Toyota technical director Tom Fowler has admitted he’s worried about life without Sébastien Ogier next season.
Seven-time champion Ogier will sign off on his full-time WRC career at the end of this year before embarking on a program expected to be split between endurance racing and the WRC with Toyota in 2022.
Chasing an eighth title this year, Ogier has been the most consistent of the four factory Yaris WRC drivers and Fowler admits his permanent presence will be sorely missed.
“Obviously, it’s always a worry for the team when you have a key driver like that leaving,” Fowler told DirtFish.
“I guess having that driver go into some sort of retirement is easier to accept than if they’re leaving for another car or a salary increase. But in terms of pure performance, Séb delivers for us.
“To not have that feeling of having that guy with us as we go into every round in 2022… well, it’s a worry to not have that anymore.
“Hopefully we’ll have that sometimes, he’ll be with the team sometimes and I’m sure he still be in the [Toyota] group and able to help.”
Predictably, Fowler’s view on Ogier’s departure wasn’t quite on the same page as Ogier’s former team principal Malcolm Wilson. Careful to make clear his admiration of Ogier, the M-Sport managing director ventured the championship might be a more entertaining and closer run thing without him (read below).
“Sometimes Séb does rallies like you can’t believe,” said Fowler. “Sardinia was one of those.
“Yes, all the talk of being first on the road is boring, but look at the performance. It made no sense that, starting where he started on the road, that he was the guy jumping in the sea on Sunday afternoon.
“That’s what Séb can do. Look at the comparison with Ypres. For months, everybody had been talking about the one guy [Thierry Neuville] winning in Ypres and then he won the stages and won the rally. That was boring.
“Compare that with what Ogier did in Sardinia. The great thing about Séb is the way he pushes. When he’s on normal speed, the onboards look like he’s just taking a normal drive – but when he’s on the maximum it’s like something out of a movie.
“For sure, we’ll miss that with Séb.”
With Elfyn Evans and Kalle Rovanperä remaining with Toyota next season, Ogier’s Yaris WRC is expected to be split between him and returning Esapekka Lappi. Current speculation is that Lappi will tackle the lion’s share of the 13 rallies next year.