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WRC Rally Estonia

Neuville sheds light on WRC future plans, reveals format tweak proposal

Thierry Neuville intends to remain active in the World Rally Championship until at least the end of 2026 and has revealed his ideas to improve the series’ event format.

Thierry Neuville, Hyundai World Rally Team

Photo by: Fabien Dufour / Hyundai Motorsport

The factory Hyundai driver is the most experienced full-time driver in the championship, having racked up 149 WRC starts dating back to 2009 and won 18 rallies, while finishing runner-up in the standings on five occasions (2013, 2016-2019).

Neuville is currently the only Rally1 driver contracted for next season. Although the Belgian’s deal with Hyundai is set to expire at the end of 2024, he is already thinking about his longer term future.

“My target I have said is that I will do next year obviously and after I would like to maybe re-sign for two more years,” said Neuville.

“It would be nice in those three years that the WRC will be back to where it belongs.

“Then after that nobody knows. I could be the [Fernando] Alonso of the WRC.”

Hyundai is evaluating its line-up for next season after team principal Cyril Abiteboul revealed the team is considering an expansion from three to four cars next year.

The former Renault Formula 1 boss also suggested that contract extension talks are expected to be held with the team’s other full-time driver Esapekka Lappi. Hyundai has also recently re-launched its young driver development programme that includes Teemu Suninen, who will pilot the third i20N at Estonia this weekend, and reigning WRC2 champion Emil Lindholm.

Neuville’s admission regarding his WRC future comes at time when the championship has come under criticism from drivers and teams.

Thierry Neuville, Hyundai World Rally Team

Thierry Neuville, Hyundai World Rally Team

Photo by: Fabien Dufour / Hyundai Motorsport

Neuville himself led calls at Rally Portugal for the WRC to re-evaluate and improve its appeal for drivers, manufacturers and the fanbase. This led to meetings last month between drivers, teams, the FIA and the WRC Promoter to brainstorm ideas.

Insight: The important WRC discussion triggered by Neuville's outburst

The 35-year-old has now shared some of his own ideas to improve the WRC, which centre on a format change that would see the traditional rally finish on Saturday, ahead of a new aggregate time Power Stage format on Sunday.

Neuville also believes the WRC should encourage more radio communication between teams and drivers, following in the footsteps of F1.

“Radio communication could be interesting again, but it is hard to know how to implement it to be honest,” said Neuville when asked about ways to improve the spectacle for fans.

“In my proposal, it was mainly to have radio communication on the Sunday Power Stage.

“Basically the rally would end on Saturday and then the Sunday is a stage where we do two passes and then the times would be added together and that would be the Power Stage.

“It would give more points as well. In that stage there could be communication, or fan boost as well for more power, I don’t know.

“We could have the basic rally which is shorter, from Friday to Saturday, but then make the Sunday more of a TV programme. We can show the resume of the rally at the beginning and then have a live two passes of the stage.

“We might have more tyres available and more tyre strategy, I don’t know, and maybe on the hybrid we can find something more interesting to get more power out of it and more freedom on the mapping for those stages for the engineers.

Thierry Neuville, Martijn Wydaeghe, Hyundai World Rally Team Hyundai i20 N Rally1

Thierry Neuville, Martijn Wydaeghe, Hyundai World Rally Team Hyundai i20 N Rally1

Photo by: Red Bull Content Pool

“Maybe we could have the teams close to the stage, like they do in Extreme E with the tents, and having some communication like that.”

FIA Road Sport Director Andrew Wheatley stated in last week’s FIA Rally newsletter that “all these ideas and feedback will be collated together with the aim to provide a blueprint, or roadmap, of how the sport will evolve in the next few years”.

WRC event director Simon Larkin confirmed last month that several aspects of the WRC are being discussed.

“If anything changes it will be for next year,” Larkin told Autosport.

“We are discussing format, we are discussing technical regulations and there is ongoing dialogue everyday with the FIA. The FIA make the regulations and we need to make sure it is a product we can sell.”

This weekend will see a couple of minor tweaks to the WRC regulations debuted at Rally Estonia. 

To improve the fan experience in the service park, WRC teams can no longer deliberately impede the view of their rally cars while they are parked in their service bay during official service intervals or when they are waiting to be serviced.

A new media zone located within the service park to allow fans more opportunity to see the WRC stars in between stage loops. 

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