Is it doable? Can Elfyn Evans really claw back a 42-point deficit to his World Rally Championship-leading team-mate Kalle Rovanperä?
Theoretically, absolutely. We’re just two rounds into a 13-round championship so a maximum of 330 points is still up for grabs.
Realistically? Look away now Evans fans, as you might not like the forthcoming statistical evidence.
Before we go any further, it’s worth also acknowledging that another title contender and the only world champion competing full-time in 2022, Ott Tänak, faces a similar predicament with just one more point on the board than Evans after Monte Carlo and Sweden.
But for the purposes of this feature we’re going to focus on Evans given his widespread billing as the pre-season title favorite and the fact he has exactly the same equipment – Toyota’s GR Yaris Rally1 – as the championship leader. Tänak’s Hyundai still represents something of a question mark, and his poor form this year is a continuation from struggles last year.
|Year||Champion||Leader after two rallies||Points gap|
|2010||Sébastien Loeb||Sébastien Loeb||6|
|2011||Sébastien Loeb||Mikko Hirvonen||8|
|2012||Sébastien Loeb||Mikko Hirvonen||7|
|2013||Sébastien Ogier||Sébastien Ogier||3|
|2014||Sébastien Ogier||Jari-Matti Latvala||5|
|2015||Sébastien Ogier||Sébastien Ogier||23|
|2016||Sébastien Ogier||Sébastien Ogier||21|
|2017||Sébastien Ogier||Jari-Matti Latvala||4|
|2018||Sébastien Ogier||Thierry Neuville||12|
|2019||Ott Tänak||Ott Tänak||7|
|2020||Sébastien Ogier||Elfyn Evans||5|
|2021||Sébastien Ogier||Kalle Rovanperä||8|
The unavoidable truth is that in the era where 25 points have been awarded for a win (from 2010 onwards), no eventual world champion has been this shy of the summit after two rounds.
Intriguingly, the driver leading after the first two events has only gone onto to win the championship just five times in 12 seasons (Sébastien Loeb in 2010, Sébastien Ogier in 2013, ’15 and ’16 and Ott Tänak in 2019).
But the biggest deficit that’s been recovered is the 12 points Ogier trailed Thierry Neuville by in 2018. That’s a points gap 3.5 times smaller than the one Evans faces this term. Hardly encouraging.
However a bad start does not make it impossible to be champion. Petter Solberg was up against it in 2003 with just one sixth place finish and two retirements after the first three events that left him trailing Richard Burns by 15 points – a gap that would be 35 points under the current system.
Burns himself pulled off an even greater comeback, suffering a similarly poor start to Evans’ 2022 back in 2001 with a retirement on the Monte and a 16th place finish in Sweden.
His deficit was saved by Monte Carlo winner Tommi Mäkinen crashing in Sweden and Sweden winner Harri Rovanperä not starting the Monte.
But a Mäkinen win in Portugal and third in Spain, coupled to a fourth and seventh for Burns, left Burns 21 points adrift in the era where points were only awarded to the top six finishers. Today, Burns would’ve been a massive 47 points back after four of 14 rallies.
So Evans can take solace from 2001. DirtFish’s calculations prove that had today’s points system been in place 21 years ago, Burns would still have won the title and actually done so more convincingly assuming the last stage was always the powerstage (but it must be caveated that this is not an exact science given drivers might have approached the last stage differently had it actually been a powerstage).
But herein lies the suckerpunch. Ever since a full season has run with the current points system and powerstage points for the top five in place, the lowest points total the champion has managed was 219 (Ogier in 2018) – and that was with 13 rounds, not 14, like in 2001.
|Position||Driver||Championship points||Powerstage points||Total|
The 2001 season was famously an anomaly, one where no driver had a clear run and the momentum kept yo-yoing between contenders. What are the odds on Rovanperä having a similar vein of fluctuating form? We’re prepared to guess they’d be quite short given Rovanperä’s last genuinely poor result due to a driving error was Rally Finland six months ago when he made too hard an impact after losing it over a jump.
“It’s definitely not been the start we wanted,” Evans conceded. “It’s not perhaps so usual for me to do two errors, especially in a row like that. Of course it’s not a good situation.
“I feel for the team, really. They’ve come with a great car, we’ve shown great promise on both events, but just not brought it home unfortunately. This needs to be addressed on one hand, but at the same time if you’re not relaxed and enjoying your driving then results won’t come either.
“We have to not make the same mistakes again in the coming rallies, but we also have to have a bit of faith I guess and continue doing our best.”
History is there to be broken, so just because nobody has ever been this far adrift of the championship lead after two rounds, it doesn’t mean Evans still can’t become world champion – particularly in a season like this where the regulations are new and hybrid failures could cost rivals big points hauls.
But Evans and co-driver Scott Martin aren’t under any illusion. History won’t exactly be boosting their hopes. Instead all they can do is start winning rallies and hope their rivals begin to drop the ball.