Pressure mounts on Meeke as Citroen eye Loeb comeback
In what may be seen as another sign of a deteriorating relationship between Kris Meeke and the Citroen hierarchy, his team boss, Yves Matton, has refused to rule out the possibility of Sebastien Loeb returning in 2018.
The nine-time World champion retired at the end of the 2012 season, concentrating on sports car racing and Dakar-style cross-country rallies.
But he has been called in to test Citroen's troublesome C3 WRC next week ahead of the next round of the World Championship, Rally Germany.
Matton said Loeb would not take part in any of the remaining rounds this year but when asked about 2018 his answer was enigmatic.
"For 2018, that is quite far away. I have no idea," he said. "I will not tell you no, because it's not no, but I will not say yes, because it's not yes. I can understand the attraction to bring this guy back."
The surprise revelation that Loeb was to take part in a one-day test came from the newly formed PSA Motorsport (incorporating Citroen, Peugeot and DS) during the build-up to last week's Rally Finland - even Meeke only found out with the official announcement.
Despite winning Rally Mexico earlier in the season, the Dungannon driver was already at odds with the team after being dropped for Rally Poland following crashes in the previous three rounds of the Championship.
Usually on message, he broke ranks to accuse "some elements" within the team of not supporting him, saying this had affected his confidence ahead of the Finnish rally where total commitment is paramount.
And Meeke has since suggested his below-par performance - he finished eighth on a rally he dominated a year earlier - was a "hangover" from being dropped.
"It was one of the most difficult weekends I've had in a rally car," he said.
"For me there's no doubt this was a hangover from Poland."
But Matton, who took the decision to replace him with Andreas Mikkelsen, disagreed. He said: "There is nothing which shows me it was not the right decision. I can understand his frustration, but he came to the finish and he brought back a lot of information."
Meeke has another year to run on his Citroen contract, as do team-mates Craig Breen and Stephane Lefebvre, but now Matton has admitted Loeb could be in the picture too.
The French ace, who won a record nine World titles and 78 WRC rallies for Citroen - including Rally Ireland twice - admits he is missing rallying.
"I can't wait to get back into a World Rally Car and test how the technology has changed," he commented.
"I'm still passionate about rallying.
"Of all the disciplines I've tried since I retired five years ago, it's the sensation of rallying that I love most."
Heading into Rally Germany on August 17-20, Citroen are bottom of the all-important Manufacturers' Championship with Meeke's Mexican win their only podium finish this season.
It promises to be another pressure event for the Ulsterman, who will be joined by Breen and former Volkswagen driver Mikkelsen, who is also a free agent for 2018.