Just days after becoming the new WRC champion in Spain, Ott Tänak has announced his departure from Toyota GAZOO Racing WRT. The joy of securing the title, coveted by so many hopeful teams, was quickly eclipsed by the news.
Despite the whole of the team fully revolving around him and his performance, Tänak has decided to say goodbye. The successful comeback of the Asian formation to the WRC was not enough to keep him. On the second year of this new stage (2018) in fact, Toyota won the Constructors’ title, a feat that they could well repeat next week in Australia.
This third year has also been paved with successes for Toyota but neither the collective nor the individual achievements of the Japanese team have managed to keep the fanciest driver on the grid interested.
It has been a few months since Tänak’s departure became a remote but not impossible prospect. The driver from Kärla had famously declared that he was in no hurry to renew and that he would listen to offers from other teams.
But changing sides to the enemy team, with a line-up of 2016, 2017 and 2018 runner-up Thierry Neuville, most successful driver in history, Seb Loeb, and Spaniard Dani Sordo, was unimaginable.
Hyundai takes advantage of the disagreements between Tänak and his boss
Most fingers are now pointing to Toyota’s director, Tommi Mäkinen, as the main culprit for Tänak exodus. Apparently, his authoritarian character could have clashed with Tänak’s reserved personality.
Aware of the tense relationship between the two, Hyundai’s boss Andrea Adamo, decided to approach the Estonian. Adamo offered Tänak a test with the i20WRC. This, in turn, is said to have been satisfied with the exercise and that is how the whole move started taking shape.
After what has happened, the extraordinary management job of the WRC’s four-time champion has been overshadowed by his inability to retain the star of the team. Mäkinen’s position within the team has now been seriously weakened, to the point that criticisms have arrived from as far away as the brand headquarters in Japan.
With only two months before the start of the WRC 2020, the team from Puuppola finds itself without a solid driver with which to face the new season. Defending the crown next year now seems like an unattainable illusion. The immediate future is uncertain for the four-time World Rally Champion (1996-1999) and his team.
After Tänak’s departure, the team has been left with just the unreliable Kris Meeke and with Jari-Matti Latvala. Despite their undeniable speed, neither the Northern Irish nor the Scandinavian are in a position to lead a title-winning project at next season’s WRC.
Toyota needs to sign a new star to cover the void that their current leader is going to leave at the end of the season. Under such pressure and aware of Sebastian Ogier‘s discontent with his C3 WRC, they have already tried to seduce the Frenchman.
The six-time champion, however, seems to have declined the offer, since he is not attracted to work under Mäkinen either. If he felt the urge to change at all, he would much rather return to M-Sport Ford.
With Ogier out of the picture, options are considerably reduced for Toyota. Perhaps they could lift Kalle Rovanpera or Takamoto Katsuta to join Meeke and Latvala. Another alternative could be Andreas Mikkelsen. Fired after the signing of Tänak by Hyundai, the Norwegian is now free and team-less.
The name Elfyn Evans would have also been on the table, as it already had in the past. Even, why not, his teammate at the Cumbrian team Teemu Suninen could be on the cards. Despite the unquestionable quality of all of the above-mentioned candidates, none matches the performance strength of the Estonian, and that is a problem for Toyota.
Before this crossroad, Makkinen must take advantage once more of the good luck that has always accompanied him in difficult circumstances and of which he has always been so proud of.
Images of Toyota.