World Rally Championship refugee Mads Østberg has told DirtFish he regrets leaving Citroën in favor of M-Sport for the 2016 WRC season.
Østberg joined Citroën in 2014 after a year in the factory M-Sport team and took fifth and fourth in the championship in his two seasons with a DS3 WRC – ahead of team-mate Kris Meeke on both occasions.
But as Citroën scaled back to a part-time program in 2016 to primarily focus on the development of the all-new C3 WRC for 2017, Østberg elected to return to M-Sport Ford and lead that team alongside Eric Camilli.
Østberg wasn’t retained after his single frustrating season back in the Fiesta, as M-Sport signed Sébastien Ogier, Ott Tänak and Elfyn Evans for its 2017 campaign. He was consequently was left without a factory drive for the first time since 2012 as Citroën confirmed both Craig Breen and Stéphane Lefebvre in its team.
Østberg would make select appearances in a privately-run Fiesta WRC before stepping in to fil Meeke’s shoes when Citroën sacked him halfway through 2018.
But with the benefit of hindsight, Østberg would have accepted a partial campaign in 2016 to stay with the team he now considers home.
He told DirtFish: “Of course always when you look back there is always things you could have done differently. I think it was probably a mistake and I regret leaving Citroën after 2015 because I did have the opportunity to stay there.
“I chose differently and I regret it now but I’m really happy that I was back with Citroën in 2018, with quite a good season as well to be honest. I didn’t do too many rallies but we had some really strong results and it took some time to change the C3 WRC to my liking.
“[When] we did some big changes to the feel of the car and towards the end of the season I was very, very happy with what we achieved. Unfortunately I was not a part of the team in ’19 WRC side so that was not perfect of course but I’ve been able to stay with Citroën ever since 2019 so that’s why it feels good to be with them.
“I really enjoy the team and I still work with many of the same people as I did when I was in the Citroën WRC car. It’s really nice people, I enjoy it.”
Østberg is currently in his second year of WRC2, driving a C3 R5. He currently leads the 2020 standings after victories in both Monte Carlo and Sweden, but his ambition is to re-establish himself in the WRC’s top class.
He says he is now a better driver than ever after adjusting his driving style over the last few years, but is thankful for the “advantage” still competing in an R5 gives him.
“Over the last I would say three years, I’ve developed a lot as a driver,” Østberg said.
“I think before that I wasn’t too aware of what is actually important when you are competing on the different rallies.
“I started to do some processes for myself to understand much more the driving and also technically with the cars, to be able to be more competitive on each event and I did some big, big steps which felt really good.
“In 2018 I continued to work with that and I saw some really big progress and I was actually able to modify my driving style which up until 2015/16 had been similar all the time; quite spectacular, quite sideways.
“I changed approach a little bit, studied a lot of other drivers and tried to find the best way of driving and protecting the car.
“I was able to do some good steps with myself and with Torstein [Eriksen], my co-driver, so I feel like I really have done some big steps. And I was about to show it in 2019 with some strong results, but I was not able to continue in WRC which changed things a little bit.
“But driving the R5 now gives you the opportunity to continue to experiment, to develop and to keep up with these young boys.
“You really need to be on it and I felt I’ve been able to do that and I still have an advantage and I’m intending to keep that.”
Østberg’s next rally will be the European Rally Championship-scoring Rally Liepāja later this month before he heads to Estonia when the WRC resumes.