Ford boss Malcolm Wilson has warned Sebastien Loeb that title rival Mikko Hirvonen is only going to get better in 2010.
Hirvonen mounted his strongest championship challenge yet this year, taking Loeb to a final-round showdown and only losing the title by a single point. Wilson believes Hirvonen is getting better and better – and expects that progress to continue.
"The way Mikko has developed is fantastic," Wilson said. "And if he carries on where he left off – and I'm confident he will because that's the way he has gone throughout his career – then I know he'll be even more determined next year."
With Hirvonen aged 29 compared to Loeb's 35, Wilson reckons the Finn still has time to emulate the six-time champion by the time he is Loeb's age.
"I expect he'll have a few world titles under his belt by then," said Wilson. "Look at those two on Rally GB, they were in a different class. I guess it's good to have the two of them there fighting. The WRC wouldn't be nearly so exciting if Sebastien retired or had gone to Formula 1.
"If Sebastien wasn't there, we would have won every rally last year, with the possible exception of Catalunya. It might have been nice to have been in a one-horse race with the horse called Ford!"
Wilson added that Ford would continue pushing to extract more performance from its current Focus in 2010 even though it would also have to devote some resources to developing a car for the new regulations that will supersede the World Rally Cars from 2011.
"It's very much a balancing act in 2010: it's the last season for the car, but we've got to try and win the championship," he said. "We've run Sebastien as close as anybody has this year and we've got to try and take it that next step next year."