As we are now well aware, Kalle Rovanperä stormed his way to this year’s World Rally Championship crown. He obliterated the competition with six wins from 11 rallies so far, and with it obliterated just as decisively the record for the youngest ever WRC title winner.
Doubts about his championship win are therefore hard to find. But perhaps one lingers. Not one based on what actually happened of course, but rather a ‘what if?’ What if his Toyota team-mate eight-time champion Sébastien Ogier had in 2022 done one more full season, rather than the part-time campaign he actually completed?
Would the stunning new boy still have prevailed? Or would the old hand have come out on top yet again?
It’s a tantalizing question, as tantalizing indeed as the prospect itself of a year-long Rovanperä vs Ogier scrap. So we put the question of who would have won out to our writers. Here’s what they reckon.
Instinct says Ogier; numbers say Kalle
Yes. He’s Sébastien Ogier. He’s an eight-time World Rally Champion with current, relevant experience.
He’s fast, consistently fast. He doesn’t crash or make mistakes and he’s in the same car and the same team. Actually thinking this is a bit of a silly question, really.
But, just to offer genuine clarity and lead you through what might appear to be opinion towards a statistically sourced statement of fact, I’ve done the maths.
So, we know Kalle Rovanperä scored 237 points from 11 starts this season. That’s a solid tally. A good score. That means, he’s put down, on average, 21.54 points per round. Again, impressive.
To make this analysis a little bit fairer, we’re going to go through Ogier’s last nine seasons in a frontline car and we’re going to do the same.
Ready? Here’s my proof.
On average, for every rally across the last nine years, the Frenchman bagged an average of… 19.07.
Stand by. I’m going back to the calculator.
It’s true. How’s that?
So, actually, developing that number, Ogier would be standing on 209 right now. The championship would still be open – but the 22-year-old Finn would be 28 points to the good with two rallies remaining.
I’ll get my coat.
Keep your title Kalle.
No! I can’t leave it there. We all know statistics can say whatever you want them to say. I still believe, at the height of his power, Ogier would have edged Rovanperä. It’s fair to accept Sébastien’s speediest days came in the Volkswagen Polo R WRC. By the same token, you can argue that Kalle’s still getting quicker.
The numbers would still favor today’s champion. Ogier’s best average points per round from 2013 through 2016 were 22.30, 0.24 short of what Rovanperä achieved this time around.
Should we look at the level of competition?
Not really. It hasn’t varied dramatically across the years. OK, there were a couple more fans around nine years ago, but it’s not like this season or that could be considered a wilderness year.
I guess, if you were looking for deeper analysis, you could look into the level of mistakes, accidents and retirements for the competition across both seasons, but that’s a bit too complicated.
Can we go for a tie?
One thing is for sure, I would love to have seen the hyper-competitive 2013-specification Ogier squaring up to today’s Rovanperä in the same machinery.
By his own admission, Jari-Matti Latvala wilted in the white heat of competition.
I suspect Rovaperä would have – and will – thrive in it.
Rovanpera was winning this title no matter what
I love this question.
It’s always fun to wonder what might have been in sport, and this particular hypothetical scenario would’ve been absolutely enthralling to see play out. No disrespect intended to Elfyn Evans, but a Kalle Rovanperä vs Sébastien Ogier, old vs new generation, student vs master intra-team battle at Toyota would’ve been epic.
Not that I believe it would’ve changed anything. He may have been run closer, but I firmly believe Rovanperä was on a one-way course to this year’s title regardless of who he was up against.
The interesting thing with this is we do have some data to judge this from; it’s not a total stab in the dark given Ogier has done some of the rallies this year.
Over the course of the season, Rovanperä has been by far the stronger driver – but then he has had considerably more seat time in the GR Yaris Rally1 than his more decorated team-mate.
It’s of course impossible to prove but, having watched Ogier this year, I personally think he’s lost some of his edge and impetus without a drivers’ championship title to shoot for. So that’s pegged his performance back a bit in 2022.
But it’s so easy to underplay just how mega Rovanperä has been. You have to assume the Monte Carlo Rally result wouldn’t have changed if Ogier was in full-time, so he would’ve headed to Sweden as first on the road on Friday – an event Rovanperä managed to win despite that handicap.
So Rovanperä would’ve been ahead going into Croatia, where being first on the road on the first day proved an advantage. Yes things went away from Rovanperä in terms of tire selection, but that was acting on team intel so you have to again assume Ogier would’ve made a similar call. And quite frankly nobody was beating Rovanperä on that powerstage.
From there, psychology comes into play. Ogier is as strong as they come in the mental stakes, but it’s easy to be rattled by the new boy coming at you with nothing to lose yet everything to gain. Just look at how Ogier himself managed to destabilize Sébastien Loeb during that 2011 season as Citroën team-mates, when he was the young upstart coming for the established superstar.
Rovanperä is fazed by absolutely nothing – the only time he looked even close to nervous all year was on the first day of Rally New Zealand when he knew he had a job to do to get the title over the line.
Ultimately, Rovanperä is the hungrier of the two drivers in our hypothetical 2022 season. If Ogier commits to a season he commits it to 100%, so the drivers’ title would’ve been his only goal had he been a permanent fixture in Toyota’s 2022 lineup.
But Rovanperä was ready for this. The regulation reset was perfectly timed with his increased experience level and he just shot off into the sunset. If push had come to shove, the motivation to win title number one would’ve perhaps edged a less impactful ninth for Ogier.
Rovanperä in his prime vs Ogier in his prime? That’s another question altogether. But Ogier certainly won’t be regretting his decision to scale back his commitments this season. He’s been very clear on that anyway, but being there to hand his title to Rovanperä when he was never in contention for it is a far nicer scenario than being beaten to it fair and square on the stages.
What would Ogier pressure have done to Rovanperä?
Yes. He could have. Rather than counting the rallies until Rovanperä was inevitably crowned champion, it’s easy to envisage a final-round showdown between the two Toyota team-mates. The one Rovanperä vs Evans had promised but failed to deliver.
We must be honest. Rovanperä, though he has been masterful and shown his incredible talent time and time again this year, was not under the pressure he should have been. My colleague David recently posited that Hyundai hadn’t so much found a purple patch with its three wins in a row, as Toyota had merely dropped the ball. There was an element of that in the drivers’ championship, too.
Evans was compromised by early-season crashes. Tänak and Thierry Neuville were hamstrung with Hyundai’s litany of reliability woes that took months to remedy. Craig Breen and M-Sport failed to mount any meaningful challenge.
Ogier would not have failed. He is metronomic. He knows how to traverse a championship season in a manner that maximizes points output in every given scenario.
Yes, Rovanperä ran away with it in the first half of the year. He was untouchable in Sweden and Portugal. But on Safari, Ogier had his younger team-mate on his toes. Look at the timesheets, not the final result.
That double-DNF wobble before New Zealand? Rovanperä got away with that because he’d disappeared so far into the distance. Ogier would have turned the screw and taken the championship lead.
And let’s not forget, at Monte, when Ogier was still entirely in the groove and only a couple of months on from sealing title number eight, he bested Rovanperä. Yes, it’s the Monte, effectively Ogier’s home rally. But the Ogier we’ve seen this year is not Séb in his purest form.
Not once but twice this season Rovanperä has shown impatience when stuck on road sweeping duty – making effectively the same mistake in both Sardinia and Greece. He got away with it the first time, not so the second. Ogier is openly and vocally frustrated when he has to open the road, but he always gets something out of it. That’s what a decade of WRC experience teaches you.
There was no heat on Rovanperä at all this season. No seasoned pro lurking dangerously close behind. Ogier would have had him sweating buckets – no matter how cool and collected Rovanperä’s façade may be. It’s an eight-time world champion, in the same car as you. It doesn’t matter how cool you are – such heat is simply too fierce to ignore.
Rovanperä is defining talent of a new generation. He was always likely to become world champion. The question was when – and had Ogier stuck around, it may well not have been 2022.
Ogier would have taken fight to Rovanperä
Kalle Rovanperä has been untouchable this season. Where others have faltered, the world champion has succeeded, continuously.
But throw Sébastien Ogier into the mix, would we have seen such a cool, collected and composed Rovanperä?
I think Ogier would certainly have kept his 22-year-old team-mate on his toes had the eight-time champion made his presence in the 2022 service park a full-time one. But I do believe it would have been close between the pair.
Taking absolutely nothing away from his performance this season, Rovanperä has had the edge on anyone that’s even tried to knock him off the top spot. But Ogier has much more experience in the World Rally Championship and don’t forget he is the man who has handed the WRC crown over to the young superstar.
Prior to this year, Ogier had taken the title two years running, and aside from Ott Tänak’s championship win in 2019, he had won the previous six years too. So it’s fair to say Ogier was, and still is, in his prime before he decided to step down to a part-time role this year.
He’s had solid results in the rallies he’s competed in during 2022 bar Portugal, and I’m of the belief that a full-time Ogier would have taken the battle to Rovanperä.
Rovanpera edges box-office fight
It’s so difficult to answer this question when you can’t directly compare them against each other.
Last year Rovanperä was still in his development phase, and didn’t possess the outright devastating pace and consistency he’s shown this year. He’s very much taken it up a level.
And Ogier hasn’t been as competitive this year due to the sole fact that he’s been on a part-time program. So can we really give a meaningful answer?
Perhaps not. But instinct tells me that Rovanperä would have beaten Ogier this year.
Rovanperä has been almost perfect all season long, rarely putting a foot wrong. And with so many rallies affected by rain, and the next level Rovanperä seemingly manages to go to in those conditions, I do think he would have just about edged his Toyota team-mate.
That being said, I don’t think Rovanperä would have had it all his own way like he is the majority of the time this year. I expect it would have been incredibly tight, probably ending up in a showdown on the very last round.
I bet it would have provided all the box office hits everyone would want in a World Rally Championship, and now I dream about it, I really want to see it. If only Ogier would get back behind the wheel for one more full season.
Just imagine the scenes. There’s no doubt it would be the title fights of all fights. It’s just a shame it will never become a reality.