World Rally Championship event winner Hayden Paddon believes a three-way fight for supremacy will re-emerge in 2022.
The Kiwi star, who is working on plans to be back at the Rally New Zealand scheduled for September 29 to October 2, feels the competition will be wide open next year.
That's largely due to the introduction of the new Rally1 regulations that will involve a move to hybrid power.
Newly crowned eight-time world champion Sebastien Ogier's decision to scale back his efforts to a part-time campaign in 2022 for Toyota also leave the door ajar; Ogier and fellow Frenchman Sebastien Loeb have accounted for 17 of the past 18 drivers' titles.
Recent seasons have proven to be a straight fight between Toyota and Hyundai, plus Citroen prior to their withdrawal two years ago.
M-Sport Ford has not won a race since Ogier departed at the end of 2018 and this year endured a podium-less campaign.
Expect that to change.
“I think it will be wide open for sure,” Paddon told Speedcafe.com, his last WRC start having come with M-Sport at the 2019 Wales Rally GB.
“We have seen for many generations of World Rally cars that whenever new rules and regulations come out, M-Sport always seem to hit the ground running.
“Nearly every new car that has been introduced, M-Sport are very competitive in the first couple of years.
“They haven't been as competitive for the last couple of years but I think all of a sudden next year you are going to have three teams fighting at the front rather than just two.
“Craig [Breen, M-Sport recruit] is going to be in a good position.
“In saying that, Hyundai and Toyota, they'll be throwing everything at it and obviously have very good driver line-ups.
“I think it will be a very competitive year and it will certainly be a lot more open. It will be much harder at the start of the season to actually sit back and predict what's going to happen.”
Paddon added his excitement surrounding the new Rally1 regulations, too.
“It is a direction the sport has got to go whether we like it or not,” he said.
“Ultimately the sport has to be in line with the manufacturers and it doesn't matter what we think is necessarily cool, it has got to be relevant first and foremost for the sport to even survive.
“The introduction of technology and certainly a small step in the right direction is good.
“The cars will be different because not only the power and the more simple aero and things but just the extra weight from the hybrid unit, that's going to affect the cars hugely.
“There will be a whole new way of setting them up, a whole new way of driving them which as we're finding with EV, that's a whole mindset shift.
“But I think while initially the cars might be a little bit slower, I think the amount of resources that teams have put into the development of WRC cars, they'll get quicker over time.
“I think within the next year or two, they will probably be back up to similar speeds where they are now.”
The 2022 WRC season will commence with the Rallye Monte-Carlo on January 20-23.