4 reasons Sebastien Ogier is the best ever
This weekend, in his final rally for the M-Sport World Rally Team, Sebastien Ogier was able to revel in the joy of six – after becoming only the second man in history to claim a double-hat-trick of WRC driver's titles.
Next year he leaves the M-Sport Ford stable, his home for the last two seasons, to return to his first WRC home, taking up the vacant lead driver role at Citroën. Over the last six seasons Ogier has come to dominate the rallying landscape, taking over the mantle from fellow Frenchman Sebastien Loeb to make it an astonishing 15 years since anyone with a different first name or nationality last won the WRC championship.
He still has some way to go to match his compatriot's astonishing record of nine WRC titles and 79 rally victories – a number Loeb increased in an outstanding one-off appearance in the C3 WRC, which Ogier will drive next season, just a few weeks ago. But, given Ogier's public profession that he has no interest in prolonging his WRC career beyond the next few years, he is unlikely to finish with similar stats.
But stats aren't everything, and there are many reasons why Ogier has at least matched, if not outright suprassed Loeb's stellar career.
He nearly beat Loeb
Back in 2011, in Sebastien Ogier's third full WRC season, he went toe-to-toe with the then seven-time WRC champion as his team-mate. Rather than crumble under the pressure of the greatest rally driver of all time in his pomp, in a team completely designed to help Loeb win, Ogier took the fight straight to his fellow Frenchman. The youngster from Gap won five rallies in 2011 – the same amount as Loeb – but felt that he had little support within the team and walked away at the end of the season in a youthfully impetuous huff. Who knows what could have happened if he had stayed at Citroën the following season, when Loeb clinched his ninth and final title, rather than spending the year in an S2000 Skoda Fabia while Volkswagen prepared for their arrival in 2013.
He helped build a championship dominating team
After disappearing from the main WRC scene at the end of 2011 Ogier was snapped up by the nascent Volkswagen WRC team to spearhead their assault on the world championship. It meant stepping back for a season from top-line WRC, but Volkswagen elected to run an S2000 Skoda Fabia for the season to get used to running a rally team. Ogier at the wheel, the little Skoda finished in the top 10 overall in the championship – in spite of the fact that they didn't compete in every round. The following season Ogier and Volkswagen arrived with a bang. Beaten by Loeb in the first of four appearances for the Frenchman that season, the new dream team hit back immediately, dispelling any murmerings that the absence of Loeb devalued the season by beating him in a straight fight in the very next rally. Ogier won nine of the year's 13 rallies, including a hat-trick of victories at the start and a streak of four to close the year out. By winning first time out the VW/Ogier team had eclipsed the achievments of the Citroën/Loeb pairing – which took one partial warm-up and one full season before it was able to claim victory.
He beat a serious team-mate
Can you name Sebastien Loeb's team mates during his dominance? Do you even remember that Carlos Sainz rallied alongside Loeb in the Citroën Xsara at the beginning of his run? More than likely not. Other than a Sainz whose powers were waining, and a few rallies with Colin McRae, Loeb mostly had a ragtag bunch of team mates, which included such luminaries as Xavier Pons and Francois Duval. With all due respect to Dani Sordo he was hardly a real challenge and the one season alongside Mikko Hirvonen saw the Finn struggling to regain his form. Contrast that with Ogier, who provided the only real opposition to Loeb from within Citroën before having to overcome Jari-Matti Latvala at VW. Latvala arrived at Volkswagen having ironed out his more crashy tendancies at Ford, on his way to third in the championship in 2012. Ogier completely destroyed his team-mate, psychologically wearing Latvala down year on year until in 2016 the Finn could manage only one win and sixth in the title race. Latvala's performances back at Toyota show that he still remains fast and capable of winning, but he was able to do nothing about Ogier, despite being a firm part of the team that dominated the WRC.
He won two titles with an underfunded team
Despite developing a car to the new WRC regulations, VW bowed to the pressure of diesel-gate and shocked the world by quitting the WRC at the end of the 2016 season. That left the then four-time champion without a drive for 2017. Hyundai were ramping up their involvment in rallying and Toyota were about to arrive back as a full factory team, and all courted the champion. But Ogier decided instead to join the M-Sport Ford team, an outfit that is a manufacturer team in name-only, with Ford putting in enough money to be registered as a manufacturer, but providing nowhere near the support of Toyota, Hyundai or Citroën (who were also ramping up their WRC assault). Nobody was sure if the Carlisle outfit could provide the Frenchman with the car he needed to win. But the new pairing won first time out and went on to win what was probably Ogier's most satisfying title against real opposition. This season they continued to take victories despite not having the cash to develop the car significantly. As their rivals used the might that factory backing brings them the Fiesta fell further back – with team mates Elfyn Evans and Timo Suninen managing only 7th and 12th respectively in the championship. But in the hands of Ogier it was still at the front of the field, clinching a fifth Wales Rally GB victory in six years and piling the pressure on his rivals with a brilliant second place at the penultimate round in Spain.
The only way he can top this season's achievements? If he goes on to clinch the title again on his return to Citroën next year he will have won the WRC with three different teams, including two in an era of major manufacturer interest. For all Sebastien Loeb achieved, he won every title, every rally and every stage with the same team.
Photography courtesy of Motorsport Images