“Only when you know the history you can write the future.” – Jörg Rockstroh
With all the debates after Rally Sweden and the views on Sebastian Ogier, I felt I had to write this review about the 5-time World Rally Champion at the time of writing. I say it upfront, I’m a big fan of Seb, and I will explain why. I hope Rally fans not in favour of Seb will still read on. I’ve always been a fan of Motorsport and Rallying. Unfortunately, it took me until 2009 before I experienced my first Rally live. It was Rally Australia in Kyogle. From that day on I was hooked to the WRC. From that year on, I was at one Rally each year, following the Championship via internet and social media. I went through the time when promoter North One was not able to promote the Championship, money for timing was missing and with that, the timing, the lack of TV broadcasting, the lack of manufacturers with just M-Sport as privateer team hanging on, with that at least two brands stayed in the WRC. Without M-Sport, Citroën would have quit maybe and the WRC would have been a Championship of the past.
Why I mention that because I feel that many current Rally fans do not know this. But without knowledge of the history and facts, how can someone voice their opinion about certain situations? Of course, everybody is entitled to an opinion, but without facts and knowledge, on what is this opinion build on? I do not want to push it that far, but as W. Edwards Deming said: “Without data, you’re just another person with an opinion.”
For that reason, I wrote this review stating facts as good as I can. I cannot guarantee that all are free of my own clouded view. However, I will do my best. Furthermore, I will not go all the way back of Seb’s career and start in 2011.
This was the year the up and coming talent Sébastien Ogier was lifted into a factory team, into Citroën Racing, the dominating force in the WRC at the time. To make room for him, a Spanish driver, called Dani Sordo, was sidelined. Dani was number two at the time and supported Sebastien Loeb over the years. At the start of the season, Ogier was promised to be treated equally to the Loeb. But this promise did not hold long. In Germany, he was told to hold off, so Loeb could win. Ogier was faster and not impressed by the team decision. A puncture for Loeb on the last stage on Saturday delegated Ogier into the lead winning the Rally in the end. His words at the stage end: There is justice in the sport or similar. Looking from the outside it was the final straw to the end of Citroën and Ogier. He had to slow down again in Australia, where both Seb’s rolled on Friday, but Ogier recovered only to clock late to let Loeb claiming the 10th spot in the Rally. Rallying is a sport where experience is important. Experience comes with years and maybe a little was missing on Ogier’s side that year. He made a few mistakes in the season, most likely the biggest was crashing out of Rally Mexico on Day 2 from the lead and retiring. Loeb won, claiming 25 points for the victory and 2 points for the Powerstage. It could have been just 18 and 28 for Ogier. The roll in Australia was another. There was a big chance Ogier could have beaten Loeb fair and square that year. He could have crowned himself the 2011 WRC World Champion. However, it did not happen and Loeb secured his 8th title, with the help from Ogier as mentioned.
What happened next is important. Despite an offer from Citroën, Ogier did not sign for a factory outlet. Because Loeb ensured that he had #1 status for the next year. For that reason, Ogier signed with the new factory entry in WRC, VW Motorsport. VW was never really active as a manufacturer in the WRC and did not have any experience in this category. For sure they won Dakar, but that is a totally different category. Furthermore, VW was not ready for the 2012 season. It planned to compete in 2013. For that reason, Ogier participated in a Skoda Fabia S2000 at all rounds of the Championship, but Rally New Zealand. In Monte Carlo, he posted one top 3 time and was always in the top 10 in an S2000 car against WRC cars. And it was not due to the road order. Road order was determined by Shakedown times with the fastest selecting the start position first, second third and so on.
The point is Ogier sacrificed in 2011 a factory drive to go to a manufacturer with no experience in rallying. At the time of the decision, it was a high risk one. Leaving the dominating force Citroën for a newcomer with no experience. No one could have predicted, that VW would dominate the scene over the next 4 years till they quit as they did. And it is just right that Ogier developed the car to his liking and exactly as he wanted. Ford left the sport in 2012, with Jari-Matti Latvala joining the VW squad. At the time I thought, nice, Ogier was sacrificing a full year to develop the Polo and Jari just joins when the project is good to go. Rally Monto Carlo 2013 was won by Loeb because Ogier had already his eyes and the big price and with a more mature approach, he settled for second. Just to mention that Thierry and Jari crashed out. With both not on the podium in Sweden and Ogier beating Loeb the season took its run with Ogier crowing himself WRC World Champion for the first time. The risk going to VW, leaving Citroën and sacrificing one year driving around in a support category paid off. In the process, he claimed 9 wins, 2 seconds and 7 Powerstage wins.
Of course, this dominance of VW with Ogier was not good for the promoter. A series without tension is boring, no spectators, no TV and so on. For that reason and only for that the FIA changed the road order back to a set order, abandon the introduced qualifying in 2011, which was supported by all top category drivers to end the stopping in the stage to gain a competitive advantage for the last day. The new start order was in the order of the championship standings with a reversed order for Day 2 and Day 3. From that day on Ogier was first on the road, almost. Jari had to open Rally Mexico in 2014.
Despite that, Ogier won the next title in 2014. To mention Hyundai joint the WRC Championship that year. However, they were not as successful as Volkswagen. Hyundai finished 4th in the manufactures standing that year.
With the further dominance of VW and Ogier, the FIA changed the running order again for 2015. Now the leader had to open Day 1 and Day 2 with a reversed starting order for the last leg. However, the Polo with its driver Ogier and co-driver Julien Ingrassia, despite opening all Rally’s for two days was on the top at the end of the season again. World Championship title number 3.
Now I am not 100% sure, but for the 2016 season, the FIA even placed the WRC cars under Rally 2 behind the field to avoid any sweeping effects for the leader. And the leader was Ogier again. In the season he managed „just“ to win 6 Rally’s, but was World Champion at the end of the season again. It was also the end of VW, who declared to withdraw from the WRC that year.
And this is it again where it gets interesting. All three VW drivers had no drive for the 2017 season. With a new bread of WRC cars introduced in 2017, the WRC 2017 cars had more power, more aerodynamics and a wider track. Toyota announced its return to WRC, as well Citroën, who developed a new car to participate in the 2017 season as a full factory team again. Hyundai was also committed to the WRC, despite the lack of success in the last 3 years.
Side Note: in 2016 VW tested on all pre-events test the new 2017 car. Development for the old car was stopped in 2015. With that knowledge, it is certain that VW would have dominated the scene with the new 2017 specification car again. Maybe it was the best for the WRC that VW quit.
Ogier was able to test 2 out of 4 new cars. Still, there was a slim chance that a private team would get the Polo 2017 onto the start line for Monto Carlo. For that reason, Ogier was holding off to sign with another team. He knew how good the Polo WRC 2017 was and even with no development over the season, it would have been the car to beat. Especially with Seb as a driver. In the end, he signed with M-Sport, a privateer team with not much factory backing, a team with a budget of 25% of the factory teams. Ogier did not sign with a factory team; he took the risk to go to a privateer team with an untested car against the factory teams. At this point, you would have to assume that the factory teams would have built a better car as M-Sport. Fewer funds mean slower in Motorsport these days.
As it turned out, with the experience of 38 years in Rallying M-Sport built a competitive car. And despite lower budget, they won the manufacturer title and the World Championship title for the first time. Despite the running order with the leader opening for 2 days still in place. In the calendar, only 2 – 3 Rally’s are tarmac Rally’s with the rest gravel Rally’s, where to be first on the road is a disadvantage.
In 2018 Ogier was the first car on the road again, with just Sweden second. That means from the top drivers only Jari Matti Latvala knows how it is to open a Rally as the first car on the road for a full day since 2013.
After 5 titles he still has the flame in him to win another title. He could have quit at the end of 2016, but he didn’t. He stayed on with M-Sport.
Sébastien Ogier never took the easy way out in his Rally career. He took risks. That those risks played out is due to his hard work. That is a fact. Maybe if people cannot accept that, they should look for another sport to follow.
The next time people write on social media in coarse language, calling drivers names and words, they should consider the history before hitting the keyboard.
I for my part wish that Sébastien Ogier and Julien Ingrassia will take the title in 2018, again. Not because I am a fan, because they deserve it for taking bigger risks!