This weekend the newly created Qatar M-Sport World Rally Team announced the rest of their driver lineup for 2013. As we already knew, Mads Østberg was picked as the number one driver, and Nasser Al-Attiyah will of course be on board but only attend some of the championship rounds while also competing in the Middle East Rally Championship. The surprise announcement was a decision to draft both Evgeny Novikov and Thierry Neuville to attend all 13 rounds of the 2013 World Rally Championship under the Qatar M-Sport World Rally Team banner. Both of these drivers have shown great pace this last season, especially the young Belgian Neuville who had 11 stage wins while driving for Citroen. According to the announcement below Qatar M-Sport has not designated either driver as specifically the number two driver. This will make it interesting going into each round finding out which of these two young talents has earned the privilege of helping Mads Østberg score manufacturer team points.
M-Sport is pleased to confirm Evgeny Novikov and Thierry Neuville for the 2013 edition of the FIA World Rally Championship (WRC). Piloting the Ford Fiesta RS WRC on all 13 rounds of next season’s championship, both drivers will represent the State of Qatar alongside Nasser Al-Attiyah and Mads Østberg as the quartet look to make their mark on the world stage.
Partnered by Austrian Ilka Minor, Novikov was a strong candidate for the drive since negotiations began last month and is more than capable of performing at rallying’s highest level. With 36 WRC starts to his name, the Russian secured two podium finishes in 2012 – the first, in Portugal, making him the youngest ever driver to stand on a WRC podium at just 21 years old.
Finishing sixth overall in this year’s drivers’ championship, Novikov regularly took the fight to his more experienced rivals and rose to the challenge on a number of occasions. Competing under the M-Sport Ford team banner throughout 2012, the Muscovite’s knowledge of the Fiesta RS WRC and close relationship with the team will hold him in good stead as he looks to build on his already successful career in 2013.
Following an impressive debut season in the WRC, Neuville was another obvious choice to join M-Sport’s latest crop of young talents. Starting his career as part of the Belgian Ford Fiesta Sport Trophy series in 2008, the 24-year-old is no stranger to M-Sport’s range of Ford Fiesta rally cars. Due to make his competitive debut in the Fiesta’s WRC guise at the season opener in Monte-Carlo, the youngster will be looking to prove his versatility alongside regular co-driver, Nicolas Gilsoul.
Having contested 20 WRC events to date, Neuville has already notched up 11 stage victories in the world series and claimed a career-best result at this year’s Rallye de France-Alsace when he finished a creditable fourth. Contesting the Intercontinental Rally Challenge in 2011, the youngster is also no stranger to the taste of champagne having conquered the demanding stages of both the Tour de Corse and Rallye Sanremo where he secured his first international victories.
With the world’s brightest young talents lining up alongside Qatar and M-Sport in 2013, the stage is set for the next generation of world championship contenders. With guidance from one of motorsport’s most decorated drivers in the form of Al-Attiyah, the stars of tomorrow will benefit from the Qatari’s guidance and expertise throughout the year.
M-Sport Managing Director, Malcolm Wilson OBE, said:
“Both Evgeny [Novikov] and Thierry [Neuville] were strong candidates since negotiations began. They are young, but they have both shown some real maturity this year – combining obvious speed with a determination to finish all of the events and gain as much knowledge of the stages as possible. Both have regularly challenged the factory drivers, and their 2012 results were thoroughly deserved. I am confident that both drivers have more to prove and that we will see more impressive performances from them in 2013.
“We have a young team for next year, but this by no means detracts from their ability to produce some strong results. All of them, Mads [Østberg], Evgeny [Novikov] and Thierry [Neuville], proved their worth in 2012 and, with guidance from Nasser [Al-Attiyah], they can all be fantastic ambassadors for Qatar, M-Sport and the WRC.”
Evgeny Novikov said:
“I am very glad to be representing Qatar and M-Sport next year. I would like to express huge gratitude to all those who supported me and believed in me: my mentor Mikhail Lepekhov, Malcolm Wilson, my family and my fans.
“In 2013 we will fight at the top level and do our best to please those who have supported us all these years.”
Thierry Neuville said:
“It is a great honour for me to represent Qatar and M-Sport on all 13 rounds of next season’s championship. Thanks to a great ‘learning’ year in the WRC, I am confident that I will be able to achieve some great results alongside M-Sport and my new team mates.
“I would especially like to thank Malcolm [Wilson] for his confidence in me, and also my friend Nasser [Al-Attiyah] for his fantastic support. I am now focussed on preparing for Rally Monte-Carlo and really looking forward to the start of this new adventure.”