This argument is really resilient – Sebastien Ogier was able to claim his first WRC title (only) because Sebastien Loeb decided to -insert favourite reason here- this year. It seems Sebastien Loeb was/is so good that this year’s title would be his, all he needed to do is commit to a full season. Because when you’re Sebastien Loeb, stage wins, rally victories and titles just drop into your lap. Perhaps we all got too used to things over the last nine years. Things like Loeb’s killer instinct, superb level of control and almost supernatural consistency. He kept winning and scoring no matter how hard anyone else tried. He was that good, or others were so bad. Truth is, probably, somewhere in the middle. But things change.
Sebastien Ogier won his first WRC title yesterday. He is young enough to win more titles, that’s for sure. Naturally, and based on 2011 clashes with Loeb, we see Ogier as the next big thing in rallying. He is often mentioned as one of the biggest reasons behind Loeb’s decision to quit the WRC this year. Ogier is, no doubt, fast, but he isn’t the only one. During Loeb’s era there were drivers who impressed with their speed and courage, but none was able to combine the two and challenge Loeb. Then came Ogier and, after some growing during first WRC seasons, he was able to put some pressure on the undisputed champion. Based on that we now see Ogier as the next Loeb (stupid phrase and I hate it to bits) – we disregard the age difference, we disregard the lack of proper comparison runs between the two (it could have been this year), we just see Ogier as the new Loeb. But Ogier is not alone.
There is a new Ogier coming up, and he promises to be Ogier’s Ogier. A thorn in Seb’s side. Lucky Ogier will not have to wait for years for someone to come up with the winning combination of speed, skill and control, driving a competitive car. Thierry Neuville is all that – despite the fact that he is yet to score his first WRC win. Observing young Belgian’s pace in the last couple of rallies I cannot but imagine what 2013 would have been like with Loeb around.
No, Loeb would not have an easy job in winning the 10th WRC title. Perhaps he would win it in the end, but it would be one hell of a season. Because Ogier is not the only one able to match Loeb’s pace in, more or less, consistent manner. Thierry Neuville, the leader of Qatar M-Sport team and one of the leading figures of the new generation, would see that Loeb (and Ogier) have real struggle on their hands.
Thierry Neuville is even more dangerous to Ogier than latter ever was to Loeb. There are no conflicts in Neuville’s camp, he is setting the pace and is in position to carefully pick the next step in his career. There is no pressure on Neuville. Maybe we lost Loeb, but this new era is shaping to be a very exciting one. If Neuville continues like this, there will be no clear favourite next year, and that is a very encouraging thought.
Perhaps my point of “no, Loeb would not just walk up to yet another WRC crown and take it without a big fight” makes more sense.