Sébastien Ogier’s place in the World Rally Championship’s hall of fame has been secured.
The 2021 Monza Rally was an historical event as Ogier called time on his full-time rallying career and signed off in dream fashion: winning an eighth world title along with co-driver Julien Ingrassia.
Ogier will continue to feature on sporadic WRC events – although without Ingrassia who bowed out of the WRC altogether with title success number eight – and can therefore very feasible build on his total of rally wins.
But on a part-time basis, he’s highly unlikely to improve on his epic record of eight top-class titles – a total that puts him tantalizingly close to old rival Sébastien Loeb’s tally of nine.
It therefore feels appropriate to reflect on the last near-decade of Ogier triumphs. Here’s DirtFish’s ranked list of Ogier’s eight drivers’ titles from the last nine years.
No driver wins a world title and can be considered to have had a bad season, so ranking 2016 as the ‘worst’ of Ogier’s titles does not mean that he wasn’t the class of that year’s field. It’s just compared to other seasons, he wasn’t quite as clearly ahead or as impressive.
Domineering context plays against this triumph. Ogier headed into the season as a three-time world champion driving a Volkswagen Polo R WRC that was evidently a step ahead of the opposition. And he’d proved time and time again that of VW’s three drivers he was the best equipped to go the distance.
There were some impressive wins – mainly a crushing Monte performance and yet more Rally Sweden and GB victories – but by mid-season he looked a dead-cert for the title as the narrative switched to the number of different winners in consecutive events – there were six if you’d forgotten.
Uncharacteristically, Ogier was also defeated in some key showdowns. The first was in Argentina where he did well to close up to Hayden Paddon only to be destroyed on the powerstage. And then in Australia, Andreas Mikkelsen edged Ogier to a very important victory as it was VW’s last in the WRC.
It is worth pointing out though that Ogier’s haul of 268 points is the second highest he’s ever achieved across a season.
The third of Ogier’s four VW titles just shades 2016 because of Ogier’s assurance behind the wheel and ability to simply streak clear of the rest after a much tighter contest the year before.
Ogier won five of the opening seven rounds and eight of the season’s 13 including some key victories, not least his success on Rally Germany: VW’s home event and a rally Ogier had crashed on the previous two years.
Although it’s true Ogier clearly and impressively had the upper hand over the rest all season, this was the era where his level of arrogance was perhaps a touch too high for many to stomach.
The most prominent example was in Portugal. Back then, the championship leader had to run first on the road for the first two days, not just the opening leg; understandably to Ogier’s ire.
He therefore did well to lose out on the win by just 8.2 seconds to team-mate Jari-Matti Latvala but his comments at the end of the rally – “I know it is a happy day for many people” – drew criticism from rivals and were taken by some as disrespectful to rally winner Latvala.
Seeing #17 plastered on the side of Ogier’s World Rally Car and not the #1 in 2020 took a lot of adjusting to. But it didn’t take long for Ogier to reclaim the title he lost to Ott Tänak in 2019 as he pipped team-mate Elfyn Evans in a final round showdown.
Ogier moved from the departing Citroën squad to Toyota but uncharacteristically wasn’t the fastest driver in his team for the first part of the season; that honor going to Evans. But Ogier was soon a winner on Rally México before COVID-19 took grip of the world and drastically altered the shape of the season.
After a six-month layoff the season resumed but it was Evans that looked to be favorite when he won Rally Turkey and Ogier’s engine failed on the penultimate stage. However it was Ogier that prospered; Evans making a mistake on the icy Monza Rally mountain stages as Ogier claimed victory.
It was an important title for Ogier as it proved he still had it, but the unusually short nature of the season (seven rounds) – and the lack of the same narrative as most seasons – prohibits us from ranking this any higher with such a small sample to analyze.
Ogier and VW’s reign of the WRC is often remembered as a one driver-one machine show. But in 2014, fellow Polo pilot Latvala gave Ogier a real run for his money in what was unquestionably the closest-fought championship of the Volkswagen era.
Latvala was actually title leader after round two. Ogier won the Monte but dipped into a snowbank and was stuck fast in Sweden as Latvala won. However victories in México and Portugal – where Latvala crashed – allowed Ogier to seize the initiative.
It was an advantage Ogier ultimately wouldn’t squander. Latvala got the better of him in Argentina – an event that will surely go down as an anomaly as one Ogier never managed to win – but victories in Italy and Poland put Ogier firmly in the ascendancy.
Latvala struck back in Finland but both then retired in Germany – a mistake that truly blunted his title bid as he had been leading a rally Ogier was already out of. A gear selection issue ruined Ogier’s Rally France while Latvala won, but Ogier got it done with a round to spare with victory on Rally Spain.
Aside from his breakthrough success the year before, this was Ogier’s most accomplished Volkswagen title as he had a genuine rival to worry about. But curiously this appeared to have little effect on his driving, as he scored 267 points in 2014; four more than 2015 but one less than 2016. That’s incredible consistency.
This year’s title – Ogier’s eighth and second in a Yaris WRC – has been far more emphatic than last year’s; and not just because the season has almost been twice as long.
Ogier started the season in the type of form that made him look unbeatable in his VW pomp. Four wins from the first six moved him over 30 points (the perfect points score) clear of his rivals in the points and all but penciled his name onto the roll of honor for yet another year.
Some of those victories were startling too. Ogier overcame a surprise puncture to win the Monte for a record-breaking eighth time, overturned a 3.9s deficit ahead of the final stage to win Croatia and won in Italy despite the major handicap of opening the road on the first day.
However what does count against Ogier’s 2021 success is the occasional weakness of his rivals – specifically the Hyundai which fell apart and cost both Tänak and Thierry Neuville certain victories – and his own blip in form.
Across the back half of the season, Ogier was heavily outscored by Evans too and allowed his team-mate a shot at the title he probably shouldn’t have had. But Ogier did the business in Monza to sign off his full-time rallying career in style with victory.
Ogier has never been on the back foot more than he was in 2017. Expecting to start the season in Volkswagen colors, the brand’s sudden departure from the WRC forced him to look elsewhere for a ride and, after much hype and speculation, he chose to sign for Malcolm Wilson’s M-Sport squad.
The one saving grace for Ogier – who was massively down on seat-time in his new car compared to his rivals – was the fact that 2017 was a reset in the technical regulations. That meant that everybody else was also going through a period of adaptation, but for Ogier to win on debut for M-Sport was still a monumental effort.
M-Sport knew that if it could give Ogier a car up to the task, it would be in with a shout. And so it proved. Ogier was consistent rather than spectacular; winning just one more rally across the season in Portugal as Neuville’s Hyundai set the pace.
But Ogier used his guile and showed a new side to his craft that had been lesser seen in previous years when he had the best package between his fingertips. While Neuville had a slight pace advantage, Ogier vacuumed up the podiums and when his rival suffered two mechanical failures in both Germany and Spain, the door was left open for Ogier to pounce.
With one round to spare, Ogier clinched the title on Rally GB – the fifth title of his career and first without VW – on an historic day for M-Sport as it won the manufacturers’ title and Evans won his first ever world rally on the same day.
This success earned Ogier a new level of appreciation as he won a title in a different way and did something Loeb never did by winning with more than one team.
A driver’s first success is always important, whether that be the first stage win, podium, win or that elusive first title. Ogier had always looked like a champion-in-waiting having run Loeb so hard as Citroën team-mates in 2011, but did anybody really anticipate it would come so soon and so dominantly?
There was no room for Ogier at Citroën’s inn following that explosive season alongside Loeb, so Ogier opted to take a year out from top-flight competition and sign for VW which was entering the WRC in 2013.
The writing was on the wall when Ogier’s Polo R WRC traveled through Le Moulinon – Antraigues 3.7s faster than Loeb’s DS3 WRC. VW had won its first stage back in the WRC. And although Ogier would ultimately finish second on the Monte, he won the next three rounds and simply bossed the season from there.
Ogier has never enjoyed a more dominant season. There were small blips – an off-road excursion in Argentina, a technical problem in Greece and a light crash in Germany – but Ogier won nine rounds from 13 to score 290 points (a career best); 114 more than second-placed Neuville.
Of course there was an element of VW’s car being superior to the rest, but Ogier was a class above his team-mate Latvala and just looked so comfortable winning it was untrue. This level of assurance, coupled to the fact it was his first success, helps 2013 rank so highly on our list.
There’ll be plenty reading this who would argue 2017 or 2013 in particular were more impressive than 2018, but Ogier’s second M-Sport title seals the top spot on our list because of the opposition it was claimed against.
The 2018 WRC season is truly one of those years that will be looked back upon as an absolute classic the more time passes. It was a season of two halves, Ogier owned neither but he was still the driver who stood atop his Fiesta WRC after an epic three-way showdown in Australia as a six-time champion.
Ogier started the year strongly; winning in Monte, Mexico and Corsica to cement himself as the season favorite once more. But then came the Neuville charge. He had won in Sweden, and although the Tänak/Toyota axis finally got off the mark in Argentina after a troubled start, Neuville won Portugal and Italy to head into the mid-season break as points leader.
That Sardinian victory was particularly pertinent. Neuville and Ogier were locked in a fierce battle and it was Ogier who cracked – Ingrassia forgetting his time cards on the way to the powerstage the proof – and Neuville didn’t need asking twice, overhauling Ogier on the final stage to take a huge victory by under a second.
But it was then Tänak’s turn to dominate. Three victories on the bounce launched him right back into play and it looked set to be four on Rally GB until his Toyota slowed when he was leading comfortably.
Wales was key for Ogier’s campaign. There was a growing feeling that for once, the title was a stretch too far for him. He hadn’t been on the podium since losing the Rally Italy win and was only 10th in Turkey but he sensed his opportunity. He was gifted the lead when Tänak retired and then had to fend off a charged-up Latvala who stole the lead from Ogier on the final morning.
But when the chips were down, Ogier pulled it out the bag, taking the lead back on the very next test to record a narrow but vital victory with Neuville down in fifth after a mistake on the second day. Ogier beat both his rivals in Spain to hold the advantage in Australia, and he duly kept it clean while both Neuville and Tänak crashed to secure the title.
Ogier had never had to dig as deep as he did in 2018 to win the championship. He displayed his key attributes of raw speed and event management to string together one of the finest campaigns in WRC history.
While it could be argued that it’s refreshing for new blood to be guaranteed the next few world titles, Ogier will be sorely missed from the annual squabble for rallying’s biggest trophy.