This week on wrc.com we take a look into our crystal ball and consider some of the possible driver and manufacturer combinations for next year's FIA World Rally Championship.
The new season promises to mix up the current status quo. Five of the world’s top 10 car manufacturers will choose to be part of the WRC as Toyota re-enters the fray, Citroën returns following a year’s sabbatical and teams consider running three-car squads from which the top two will score points.
Over the next few days we'll investigate the driver line-ups of each of the confirmed manufacturers - Volkswagen, Citroën, Toyota, M-Sport and Hyundai - and bring you our thoughts on which drivers might end up where.
Later this week, we'll throw the prediction game open to wrc.com users with a poll to gauge the likelihood of some of the bigger rumours currently circulating around the service park. In the meantime, if you have an opinion about next year's driver market, we'd like to hear it via the WRC official Facebook page.
Up first, here's the situation with our first two manufacturers:
When it comes to drivers, Volkswagen is the most sorted of next year's five manufacturers. Current drivers Sébastien Ogier, Jari-Matti Latvala and Andreas Mikkelsen are each signed for 2017 and the team has never been one to flirt with additional drivers. So that's that, really. The only change we can foresee is that next year's championship structure will unify all three drivers under one team name, instead of the two they have operated since 2013.
The structure of Citroën's 2017 squad is one of the big unknowns and an important piece in the puzzle concerning other WRC seats too. Here's what we know for certain: After a year away from full-time competition, Citroën will be back with a squad of drivers led by Great Britain's Kris Meeke. It's also expected that Citroën's long-time Abu Dhabi team patron Khalid Al-Qassimi will make a handful of appearances, as he has in the last few seasons.
Beyond that, two of the sport's rising stars, Craig Breen and Stéphane Lefebvre, are known to be under consideration. Both have been given opportunities to prove their worth this year and both have impressed at the wheel of the DS 3. Lefebvre's crash in Germany was a huge set-back for the young Frenchman, but he is already back behind the wheel of a road car and eyeing a swift return to competition.
Also linked with the French squad is Thierry Neuville, who drove for Citroën's Junior World Rally Team in 2012 - the year before his breakthrough season with M-Sport. Neuville has had a generally unhappy stay at Hyundai since then, and while recent results have seen him back at his best, he is widely rumoured to leave the squad at the end of the year, perhaps for a number two role alongside Meeke at Citroën.
If this plays out, then Breen or Lefebvre, or most likely both, are tipped to share a third car. Al-Qassimi could take this car for his rounds or take the wheel of a fourth car.