Sebastien Ogier is a cut above the rest in the WRC, if you didn’t know already.
After a dominating performance on this weekends Rally Mexico – the Frenchmen finished over a minute ahead of second placed Mads Ostberg – he leads the championship by a mighty 34 points. After THREE rounds.
To put things into perspective, Ogier himself said it was impossible to score a victory in Mexico, and Volkswagen team boss Jost Capito stopped shy of predicting the loss, but said that only a few major retirements would give Ogier a chance at victory.
The reason for the negativity is the new WRC rules whereby the Championship leader must sweep the roads for the first two days of a rally, and with the loose gravel in Mexico making the top layer slippery, it seemed Ogier was going to spend his weekend sweeping the road for the likes of Jari-Matti Latvala and Thierry Neuville to defeat him.
However – in true Ogier style – he was in the lead after Thursday and Fridays’ stages. In fact he led all the way through the rally and didn’t cede a lead which had been seen as impossible.
His job was made easier as Neuville and Latvala made errors throughout the rally, but Ogier’s lead after the first loop tells us all we need to know. No driver in the World Rally Championship is consistently quick, reliable and mistake free rolled into a single package.
Many have touted Neuville as the next champion, the young Belgian steering the Hyundai – which still has room for development – to victory on rally Germany last year, one of Ogier’s strongest events. But the 26-year-old is still to eradicate costly errors from his game.
Latvala is another who seems to make mistakes at inopportune times, and his nasty tendency to start rallies slowly – like Mexico – leaves Ogier with an instant advantage of being able to come out of the box firing while the Finn finds his rhythm. Then there are Latvala’s mistakes. No one doubts his pace but a niggle in the brain of this writer wonders whether Latvala would have lasted as a manufacturers in the mid 00’s…
So at the conclusion of round three, Ogier leads the championship by 34 points after his best ever start to a WRC season. Mexico was the perfect opportunity for likely contenders Neuville and Latvala to make up some points on the Frenchmen, instead he increased his lead massively – to 46 points over Neuville and an incredible 62 over Latvala. A small spin which almost cost him victory in Sweden the only blemish on his otherwise perfect year so far.
The man 34 points behind is Andreas Mikkelsen, who after his best start to a WRC season, is sitting in a 2014-spec Volkswagen, hardly a match for a double world champion in the latest tech machinery.
Hyundai are yet to match Volkswagen for pace on a consistent basis so Neuville will struggle to recoup the deficit on Ogier, although the South Korean firm are improving round by round. And then there is Latvala, who should have been Ogier’s biggest threat this year. 62 points behind after 3 rounds.
The only real question left is not whether Ogier will win the championship, but if VW give Mikkelsen the 2015-spec car after his tremendous start and give Latvala the older car. After all he had 60 points this time last year…