A 24-point lead in the World Rally Championship with 60 on the table in the final two rounds. You wouldn’t call that a comfortable lead. You wouldn’t call it a vulnerable one either.
But what about when your last remaining championship rival is setting a pace you can’t keep up with and disappearing in the rally lead, and you can only watch from an increasingly distant third place?
That might make things feel more vulnerable than comfortable.
Third place on Rally Spain this weekend could still make Sébastien Ogier WRC champion for an eighth and probably final time.
The permutations around powerstage bonus points make quick mental arithmetic calculations of title possibilities something of a brain-spinner, but there are six mathematical scenarios in which Ogier could finish third and be champion.
They just all rely on Elfyn Evans to be no higher than fourth, and right through Friday Evans was either leading or a very close second behind Thierry Neuville.
That wasn’t what Ogier had expected when he came into the weekend bullishly relishing the chance to be first on the road without that equalling a Friday of road-sweeping misery.
He wanted to end his full-time WRC career on a high with the Spain and Monza wins that would make any points calculations redundant.
All the frontrunners complained of understeer on Friday, but Ogier found it particularly confidence-sapping, especially in the dirtier road conditions of the second pass.
“It’s fair to say I was not as fast as I wanted today and I didn’t manage to follow the rhythm of Elfyn and Thierry this afternoon,” Ogier told DirtFish.
“You’ve seen that I’m struggling a little bit, it’s been mentioned a lot but [I have] understeer, and didn’t find the perfect set-up yet to give me the confidence to push more.
“Already this morning when the road was clean I was not good enough and this afternoon with the dirt I struggled a bit more with the bad line on the second pass but that’s not all.
“I still need to think with my engineer what we can improve to give this extra confidence to be faster.”
The main target right now is to find a car that gives me 100% confidenceSébastien Ogier
So what now? The thing Ogier can least afford is a zero score. Does he settle for third and minimising the damage, or if something can be done to eradicate the understeer overnight, does he try to close the 19.4s gap to the front?
“I think it’s fair to say that 19s is a lot for sure in Catalunya to catch,” replied Ogier when asked that question by DirtFish.
“The main target right now is to find a car that gives me 100% confidence to be able to match the speed from the frontrunners.
“Catching them would be another story right now, it’s true.
“But it’s still a long weekend.
“For my feeling and for enjoying the rally the best thing will be to find this car that I like 100%.”
And of course if he can get the Toyota to his liking by Sunday, there’s another potential benefit.
“There is also powerstage coming at some point and at that moment I need to be able to push more than I am doing right now,” Ogier added.
Though both last year’s ultimately forlorn title chase and the 2021 battle, Evans has been a master of finding ways not to talk too precisely about championship prospects.
A little thing like being in a ferociously-close lead battle with a driver who has nothing to lose while his title rival was falling away in third wasn’t going to change that for Evans.
“My approach is not really changing as this rally’s evolving,” said Evans when asked by DirtFish about the big points swing possible if he could get Neuville back between him and Ogier.
“It was quite clear from the start we were coming to do our best to try and win the rally.
“And we’re in the fight for the rally so from that side, everything’s fine and we’ll just enjoy and keep going.”
Second for Evans and third for Ogier would mean they were 21 points apart heading for Monza, before powerstage points were factored in.