The 10 Best WRC drivers of 2019

26th November 2019
David Evans

It’s been an interesting season in the World Rally Championship to say the least. Ott Tänak took his maiden WRC crown, Hyundai won the constructor’s championship, the final WRC round in Australia was cancelled, Thierry Neuville let another championship slide, six-time champion Sébastian Ogier announced his retirement and Citroën announced its withdrawal from the WRC for 2020.

With all that in mind, and because we have to wait until January for the the 2020 WRC season to kick off, we thought it would be the perfect time to look over the past year and decide who the 10 best WRC drivers of 2019 are... 


1. Ott Tänak

Numbers, like pictures, can be worth a few words when it comes to telling a story. Especially these numbers. There were 241 stages in this year’s World Rally Championship and Ott Tänak won 73 of them. That means the Estonian won virtually every third stage run for 13 rallies.

If leading rallies is more your thing, the Toyota star doesn’t disappoint there. That’s 114 stages. Or 47 per cent. Or every other stage, near as dammit. Power Stage anybody? Six from 13, equating to an extra 30 points – or another perfect rally – to his end of season tally.

See, numbers work. But in the end, there was only one number that really mattered and that was the 36-point lead Tänak took away from what was widely expected to be the penultimate round of the championship (turned out to be the final round when Rally Australia was cancelled due to the bushfires) in Spain.

In all honesty, he was better than that gap. Had it not been for one of a number of issues with the car, he would have had the title done a rally earlier.

Tänak and his Toyota were a class above everybody this year – and that’s saying something after 17 years of French Sébastien domination.

2. Sébastien Ogier

Portugal. Middle of the year and the story’s still forming. This championship battle’s not clear. Tänak’s shown pace and won, same for Thierry Neuville. But what about the champ himself?

Same old story. Seven rallies in, he’s finished off the podium just once (Sweden, snowbank second run through Svullrya) and won two of the first three rallies. He leads at the turnaround and looks forward to a second half where his C3 WRC is expected to get quicker and he’s expected to get more used to the car.

Instead, things got immediately worse. Ogier made a rare mistake and drove into a big rock on a slow and totally innocuous-looking corner. The front-left was squashed, his day done. Finland brought a lack of confidence from him and an absence of speed from his car. Bad to worse in Germany. From seventh place on Sunday afternoon, he announced the car was undriveable in Bostalsee.

Suddenly, it became clear Ogier wasn’t going to win the championship. Shocking. A win in Turkey put off the inevitable, which came two rallies later in Spain when he relinquished his crown to his mate Tänak.

Throughout one of his toughest season’s to date, Ogier has remained ruthlessly focused on nothing but the win and he found results where there really weren’t any to be found from the package around him.


3. Thierry Neuville

Was this the year that got away? Or was that last year? Or the year before? Once again the amiable Belgian was in the middle of another championship fight. But again, the season’s end brought more disappointment. And another silver medal to add to the four he’s already got at home.

Ever the optimist, Neuville did point out that beating Ogier, the man who’d won the title for the previous six years was a good thing. Losing to the man who’s just signed to become his team-mate next season – Ott Tänak – less so.

Neuville was on superb form to take back-to-back wins from Corsica and Argentina, two very different rallies which amply demonstrated the versatility of the Hyundai i20 Coupe WRC beneath him. When he crossed the Andes from Atlantic to Pacific side, the result wasn’t what he hoped for in Chile. He crashed heavily and departed south America on crutches after injuring his left foot in the shunt. He couldn’t find a way forward with the car in Sardinia or Finland, punctured and finished fourth in Germany then fell off a wall and – effectively – out of the title race in Turkey.  A Spanish win ended the year on a high, but this was another missed opportunity for Neuville.

4. Elfyn Evans

Going into the final stage in Corsica, Elfyn Evans led Neuville by 11 seconds. Twelve miles stood between the Welshman and a second WRC career win. A couple of years ago, you might have worried about Evans in this situation. Neuville’s pretty handy at the mind games and there’s a bit of final-stage history between these two. Don’t forget the Belgian did Elfyn in Argentina two years ago, beating him by seven-tenths of a second.

But not this time. Evans has grown in confidence, standing and stature since then. He’s won a WRC round, broken his duck and was now ready to show M-Sport there was life beyond Sébastien Ogier.

Then the Fiesta’s front-right dropped into a pot hole, punctured and first became third. Heartbreaker.

Worse was to follow when a heavy landing on a non-championship event in Estonia injured his back and ruled him out of the next three rallies. To come back and be bang on the money at home in Wales was a fantastic effort for a driver who really was the best of the rest behind the big three this season.

5. Dani Sordo

The Spaniard was the only driver other than Tänak, Ogier or Neuville to win this year and his second WRC win came pretty much out of the blue on a particularly roasting Rally Italy in Sardinia.

Granted, the rocky, rough island event came to Sordo, but once he was there he controlled proceedings like he’d been leading and loving gravel events for his whole career (he hasn’t…). Sordo should probably share some of this fifth place in our rankings with the man he shared a Hyundai i20 Coupe WRC with this season: Sébastien Loeb. It was the consistent point scoring from this pair (and Andreas Mikkelsen, once the Norwegian got over a fairly woeful start to the season) that helped Hyundai finally lift some season-long silverware.

Sordo was his absolute dependable best again and played the perfect team game, refusing to be overly critical even when a fuel pressure problem cost him the lead in Portugal.


6. Kalle Rovanperä

Five wins were enough for the 19-year-old Finn to secure his maiden World Rally Championship title in the first ever WRC 2 Pro category. All too often you had to remind yourself the Škoda driver was only in his second season at the sport’s second highest level.

He came into the year with a fair weight of expectation on his shoulders. Crashing into the back of Teemu Suninen’s Ford Fiesta WRC (which was already parked in the ditch to which the Finnish-flagged Fabia R5 was heading) was an inauspicious start to the year. Sliding into a snowbank on round two in Sweden didn’t improve things much and crashing in Corsica on his third start of the season brought real burden for Kalle. His speed had never been in doubt, but his ability to deliver under serious pressure was about to be tested.

He delivered four straight category wins in Chile, Portugal, Italy and Finland. The title was heading inexorably in his direction, but he’d have to wait for Wales to clinch it (after he went off in Germany and suffered a brace of punctures on the same loop of stages in Turkey).


7. Teemu Suninen

Teemu Suninen offered more proof – were it needed – that season-long success in the World Rally Championship is as much about experience and guile as bravery and commitment. The 25-year-old started his first full season in a factory World Rally Car and immediately tasted the highs and lows. The low came on stage one, round one, where he understeered into an icy ditch in the French Alps. Sweden, one event on and he was leading a world championship round overnight for the first time. That he dropped the Fiesta WRC into a Hagfors snowbank just two stages into Saturday morning mattered little. It’s all about experience. There were more mistakes along the way this year, but there was also a second place in Italy (a great way to introduce new co-driver Jarmo Lehtinnen – who replaced the less experienced Marko Salminen – to the car) and a stunning weekend in Germany, where he was right at the sharp end through days two and three. Had it not been for a hydraulic problem on the second stage, a second podium in three rallies would have been on the cards.


8. Esapekka Lappi

Second place on the second round turned out to be the falsest of dawns for likeable Finn Esapekka Lappi. The trials and tribulations trying to make a recalcitrant Citroën C3 WRC fast would take their toll on ‘EP’ through the first half of the year. He’s totally perfected the hang dog look for his end of stage interviews and even questioned whether he was worthy of being called a rally driver at one point.

What he didn’t do was panic. Or throw the towel in. What he did do was dig in and work with the team to find a way forward. That came with a transmission set-up which allowed him to brake in a more natural way. Suddenly, he could drive the car the way he wanted to drive it. The result? Second place in Finland followed by another second place in Turkey two rounds later.

Granted, Germany was a nightmare, a first-day engine failure could fairly be described in the same way in Spain, but things were on a generally upwards trajectory through the season’s second half. Then came the news that Citroën was stopping and his job was done.

The former Rally Finland winner deserved far more than a P45 to mark the end of a troublesome first – and only – season in a Citroën.

9. Jari-Matti Latvala

At the start of the year, even Jari-Matti, the chirpiest of Finns, accepted this could be his final year if he didn’t get it right this time. With that in mind, his season started in the worst possible fashion with a testing crash in Monte Carlo, a visit to a snowbank in Sweden, alternator problem in Mexico and punctures courtesy of fragile rims in Corsica.

By round four, Latvala was pretty much sunk. But he kept his head and battled on. He could have won in Italy were it not for a fairly rubbish roll when he cut a corner too tight and the Toyota toppled over at walking speed.

Finally, the message team principal Tommi Mäkinen was sending him got through. Stop trying to win, just bring the car home. He did that and took confidence from back-to-back podiums in Finland and Germany, but then made another mistake in Turkey.

When everything was working for J-ML, he was as quick as ever and posted the fourth highest number of fastest times across the season. But, like his team-mate Kris Meeke, he simply failed to find the required blend of consistency and speed.


10. Kris Meeke

Were it not for four rallies in the middle of the season, Kris Meeke’s year would have a very different look to it. A soft roll in Chile followed by a couple of frustrating mistakes in Portugal, a puncture in Italy and a couple more (and even more frustrating) mistakes in Finland and the Northern Irishman’s season was effectively written off with talk of leopard and spots.

Was that harsh? In part, yes. Coming out of the Päijälä test test on a Jyväskylä Saturday, Meeke was just six tenths of a second off the lead. Surely that’s reason enough to keep the pressure on? Yes and no. The man ahead – 0.4 seconds ahead – was Tänak and the car a further two tenths up the road was Meeke’s other Toyota team-mate Jari-Matti Latvala. Nearest car behind? Esapekka Lappi’s Citroën, 6.5 seconds down. Throttling back a smidge and bringing home the one-two-three Toyota managed next time out in Germany would have been ideal. As it was, Meeke took a wheel off and then crashed on the final stage.

Wales was solid, leading through day one, he slipped to fourth by the finish. But Spain was another disaster as he pinged the Yaris WRC off the wall and into retirement.

Images courtesy of Motorsport Images.

  • WRC

  • WRC 2019

  • Kris Meeke

  • jari-matti latvala

  • Esapekka Lappi

  • Teemu Suninen

  • Kalle Rovanpera

  • Dani Sordo

  • Elfyn Evans

  • Thierry Neuville

  • Sebastien Ogier

  • Ott Tänak

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