on the grid, it's unlikely Hyundai would let him go. 

Paddon is definitely under more risk, but Hyundai will probably be willing to give him another chance considering the multitude of impressive rallies he's driven for the team over the past four years. 

Kris Meeke 

Meeke headed into 2017 with clear title aspirations, he was billed as the man to finally stop Ogier. Fast-forward seven months and Meeke has just 31 points and was dropped for Finland. 

Meeke's supreme pace (when he's on it) should be enough to help him keep his seat but Citroen's patience must be wearing thin. 

Team-mate Stephane Lefebvre may be first on the chopping block but Meeke will at the very least lose his lead driver status as the team continues to shift its focus onto Mikkelsen or may even attempt to poach another driver. 

Along with Neuville and Tanak, Craig Breen is almost guaranteed to stay put for 2018 after a stellar 2017 so far. 

WRC2 

Newly crowned WRC2 champion Pontus Tidemand certainly deserves a chance in a WRC car but it remains to be seen if an opportunity will arise for the Swede in 2018.

It's tough to see where that opportunity will come from, so we're predicting another stint in WRC2 alongside a couple of outings in the Ford Fiesta WRC. 

Stephane Lefebvre among other current WRC driver may be forced to step back into the WRC2 if they are left without a WRC seat in 2018. 

As for the 2018 WRC2 championship, expect flying Finn Jari Huttunen and newly crowned WRC3 champion Nil Solans to feature prominently alongside the WRC2 regulars. 

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