Sébastien Ogier’s ready for Sunday now. He’s ready for a rest. Thirteen back-to-back full-time factory seasons in the World Rally Championship can do that to a driver. What’s more, Ogier has caught sight of his future. Not, he’s keen to point out, necessarily his immediate future, but his future nonetheless.
That glimpse into the 2022 or 2023-specification Ogier came at Sakhir on the first weekend of November.
Watching from the pitwall, Ogier witnessed another glorious World Endurance Championship 1-2 from his Toyota colleagues. Sébastien Buemi, Kazuki Nakajima and Brendon Hartley all did their bit to bring the #8 GR010 Hybrid home seven seconds ahead of the sister car.
The previous eight hours had given Ogier a real insight into where his future could lie. The following day, he was behind the wheel of the car on the same circuit for the WEC rookie test.
“Because of my full-face helmet, you couldn’t see, but I was smiling,” said Ogier. “Finally I was touching this thing, this car.”
The day was a good one. He bagged 80-odd laps and came away with a very real idea of what the sharp end of endurance racing is about. He enjoyed it, but there are still questions about the route to Le Mans. A hypercar’s a big step, maybe an apprenticeship in LMP2’s called for.
Either way, his enthusiasm for the next step is obvious.
But it’s going to come on his terms. And his terms involve a significant rest and recharge of his batteries.
I remember seeing Ogier shortly after his son Tim was born in the summer of 2016. Parenthood undoubtedly changes everybody, but I remember being slightly surprised at this adjustment in one who had previously shown himself so single-minded.
Don’t get me wrong, world rally drivers are humans with human emotions, but it’s not often that you find a driver talking so quickly about missing their family and wanting to get home as early as possible.
For the last five and a bit years, Ogier has been that man. On most European rounds, he’s been walking in through his front door while some of the teams are still completing their debrief in the service park.
His decision to retire came as no surprise – the news that he’d put it on ice for a season raised more of an eyebrow, but that was all about not allowing COVID deny him his chance to sign off on a championship he’s dominated for a decade on his own terms.
Now he is going. This week’s Monza Rally will be the big farewell to full-time Sébastien.
Right now I suspect we’re going to miss him more than he’s going to miss us.
“I don’t have the fear right now that I going to miss it,” he said.
“But it’s a fact that at some point it will happen]. I’m pretty sure. You know, at this moment we always want what we don’t have in life. So, right now I feel that I need – I want – to enjoy more time off, free time with my family.”
And that’s coming.
Before it arrives there’s the small matter of title number eight, which sits awaiting his collection just north of Milan.
Talking to Ogier about the week ahead, he’s more relaxed than I’ve ever known him to be. He’s never been the sort of super-emotional driver to lay bare every psychological aspect of his state of mind. But this is something else.
The fact that he’s had a go in his new car and he’s looking forward to a decent vacation with his lovely family has carried him to a different place.
Explaining that place, Ogier said: “I have this feeling that I’m very lucky and privileged to have this long career already with a lot of victories and a lot of titles already. So somehow that’s given me, I don’t know, a relaxed feeling.
“I made this decision [to retire] since a long time and I can say right now, I don’t fear the fact that my life can look different, because, somehow, it’s a wish I have. So, yeah, I feel pretty relaxed. But at the same time, I want to to finish with the title.”
On hearing his words, the more cynical might suggest that’s the start of the mind games; an attempt to lull team-mate Elfyn Evans – his only title rival – into a false sense of security.
His fellow Yaris WRC driver is 17 points behind him in the title race. The ball is very much in Ogier’s court.
Asked by DirtFish if he felt he was in a good place heading to Monza, Ogier replied: “That is definitely not a bad place to be in. I’ve had some more stressful positions [in championship fights]…
“You know when it was Australia in 2018, where Thierry [Neuville] was just behind me and I was going to a gravel event to open the road and I think Ott [Tänak] was still in the in the game. That was definitely higher [pressure].
“And for last year, going to the last event not with the full card in hand, where I knew I had to win definitely and hope for some things to happen to Elfyn.
“So this year I have all the cards in hand so I think that’s why I can feel that I can feel relaxed.
“And I don’t have any special pressure, but I want to finish on a high.”
Such is the air of tranquility for Ogier, he’s actually looking for rally week to build the pressure and focus.
“I need to feel the pressure anyway for Monza to deliver a good performance. I think I can say I always perform well in my career under pressure, it’s something which stimulates me.
“I know I still need to deliver in Monza if I want to be champion this year.”
Landing an eighth title would be an astonishing achievement for Ogier. And it’ll be nice to him smiling again.
He hasn’t won a WRC round since Kenya at the end of June. Departing the Safari Rally, he enjoyed a 34-point lead.
From then on, he’s managed just one podium from five events. Yes, he’s run first on the road on gravel rallies and paid a penalty which has frustrated him for much of his career, but he’s been a fairly disgruntled driver from time to time.
“I was a bit frustrated in the last rallies,” he continues. “I didn’t manage to perform as good as I wanted. For various reasons.
“Maybe I was thinking a bit too much championship and a little bit too much on the safe side. Also we were not optimum with a set-up on the last two rallies to start with.
“I was also maybe not in my best form – I was like physically a little bit like tired and especially after Greece. It was, let’s say, a couple of parameters together which was not at the best.
“But yeah, one more time. The most important thing you remember at the end is if you win the championship or not and, at the moment, we have all the cards in our hands to make that happen in Monza. So just have to go for it.”
One more time, champ.