It doesn’t matter how many days have passed since the conclusion of Rally México, the fact that part-time driver Sébastien Ogier leads the World Rally Championship after three rounds isn’t getting any less amazing.
There were factors in his favor – namely a good road position on Friday – but he took everyone to the cleaners on the Monte Carlo Rally. So any claims that Ogier’s championship lead – claimed without even starting Rally Sweden don’t forget – isn’t merited are a touch foolish.
But as stunning a story and achievement as it is, what does the situation say about the WRC?
Is it a good thing for the championship that a driver not contesting a full season has been able to show up the current generation who are committed to all 13 rounds?
In one very clear and obvious way, yes it is.
Just look at how amazed we all are that Ogier has been able to pull this off! It created a wave of excitement on the final day in México when we all learned that Ogier was on to wrest the championship lead from Ott Tänak, and it’s never a bad thing to have an eight-time champion around.
Ogier’s presence adds an extra element of spice and buzz to any event, and adds another certified front-running contender to the mix.
“For me, yeah,” said M-Sport Ford team principal Richard Millener when asked if Ogier leading the championship despite missing a rally was good for the WRC, “because it just means it’s going to be closer as the year goes on because no-one can run away with it.
“So I think you’ll find it’ll be pretty good for the championship, and who knows, if he’s leading the championship after a few rounds, maybe he’ll continue and try and persuade Jari [Matti Latvala] to let him do a few more.”
It is certainly true that Ogier’s pair of victories in Monte Carlo and México have prevented any of the other drivers from making a break.
The gap between second-placed Thierry Neuville and fifth-placed Elfyn Evans, i.e. the true championship picture given Ogier’s limited program still means he’s unlikely to sustain this lead, is just nine points. The top five is covered by just 12 points.
But then the counter-argument is that a semi-retired driver being able to lead the heavy hitters the WRC surely would want to be making the headlines makes a bit of a mockery of the championship.
Kalle Rovanperä, Tänak, Neuville and co have been handicapped with bad road positions on the two loose surface rounds, while Ogier profited from a better one in México having not competed in Sweden.
So Ogier vs the rest is not really a fair fight. Cynically, it could be argued that all he’s doing is distracting us all from the true fight for the title.
“From my personal point-of-view, I think the inconsistent message as to how many events Ogier is planning to do this year is the only flaw in what’s happening right now,” WRC Promoter event director Simon Larkin told DirtFish.
“What we saw with the two Sébs last year with them basically known to be only doing four events I think was a boost to the championship and the fans that they both bring, in particular with Séb Loeb coming back and in a strong team having some very strong offerings with M-Sport Ford.
“I’m personally not a fan of not having a fixed, more part-time involvement. But that’s me.”
Is it me too?
I’m absolutely loving the fact Ogier leads the way after México. I think it’s an audacious and utterly ridiculous achievement that only a driver like Ogier could really pull off.
But as the title run-in intensifies, the novelty is going to wear off. What we absolutely cannot have is Ogier teetering on the periphery of the title battle all season long and tactically choosing his events so that he has the best chance of winning with a far superior road position and causing the most absurd of upsets.
Tactical games like these are the only thing that spoil WRC2 nowadays – we don’t want the same in WRC too.