Sébastien Loeb. Had to be, didn’t it…
When nine met seven.
That’s World Rally titles and Formula 1 titles, of course.
There’s no doubt, the Extreme E teams are all going to be very swish. Very cool. But if you were a driver, there’s one place, one seat you’re chasing hardest. It’s X44.
And from Lewis Hamilton’s side, there’s probably a short list of, well, maybe one, if you’re after the main man for driving in the dirt.
Carlos Sainz is a titan of rallying and he starts January’s Dakar as favorite – in my book – for another win in the dunes. Johan Kristoffersson, Mattias Ekström and Timmy Hansen are all fantastic drivers. All world champions and all, beyond question, well capable of winning Extreme E races.
But there’s only one Loeb.
Granted, he misfired a bit on this year’s Monte Carlo Rally, but he’s still the class of the field for this job. Loeb has an ability to get into something and make it go quickly instantly.
Sainz, for example, by his own admission will find it difficult to jump in and drive without having gone through every conceivable suspension and transmission set-up under the sun. The king of Spain is one of the most natural drivers around, but to complement that natural ability, he likes to have time in the car. Give him a weapon and he’ll always find a way to sharpen it.
The way Loeb took to off-road driving at the 2016 Dakar (pictured above) was sensational. Fastest on the first proper Dakar test, he took that 530-mile competitive section so comfortably in his stride, he won the next day’s 411-mile stage as well. Granted in his four attempts, his best efforts have resulted in a second and a third, but he’s an absolute danger man and will be when he goes back to the event with Prodrive in January.
Talking to people like David Lapworth – Prodrive’s technical director and a man who has sat alongside the Frenchman in testing recently – the appreciation of Loeb’s innate ability to understand what a car is doing and, more pertinently for off-road racing, what it’s capable of doing is blindingly obvious.
Trust me, Loeb will be the man to beat when he goes back to Saudi Arabia for his second competitive outing of the season in the Extreme E opener.
I’ve watched him for his whole career and there’s nobody better suited to jumping into something new like this and finding the best solution and best set-up immediately.
But this deal goes beyond that. Loeb came close – very close – to racing in Formula 1. Remember Abu Dhabi, 2009? He was lined up to take Sébastien Bourdais’ Toro Rosso seat, until the FIA decided he wasn’t really the superlicense type…
But there’s always been a spark about Loeb when he talks F1. The mutual respect between him and people like Robert Kubica or Kimi Räikkönen was huge and it’ll be the same with Hamilton.
These two are the ultimate elite performers in our world and combining them in one team is going to make for a very potent force in next year’s fledgling five-round series.