WRC drivers stand by boycott threat

Leading World Rally Championship drivers remain ready to boycott stages on any round of the series if they feel their safety is being undermined.A boycott was narrowly avoided on last week’s Rally Sweden, after the majority of drivers felt they were not sufficiently consulted on the compromised weather conditions.

Hayden Paddon
Hayden Paddon

Inside the million-pound Swedish stand-off

The crews called a meeting between themselves at 6am on Friday, before the start of the opening leg, and decided to drive directly to the day’s second test, by-passing the Torsby stage by way of protest.

The move was foiled when Hyundai driver Hayden Paddon refused.

The drivers will meet again before round three starts in Mexico and FIA officials are ready to work with them to avoid the threat of similar action.

Sebastien Ogier and Kris Meeke pushed for the drivers’ voices to be heard in a series of meetings leading up to the start and when they were ignored, they sought to take action further by not driving the first stage.

“We think it’s not normal we are not consulted on such things,” Ogier told Motorsport News.

“We have to meet each other again in the future and make sure that we have the place to take part of these discussions, with at least one driver taking our views to these meetings.”

Rally Sweden’s revised and shortened itinerary ran without issue, but Meeke said the drivers stood firm on their actions.

“We need to do this [drivers’ group] in a proper way,” Meeke told MN.

“If we’re not happy then we need to be in a position where we can call the shots – or at least have an input into the calling of the shots.

“We don’t want it to get to an embarrassing situation where we’re heading out on a road section and going against the grain of the rally.

“But, we’re ready to look at this kind of action again.”

Some of the drivers’ frustration goes back to Rally Australia last year, where there was a feeling that driving dusty, gravel stages in the dark was unsafe.

Meeke added: “I talked [to the FIA] in Sweden and I was told we have to communicate these concerns before the event.

“Before Australia, there were about 25 emails in the three months since the itinerary came out and nothing happened.

“We were all pissed off about that during the rally and when we leave the place, we’re told: ‘When you come back next year, you’ll be doing three night stages…’

“At that point we need to go and park up.”

Meeke felt the commercial side of running rallies had taken precedent over the sporting aspect.

“Ten years ago,” he said, “this rally would have been cancelled and the reason it wasn’t cancelled this time is because of the money – money’s starting to dictate now.

“Nobody understands that when you drive on these tyres with no studs, it’s a fucking nightmare. The speeds we’re doing here, you just can’t do it.

“Decisions are being influenced and economics are coming over safety.

“We’re becoming puppets being sent out because they need to make television to make money.

“If they had tried to run the stages on full gravel, it would have made a mockery of the sport.

“It’s time to have some respect for our sport.

“Somebody needs to grow a pair and admit that our sport’s bigger than this sort of thing.

“If Sweden can’t deliver a winter rally, we don’t come back.”