Citroën and M-Sport both have gaps in their line-ups next year, when their third drivers are away contesting the FIA Middle East Rally Championship.
At present the French marque has a rather convoluted schedule with Mikko Hirvonen driving all 13 events, Sébastien Loeb enjoying a ‘farewell tour’ of four events, Dani Sordo getting 11 events and Khalid Al Qassimi driving on eight events when his Middle East commitments permit. As yet there has been no word on the situation regarding the team’s ‘junior’ driver, Thierry Neuville, who has shown himself to be competent (if not earth-shattering) in his outings through 2012.
M-Sport has meanwhile signed Mads Østberg to lead its Fiesta squad, with Evgeny Novikov expected to be announced in the second car and Nasser Al-Attiyah driving a third car when he is neither defending the Middle East title or campaigning his Dakar buggy. This also leaves a vacant seat at several events at the beginning and end of the season. As yet there has been no word on the situation of Estonian youngster Ott Tänak, who failed to shine in M-Sport’s second-string outfit for most of the year but did perform strongly in the latter stages of the season.
Interestingly, both Citroën and M-Sport have reportedly contacted the FIA requesting homologation of a column-mounted gear shift on the left side of their left-hand-drive steering wheels. This is not a major modification, M-Sport was forced to do this 10 years ago when Colin McRae competed after breaking his finger on the 2002 Tour de Corse, but does need official sanction from the FIA.
It is understood that this modification would be required by former Grand Prix winner Robert Kubica if he is to compete on full WRC events of 3-4 days, to alleviate the strain on his damaged right arm. The Polish ace has demonstrated enormous pace at the wheel of a Subaru Impreza WRC and Citroën C4 WRC since returning to competition in 2012 and has stated his ambition to compete ‘at the highest level’ in 2013, which would mean some modifications to existing machinery.
Citroën was left deeply impressed by Kubica’s outings in its ex-Loeb C4 WRC last month, but it is unlikely that there would be more than two or three rallies available to him in the third car entered under the Abu Dhabi Citroën Total banner. At M-Sport there are four or five events that could be contested in Nasser Al-Attiyah’s third car, with Juho Hänninen only down for two appearances at present in a fourth car.