It’s not often that I revisit a topic once I’ve written a column about it. Apart from Colin McRae and 1995. Or hybrid. I’ve written quite a lot about hybrid recently…
But one subject I will return to is Sébastien Ogier’s Croatian Sunday.
On Monday I wrote that the seven-time world champion should have been excluded. The reception? A mixed bag, if I’m honest.
A couple of things took me by surprise – the number of responses I got from former drivers who told me tales that would, quite frankly, turn your s***t white. Seriously, Ogier’s an absolute saint compared with what’s gone on out there in the past.
And no, I won’t be spilling those beans anytime soon. At least not for a week or two.
The other messages and telephone calls were even more unexpected. One was from somebody standing in what has to be the most photographed, videoed and viewed bus stop in all of Croatia.
He doesn’t want to be named, but he told quite a different story to the one I’d heard. I have checked his story out, it stands up and now I want to share it with you. It casts a slightly different light on proceedings.
As Ogier outlined, immediately following the impact between his Toyota Yaris WRC and a BMW, the Frenchman stepped out of his car and checked on the condition of the other driver. Both Ogier and co-driver Julien Ingrassia were, according to my source, entirely respectful and attentive to the other driver.
The police arrived within a couple of minutes and straight away Ogier began to explain what had happened.
I read all this bulls*** about him running the police down – it wasn’t like this at allAn eye witness to Ogier's incident
As has previously been reported, there was a language barrier which meant Ogier couldn’t get his point across. The crew had immediately contacted the team back in the service park.
Toyota’s event leader Jarmo Lehtinen left service immediately and was on the scene of the accident 10 minutes after the initial impact.
Sources have confirmed event officials were made aware and signed off on Lehtinen attending the accident – this explains why Toyota was given a slap on the wrist (a reprimand in legal speak) via stewards decision number six on Sunday night.
The clerk of the course doesn’t have the authority to override the WRC’s sporting regulations – specifically Article 56.2.1 which references the one kilometer rule and keeping team personnel away from the cars outside the service park.
I digress. Lehtinen was there in 10 minutes.
Both he and the police were talking to rally control in the service park and the decision was taken that Ogier should proceed to the start of the stage.
Here’s where it gets interesting: my bus stop source insists all involved understood this decision and were accepting of Ogier’s departure. On numerous occasions, Ogier and Lehtinen did all they could to convey their apologies and understanding that they were going to let the car move away.
The source said: “It was becoming kind of nothing. OK, team (Lehtinen) was talking on the telephone and Ogier looked like he was checking all the time: “OK, for me to go?” I wasn’t close enough to hear what he said, but it looked like things were fine.
“From what I could see, it was confusion which made the other police stand in front of the car. It was not going like this. Like I told to you, everything was quite cool and happy.
“Ogier was there a long time and doing a lot of good talking. Nobody really understanded things, but he was not like some crazy guy at all. I read all this bulls*** about him running the police down – it wasn’t like this at all.
“It was calm situation.”
What we saw on Sunday – and what the world, me included, made a judgement on – were three snapshots. Three short videos.
Reality offers a different take.
Ogier knows better than anybody that he shouldn’t have driven off with the policeman’s hands on the bonnet. But it seems everybody else there, including the policeman’s colleagues and Lehtinen, were accepting that he was leaving. That fact would be borne out by the lack of urgency to chase the rally leader up the road.
Watch the vid again and you’ll see nothing but apathy.
What’s caught Ogier out here is modern society. The fact that, these days, there is nowhere to hide. The champ was busted by social media. Absolutely 100% that doesn’t mean driving away from a policeman is acceptable, but it does beg for the situation to be put into a wider context.
Sorry for taking so long, but I think I’m there now.
And one thing we have to remember here is the time Ogier spent sorting this out after the event. He went above and beyond. Trust me, there are plenty of drivers who would have refused to go. And if they had gone, their attitude would have demonstrated anything but the kind of contrition Ogier showed on Sunday afternoon.
I still think the stewards were too lenient, but given a wider understanding of everything, I don’t think exclusion would have been the right response either.
What was needed was a broader understanding of all aspects of Sunday morning and the ability for more informed comment on 10 minutes which cast Ogier as the apparent villain.
Turns out, that wasn’t quite the way it played out.