Is Kris Meeke’s WRC-career now over? Don’t bet on it!
World Rally Championship will continue in Sardinia next weekend, but one of the regular drivers is not going to be competing in the Mediterranean island. Citroën shocked the rallying world by dropping Kris Meeke from its squad after a big crash in Portugal. One can argue that dropping Meeke was not a big surprise: the Northern Irishman is known for his blistering speed, but also for his big crashes. Meeke’s crash in Portugal was the last drop for the French team: Citroën’s boss Pierre Budar said that Meeke was out of team’s control as he crashed after a puncture had dropped him from the battle for win and he was seemingly under no pressure to push hard anymore.
The situation looks even worse for Meeke as the C3 WRC – which has been a very difficult car to drive from early on – was now to Meeke’s liking. This latest crash seems to follow the pattern in Meeke’s career: already in 2006, when he was driving in Junior World Rally Championship, he was predicted to be a title contender if he could mix “his massive speed with consistency and rally wins”. This did not happen: Meeke won most stages and lead most of the time but finished only seventh. Many have compared Meeke to his mentor Colin McRae, who was known for his flat-out style and spectacular crashes. However, as experience grew, McRae learned to win rallies that demanded consistency and careful driving: Safari and Acropolis being the most obvious examples.
Meeke seems to be racing against the time: he got his first full season in WRC at the age of 34 and he was eager to show his talent and speed – which both are undisputed – and that lead into mistakes (tricky C3 WRC did not help either). He has the raw speed to win the championship, but the problem seems to be in his approach. Hyundai’s team boss Alain Penasse said to Motorsport.com of Meeke: “There's no doubt that Kris Meeke is a driver who can win WRC events; he is very fast, but very inconsistent – we have seen this throughout his career which is going up and down… He's like Jari-Matti Latvala: a driver who's not so consistent, but will win you one or two rallies a year”.
Now, at the age of 38, Meeke is facing probably the highest hill to climb yet: he has driven full seasons in a top team and has been dropped. But Meeke has risen before and he can make a comeback again. Not many days had passed after his firing as both Hyundai and Toyota admitted that they are interested in hiring Meeke. For example, Hyundai would have probably the strongest line up for 2019 if it had Thierry Neuville, Andreas Mikkelsen and Kris Meeke in the team. This move could see Dani Sordo, who shares the third Hyundai with Hayden Paddon at the moment, moving back to Citroën for 2019.
If Meeke gets one more chance, he should adopt the approach which was demonstrated by drivers such as Carlos Sainz and Richard Burns. Their approach to championship was long term: when the victory was out of reach, they settled for scoring as many points as possible. From current drivers, Sébastien Ogier and Sordo are good examples of this approach. Nobody doubts Meeke’s speed and in that sector he has nothing to prove: this is why he can take more moderate approach and focus on scoring points in every event.