WRC All Live presenter Julian Porter reflects on Thursday’s shock decision from Citroën Racing to axe Kris Meeke from its 2018 FIA World Rally Championship line-up.
“Citroën’s announcement came out of the blue. Yes, Meeke was benched from Poland last season after a string of accidents, but few in the service park expected this one. My feeling is the decision wasn’t solely team principal Pierre Budar’s. I think it may have come from above him in the PSA management hierarchy.
The statement referred to concerns over Kris and Paul’s safety. Of course, that is a valid reason, but that argument was also relevant after their crashes last season in Argentina and Sardinia. Is it the sole reason, or is there more behind it?
One thing is clear. Meeke was the quickest driver in the team and the man to deliver results. He’s the only guy to have won in WRC for Citroën since 2013 but, as we all know, he has had a fair few bumps along the way, culminating in last weekend’s Portugal crash. Do the damaged cars outweigh the successes? I would argue not – but I don’t have to pay for the repairs.
So what now for the Ulsterman? Many think his WRC career is over. But he has five WRC wins, he’s one of the championship’s fastest drivers and I would be surprised if someone did not come calling for him next year.
Many drivers are out of contract this season. Does Sébastien Ogier move to Citroën and leave a vacancy at M-Sport? Does Jari-Matti Latvala leave Toyota and what does Hyundai decide regarding its third driver for 2019? There are still stories to tell for the 2019 driver market.
There are potential options and we know Toyota Gazoo boss Tommi Mäkinen is a Meeke fan, but will he have space for him? Kris has the credentials but at 38, age is not on his side. Do manufacturers want younger drivers or those with experience of winning and leading a team?
Citroën will go to Italy next month with Craig Breen and Mads Østberg in their line-up. I suspect Østberg will be drafted in for Finland and, despite the previous denials, I would now expect Sébastien Loeb to add Germany to his schedule as well as Spain.
Østberg can fill the gap at the other rallies. He has experience of the car and the events. Stéphane Lefebvre’s baby is the C3 R5 so Citroën may keep him in WRC 2 and look to bring him back to the top level next year. Their roster of drivers means they have enough cover this season without looking elsewhere.
So many questions and few answers at the moment - Meeke has not made any public comment aside from a social media post.
But he has worked too hard to give up now and has gone further than many thought possible given his lack of resources initially. His wit, sharp comments and honesty engage fans and the championship would be poorer without him. I hope he’s back soon."
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