As Monte Carlos go, the 2023 edition wasn’t the most dramatic with one rally leader from start to finish and no ice and snow to speak of.
But the opening round of the 2023 World Rally Championship has nonetheless given us plenty to talk about – and plenty for Colin Clark to consider as he issues his first of 13 driver ratings throughout the season:
Sébastien Ogier 10/10
Monte Carlo result: 1st
Just an absolute masterclass in how to plan and execute the perfect rally strategy. The only real challenge that Ogier faced was from the tires – he was acutely aware of the fact that he’d lost out on victories last season because of unexplained tire failures and his strategy was aimed at mitigating the risk of that happening again.
And he implemented that strategy perfectly.
He never looked to be under any pressure and even when he gave a chunk of time away to a charging Rovanperä in the darkness of Saturday’s final stage, he wasn’t stressed.
Even as a part-timer, Ogier still has the class, the ability and most importantly the rally craft to win any event he enters.
Winning the Monte Carlo Rally nine times is a truly outstanding achievement that I very much doubt will ever be bettered – other than, perhaps, by Ogier himself.
Kalle Rovanperä 8/10
Monte Carlo result: 2nd
As good a start to the defense of his title as Kalle could have expected. To come to Monte and try and beat Ogier in his own backyard is an almost impossible task, and Rovanperä knows that. Successfully managing the risk factor is what makes a champion and Rovanperä did the calculations here.
Yes he might have been able to get a little closer to Ogier, but the risk involved in doing so would have been unacceptable.
In stark contrast to his outing on the Monte last year he looked comfortable and quick in the Yaris Rally1. Rovanperä is a driver who is still learning, who still has big ground to make up in his experience bank, and who can only get better as a result.
That must frighten the hell out of all the other drivers hoping to dethrone the young prince of rallying.
Looks every inch the champion he is and I’ll be enormously surprised if anyone beats him to the championship this year.
Elfyn Evans 7/10
Monte Carlo result: 4th
Evans will rue the puncture that dropped him back down the standings early on Friday but, up until that point, he was the driver offering the biggest challenge to the peerless Ogier.
Elfyn showed real signs of progress in the season-ending Rally Japan last year and in terms of his pace, the progress continued here in Monte Carlo.
Good points on the board and perhaps most importantly a good feeling with the car offers up the tantalizing prospect of a year that involves fighting for the championship – which is in stark contrast to last season, where he spent most of his time fighting himself and fighting to master the new Rally1 Yaris.
Takamoto Katsuta 5/10
Monte Carlo result: 6th
A steady but solid start to the year for Taka-san and that’s exactly what we expected. One of last year’s most consistent points scorers, he’s a driver that needs 100% confidence in his car and the conditions to show the outright pace we all know he’s capable of.
Finding a level that delivers good points when the confidence is not fully there had proved somewhat elusive in previous seasons, but that’s a problem that Katsuta now seems to have well and truly solved.
As an official Toyota factory team driver on a number of rounds this year, Taka-san will have a very well defined job to perform acting as wingman to his two illustrious tram mates – and solid points scoring finishes will be critical to him successfully executing that job.
Thierry Neuville 8/10
Monte Carlo result: 3rd
With Hyundai having won the last Tarmac round of the championship, Neuville would have come to Monte with high hopes of challenging for victory.
Sadly that never looked on the cards – the Toyotas just looked too strong this time out.
And that will perhaps worry Neuville a touch in his perennial efforts to wrestle the title from the hands of Rovanperä.
Neuville put the disparity in performance down to setup issues and that in some ways is good news. The i20 Rally1 came on in leaps and bounds last season and is more than likely still a match for the Yaris.
For Neuville to claim the title this year absolutely everything will have to line up – he can’t afford to come to too many more rallies with setup issues.
He’s also going to need his fair share of luck on his side and Sunday’s spin through a gateway, and not into the wall, is hopefully an indication that lady luck is looking down favorably on Thierry this year.
Esapekka Lappi 4/10
Monte Carlo result: 8th
Lappi looked a little lost in the early stages of his debut here for Hyundai, and maybe that shouldn’t have been too much of a surprise.
We know this car has very particular nuances that take time to master, and Lappi has had precious little testing time to enable him to master those nuances. Coupled with the fact that Esapekka hasn’t competed on the Monte for a few years and this perhaps explains his nervous, hesitant and ultra cautious start to the event.
There was the odd glimmer of improvement as the event progressed and Lappi will get better as the season progresses, for sure.
Getting as much seat time as possible was perhaps Lappi’s number one objective here and in that regard it was a job well done.
Dani Sordo 2/10
Monte Carlo result: 7th
This is an event that Sordo has rarely enjoyed in his long and successful career, but my goodness this was a performance that suggested way more than just dislike.
I’ve rarely seen Dani so hesitant, so lacking in confidence and, to be honest, so poor.
And that I’m sure isn’t just down to the rally. I still feel that Sordo is struggling to master the Rally1 machinery and find a balance that suits his driving style. We know the Hyundai can be, at times, a little unpredictable and Sordo needs absolute faith in the handling of his machinery to commit 100%.
Sordo and the team will be looking for a way better showing next time out.
Ott Tänak 6/10
Monte Carlo result: 5th
Tänak was targeting a podium finish here on his return to to the M-Sport team but sadly he was never in a position where that looked on the cards.
He clearly wasn’t helped by power-steering issues on Saturday but, even when things were going well, he just didn’t seem to be able to find the pace to challenge for that top three spot.
Time in the car is an issue for Tänak so it could well take a few more rallies until we see that Tänak/M-Sport partnership showing what it’s truly capable of.
The powerstage performance was mightily encouraging and means that Tänak leaves Monte with a decent haul of points.
Transition periods are difficult, and very often costly in terms of championship challenges. Tänak will need to maintain this level of point scoring in the coming rallies if he is to be realistically considered a title challenger once that Puma gets up to speed.
Pierre-Louis Loubet 2/10
Monte Carlo result: DNF
A rally to forget for the new full-time M-Sport pilot. Loubet has an amazing opportunity this year and it would be a real shame if we saw him slipping back into those bad habits that so seriously blighted his time in the Hyundai.
There is no question that Loubet has talent and potential, and I’m sure that he’ll put this event behind him and bounce back in Sweden.
Occasional mistakes are to be expected in rallying and are OK, as long as you learn form them and apply those learnings in future events.
He’s a bright lad is Pierre-Louis and I’m backing him to take onboard the learnings from Monte and move on.