Out of many forms and shapes of pressure, I wonder which one Sebastien Ogier is feeling the most heading into another round of this year’s World Rally Championship. Except that it isn’t just another round. It’s a rally like no other, a spectacle which will, no doubt, go down in history and which, if recce is any indication, will be completely overrun with spectators and fans. It’s the clash of the titans, we can safely say – the duel of kings and the battle of two drivers with, what looks like, equal combination of immense talent, raw speed and pure skill. Perhaps we’re all making a too big of a fuss about all of it, right? Wrong. This year’s Rallye de France will be unique in so many ways. Sebastien Ogier is on brink of securing his first title, Sebastien Loeb is taking a final bow and world will have an opportunity to witness this.
This battle, this collision of two generations happened maybe too late, maybe. Maybe Sebastien Loeb should have stayed for another season or two, perhaps Sebastien Ogier should have bit the bullet and remained at Citroën to take over the reigns once Loeb decides to quit. But that’s not how these guys operate, it’s just not their DNA. We all feel a bit sorry because we were “robbed” of a full season of Seb vs Seb clashes, but realistically, Loeb should be praised for sticking around, regardless if that was his call alone or team’s as well. We got to see them compete against eachother four times this year and we’ll have a grand finale in France, by the looks of things. No, we should definitely not be ungrateful here.
But about the pressure on Mr Ogier. He won’t admit it, that’s for sure. He’s got that same carelessness that Loeb had. He never radiates pressure or anger or concern. That’s not to say he doesn’t feel like that somewhere deep inside, but like Loeb, his poker face is immaculately expressionless. Was he fast enough on a decisive stage? “Yaah, it was good, stage was good, I’m happy” says he with a grin. For sure (love this phrase) there is a trigger for anger mode somewhere, we saw it in Loeb’s case when he was furious after being held up on a stage, but these guys don’t explode easily. I’m quite confident that’s part of what makes them so fast and under control on stages as well.
Perhaps Ogier does not feel any pressure at all. Perhaps he is focusing more on “got to beat that short guy” vs winning the title. Because title will come even if he fails in France. Unless something unexpected happens. Which rally is famous for. So do you sacrifice a (almost) certain title for the bragging rights of beating Loeb in his backyard? Would you be ready to push beyond your limits to show everyone that no, you are not leading the championship just because Loeb is not there, because you’re at least as quick as Loeb? In my limited understanding of what it must feel like, I’d say Ogier is probably aiming for the most obvious solution and that is to go all out on Loeb, all cards on the table, pedal to the floor… if it works, grand, if not, he’ll go down in the blaze of glory, if you’ll excuse my horrible choice of words here. English and all…
But should Ogier push like mad? Should he risk a mistake? Because if that mistake happens, people will say “ohlala, but of course, it was in the heat of the battle, if it wasn’t for that mistake he would have won”. They’ll say that today, but tomorrow they’ll flip the record and switch over to good old “of course he made a mistake and Loeb didn’t because he ain’t Loeb”. How do you keep everyone happy? By being yourself and do what you do best.
Every true rally fan will have a clear idea of what are the stakes in this game. Loeb can afford to do more and he’s got that bonus of being excused of whatever it is he achieves in France this weekend. Whether he wins or crashes, makes a mistake and come second to Ogier, he will be praised not for this race but for his fantastic career. Loeb has a guaranteed classy exit no matter what he do. Perhaps he can pull the overly-classy gentleman rally driver trick and say “I wasn’t pushing too hard, title and the future are Ogier’s, I congratulate him”. And I don’t for a second think that Loeb will not stand behind each of those words at the end of the day.
Are you lost already in this mumbo-jumbo I just wrote? I surely am. But that’s the kind of what this rally is and will be about. It’s too much to grasp and squeeze in one article and too much emotion we, as mere mortals, cannot even begin to fully understand.
For what it’s worth, I believe both Sebastiens will go flat out from the word go and see where that takes them. Anything less would make them unworthy of all the credit, no matter how silly it sounds. They’ll clash for one final time and it’s going to be fantastic. And it would be, in my opinion, beautiful to see Loeb win the event and Ogier claim the title. The moments of them standing on the podium, congratulating each other would really mark our generation for years, maybe decades to come.
So gentlemen please, do your fucking best! And screw the teams and their points, this thing is personal now!!!
As a side note, I root for anyone else but these two to win this thing. Aren’t you other drivers already sooooo pissed off by all the Seb-o-rama? Well, do something about it!