Its turning out to be quite some week for Tony Hayward, the head of exploration at BP. Yesterday we blogged how his talk of BP’s recent failings was seen as an indirect attack on Lord Browne, and today he has emerged as co-front-runner to replace his Lordship. The other candidate is Robert Dudley, chief executive of TNK-BP.

According to The Times “the two men have inched ahead in the competition to succeed Lord Browne of Madingley ahead of the board’s appointment in the New Year of a chief operating officer who will manage the group and eventually step into the chief executive role in 2008, according to BP’s plans”.

Mr Dudley has emerged late in the race, a reflection of the growing importance of BP’s Russian venture, TNK-BP in the future of the group. For several years, the Russian business has been the main source of BP’s growth and has the most potential, but its future depends on delicate handling of the relationship with the Kremlin.

The next chief executive is expected to run a flatter organisation with less centralisation of power, say BP insiders. “It is unlikely that the next chief executive will have as long a term as Lord Browne,” said one insider.

The trouble is the longer you stay in power, the more chance something will go wrong.

Maybe Browne should have gone a couple of years ago …