Ogier is not unbeatable, but what about Volkswagen?

Jari-Matti Latvala (FIN), Miikka Anttila (FIN) Volkswagen Polo R WRC (2015) WRC Rally Finland 2015

Only silly people and their friends would ever think that some driver is really unbeatable, it makes no sense and just isn’t possible. They all have bad days and they all have events where they simply cannot squeeze more speed from themselves or the car. Even the best ones. Sebastien Ogier and Sebastien Loeb are massively fast but their main weapon is their consistency. They will make mistakes, yes, but not too often and when you combine that with raw pace, you end up with multiple titles and countless victories. Their armour is thick and they’re hard to catch, but they do not posses some superpowers – only speed and consistency. “Only”. We constantly see flashes from other drivers, when they manage to get their combination of those two ingredients under control – we see them pushing for podium finishes and even challenge Ogier for the top positions. And that’s all it takes, some of his own medicine used against him, but this is where things get complicated. To be able to keep that kind of speed drivers must be made out of special stuff – they all can win stages or sectors, maybe even legs, but it takes a lot more to step up to winning rallies. It’s a massive challenge and a true test of focus, determination, skill and guts. We’re lucky to have Sebastien Ogier, I think – because he will, eventually, force someone to go into similar state of mind and deliver the kind of performance that made rally drivers famous. Put simply, you need to be a Rally Driver to beat Ogier. Not a stage winner or a could-be, but a rally driver with everything put behind this one goal. I am not giving up hope, we are, surely, getting there, hopefully before this Frenchman collects 10 titles and decides he would like to do some Pikes Peak and Dakar next.

On the other hand, both Ogier and Rally Finland’s triple winner Jari-Matti Latvala drive Volkswagens. And those are fast, but how fast are they really? Comparing budgets makes some sense, because it’s obvious Volkswagen did not spare much when they decided to launch their WRC programme. Their investments, organization and effectiveness are above others, so it’s natural to expect the car offers similar advantages, compared to other teams’ machines. But it’s not all about the car, no matter how fast it really is. It’s highly unlikely we will ever find out just how faster car A is over car B, or how car C is much better on surface X. There is another thing to keep in mind here and that is cars being built around drivers. There is no doubt Ogier is fully at home in Polo, that car is completely in tune with its driver and vice versa – you can hear Ogier complaining about all sorts of things, but unless I am mistaken, he very rarely complains about “feeling uncomfortable” or “lacking a good feeling in the car”. This, I believe, is the third key ingredient in the recipe of champions – speed, consistency and a fully tuned car. Maybe Volkswagens really are better and faster than others by some percent, but I am not sure that alone is enough to give them such a huge points advantage in the championship. Ha! But what if such a car is easier to drive, meaning Ogier can relax more while keeping the pace up while others have to risk more in order to match his speed? We do hear that from time to time, but again, it’s hard to say how much truth there is in this. Risks are definitely higher in a slower car or a car that is all over the place, but I simply refuse to believe this alone is so crucial to Volkswagen’s success and other teams’ apparent inability to match the pace of the leaders. I often wonder what rules would have to be changed to enable more drivers to have cars tuned and built to their liking?

If victories and titles will come from doing whatever it takes, in driving and engineering, then other teams and drivers should just follow Volkswagen’s lead. They know the rules and they’ve been in motor sport and car engineering business long enough to know all about strengths and weaknesses. Both teams and drivers should be able to catch up and match the pace, if not immediately, but over the course of a season or two, definitely. They must all improve, because that guy, and his team, are waiting for them, strong, but very much beatable.