Citroen says Kris Meeke “needed a break” and wants judgement on its decision to bench him for Rally Poland to wait until he rejoins the World Rally Championship in Finland.
The absence of Meeke – who began 2017 as Citroen’s title hope – prompted difficult questions for team principal Yves Matton in Poland last weekend, but he defended the decision.
“It’s not the first time that this has happened in the WRC,” said Matton.
“Several teams have made adjustments to their driver line-up in the past.
“I honestly believe that Kris needed a break.
“The aim is very simple: for Kris to come back in better form than ever, so that we can win together.
“For the time being, no one can say with any certainty whether we made the right or wrong call.
“But we couldn’t keep doing nothing. We had to take action to end this run of results and I take full responsibility for this decision.”
Matton insisted that Citroen “never said” Meeke was responsible for the team’s poor start to the season, but added: “It is worth remembering, however, that after each test session, the drivers said they were very happy with the handling of the car.
“But they were unable to find the same feeling on rallies’ conditions.
“That means that some of the directions taken during development of the C3 WRC were not fit for purpose.
“Once we had taken the step back we needed to take, I asked the technical team to work on some upgrades that would provide the car with greater versatility.
“There have been a number of changes: upgrades to the suspension at Rally Sweden, upgrades to the transmission in Poland and others will follow over the coming months. This all takes time.
“With a wider driver range, we are confident in our ability to move faster in the right direction.”
Citroen had previously dropped Stephane Lefebvre for Rally Italy in favour of Andreas Mikkelsen, who then took Meeke’s place for Poland.
Lefebvre took a WRC career-best fifth position on his return last weekend, which Matton said vindicated Citroen’s decision.
“When I told Stephane he wouldn’t be competing in Sardinia, I asked him to work even harder in order to prepare for Poland,” said Matton.
“[In Poland] he managed to put together all the things he has learned in his time as a professional rally driver.
“He had the sense to push when he had the confidence to do so and take it a bit easier when the conditions were too tricky.
“The result will help to boost Stephane’s confidence.”
Despite last weekend’s result, Lefebvre will stand down for Mikkelsen again at Rally Germany in August.
“Just like with our mechanics or engineers, the drivers have to know when to act in the best interests of the team, because our priority is to get the best results for Citroen,” said Matton.
“He won’t be sitting around during this period though, because he will be taking part in various test sessions.”