Two years ago, Sebastien Ogier won just two rounds of the World Rally Championship and took a fifth world crown with a round to spare. This year he won three times, missed out on a seventh straight title and finished third, his lowest score since he drove an S2000 Skoda - the class below the WRC frontrunners – in 2012.
Did Ogier deserve more this year? Almost certainly, yes. He made two mistakes this year, sliding the Citroen into a snowbank in Sweden and whacking a rock and breaking the steering in Sardinia. Why did he make those mistakes? Because he was aware he wasn’t in the best car and he had to push that bit harder.
Doubtless, there are a few people out there who will point to his four years of utter domination at Volkswagen and to the fact that the Polo R WRC was clearly the faster car from a team with, by some distance, the biggest budget. He was able to drive within himself and win… when he puts it on the line, he drops it. Nonsense. Ogier’s a class act. Anybody can spear the snow on round two, it happens. That Sardinia accident was a bit odder, mind - not many saw a rookie mistake like that one coming.
Otherwise, what happened on the first seven rallies this season? What happened on his return to Citroen? He won twice and finished on the podium six times. From the outset, Ogier was well aware that the C3 WRC wasn’t as competent a car as the M-Sport Ford Fiesta WRC he’d used to take the title for the previous two years, but he was also aware that the Cumbrian cash had dried up. As a six-time world champion, it’s not unreasonable to expect a fair wage, so he headed back to Paris and accepted that, in the beginning, he would have to pedal the car a bit harder.
He was assured development was coming. The geometry, the aero, the transmission, the suspension, pretty much every aspect of the car was evolving and would transform it into a world-beater. Much of that work has now been done, and would be seen in next year’s car - but too little, too late. Ogier struggled in Finland, as has become something of a trend in recent years, and was then embarrassed by his seventh place in Germany.
We’ve subsequently learned that it was in those dark hours after the Bostalsee event finished, where the seeds of discontent and thoughts of departure were sewn. Victory in Turkey was nice. Again, too little, too late.