JAN 25th 2016

Two Things We Learned This Weekend – Astonishing Ogier and Ridiculous Refuelling

Ogier is (still) a class apart in the WRC

An indisputable fact: Sébastien Ogier is the best rally driver in the world. I know that’s a bit like pointing out that it’s going to get dark tonight, but right now the Frenchman’s driving is like something from another world. And for those, like me, brought up on a diet of super-beings hurling powerful rally cars down narrow, slippery roads between trees and rock faces, it deserves lauding.

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The 32-year-old Volkswagen ace yesterday blitzed the Monte Carlo for the third time on the bounce, joining an exclusive club of aces comprising Sandro Munari (1975-’77), Walter Röhrl (1982-’84), Tommi Mäkinen (1999-’01, plus ’02!) and Sébastien Loeb (2003-’05, plus four more between 2007 and ’13).

Already a three-time World Champion, Ogier’s 33rd career win – all of them with countryman Julien Ingrassia alongside – was delivered in his consummate style: he let British star Kris Meeke take an early overnight lead, jousted with him during the first full day, then got the hammer down and pulled away, holding on for an almost-two-minute victory over the sister Polo WRC of Andreas Mikkelsen. Meeke, who’d valiantly given chase for much of the rally, eventually hit a rock and damaged his car beyond repair, while Ogier’s team-mate Jari-Matti Latvala also overcooked it while trying to keep up with his esteemed team leader.

On the evidence of the Monte, Ogier’s too good for them at the moment. Comparisons with that other great rallying Sébastien, Monsieur Loeb, have been made on a rally-by-rally basis since the two Sebs duked it out in identical Citroen DS3s in 2011, both taking five wins each, but Loeb nailing his eighth title in the final reckoning.

Whether Ogier can emulate his nemesis’s record-busting stats – 78 wins between 2002 and 2013, as well as nine consecutive drivers’ titles between 2004 and 2012 – is unknown, but consider this: Loeb was also 32 in the season he took his third title – in 2006 – and at the end of that year had only amassed 28 career wins.

You may well argue that he’s armed with the best car and facing little opposition (what a shame Meeke’s only doing a part season) but none of that is his fault. You’ll find the majority of great champions had good cars at their disposal – that’s the perfect storm of driver/machinery harmony.

What you can’t dispute is that he’s doing a cracking job. Or that watching him at work generates a dual sense of excitement and inadequacy.

F1 refuelling debate runs dry 

After raking up the issue of refuelling possibly returning to Formula 1 in 2017 some seven years after it was banned, the sport’s powers-that-try-to-be have decided that it probably won’t now make it into the final edit for consideration. Phew!

Outlawed at the end of 2009, mid-race refuelling and the strategy conundrums that came with it were not missed the following season. Indeed, the racing that year was better, yet it was on the list of things that might help spice up the show, something fans, drivers, teams, promoters all agree needs to happen.

FIA president Jean Todt claimed recently that the cost of lugging all the kit around the world and paying the staff to operate and maintain it – €50,000 per year – would be a drop in the ocean on a team’s balance sheet, yet after a meeting of the F1 Strategy Group and the F1 Commission in Geneva in the past week that figure was felt to be derisory in the extreme.

It all seemed a bit ironic that at a time when the eye-watering cost of designing, building, racing and developing a pair of Grand Prix cars is very much in the spotlight, the refuelling thing was ever mentioned. Add to that the perception that cars now powered by small-capacity, turbocharged, energy-efficient engines should need topping up with fuel halfway through a race and it all seemed bizarrely contradictory.

Fortunately, it seems, the people who make these things happen, or not happen, have now seen sense and confined the idea to the receptacle marked ‘rubbish’.

Lead image courtesy of Red Bull/WRC

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