What now for Hayden Paddon?
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Kiwi Hayden Paddon's benching for next month's Rally Spain leaves a number of unanswered questions.
The 30-year-old Hyundai driver has endured a tough year, struggling for form while making some uncharacteristic mistakes as well as suffering from some bad luck. He sits ninth in the championship and has just one podium this year.
With his title ambitions long-gone, Hyundai have decided to go all-out on the manufacturer's title and have signed Norwegian Andreas Mikkelsen for the remainder of the year. He and title contender Thierry Neuville will compete in all three remaining events while veteran Dani Sordo and Paddon will share the third car - Sordo on the Spanish tarmac and Paddon on the loose surfaced events in Wales and Australia.
While that makes sense at the moment there is the bigger picture to consider as well. Mikkelsen is reported to have agreed to the Hyundai drive only if they committed to him next season as well. Neuville, Sordo and Paddon are all under contract for 2018.
There have been reports of the WRC potentially expanding to four-car teams and this could be either a case of Hyundai taking early advantage of that likelihood or gambling on it being the case next season.
Should it remain a three-car championship Hyundai could look at buying out either Sordo or Paddon or running them on a horses for courses basis depending on the surface of each event. That scenario would hurt Paddon in a big way. He has long harvested an ambition to challenge for a title in 2018 and beyond and it would be nearly impossible to do that without a full programme.
Should Hyundai have to make a tough call and cull someone - it would seem the likeable Sordo might be the more likely option. At 34 he is older than Paddon and has clearly reached his peak. While the Spaniard is consistent and rarely makes errors he is unlikely to be fighting at the front of gravel events. He is still a tarmac specialist however but with only four and a half (Monte Carlo barely counts because of the ice and snow) of the 13 events on the hard surface it would seem Paddon would be a safer bet. Commercial factors could be in play - Spain obviously has a bigger rallying audience and bigger car market than New Zealand but Hyundai's ruthless approach would indicate results are the main focus for them.
If Paddon did find himself out of a drive with Hyundai next year he would surely command serious interest from Citroen or Toyota and possibly M-Sport, depending on what happens with off-contract world champ Sebastien Ogier.
Given Paddon's ties to Hyundai New Zealand however there would be serious ramifications if he were to switch teams.
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