Toyota Gazoo boss Tommi Mäkinen has given the strongest hint yet that a clutch of young drivers could form the backbone of his squad when it returns to the FIA World Rally Championship next season.
Mäkinen suggested 2017 could be a development year for both its drivers and the new Yaris World Rally Car before targeting wins in 2018.
The Finn stated it was too early to confirm his driver line-up for next year, but said Ott Tänak and WRC 2 frontrunners Teemu Suninen, Elfyn Evans and Skoda Motorsport duo Esapekka Lappi and Pontus Tidemand were on his radar.
“Basically there are some of the current drivers available, not too many of them, but there are also pretty experienced young drivers, promising newcomers,” Mäkinen told wrc.com.
“I would say we need to make up our mind how we want to think about the future. Do we look more for 2017 and try to be as ready as possible then, or are we looking a little bit further to the future? We need to look what is our direction and that’s a decision we will do with Japan.”
Mäkinen said it was important for the team to show its potential next year to interest the best drivers.
“Of course, we would like to see ourselves as soon as possible on the podium but at the same time we need to be realistic where we are.
“We are a new team and we build up first from zero. I would say at the same time we concentrate on analysing every single event during 2017 to be even stronger for 2018,” he added.
• Ex-Ford driver Mikko Hirvonen tested the Yaris for the first time on Friday. Although a full-time drive seems unlikely, sources in Finland suggested Hirvonen, pictured below with co-driver Jarmo Lehtinen, could form part of the 2017 line-up at some point.