A few months back, I wrote a piece making the case that Sebastien Ogier, moving to Citroen would be a win-win. If he is successful, then he further cements his place in the “greatest of all time” conversation. On the flip side, Ogier’s presence within Citroen places the pressure squarely on the team. If they struggle with a 6 time world champion in their squad, then they need to do some serious soul searching. In the best case scenario, Ogier comes out with his reputation even more distinguished, but at the very worst, it will at least be mostly untarnished and intact. While this is all well and good, it doesn’t answer the question that will be another major storyline in 2019. Can Sebastien Ogier rescue the Citroen World Rally Team?
One might argue that the term “rescue” is a bit too strong to describe Citroen’s current situation. Are things really that bad? I would make the case that yes, things at Citroen really are that bad. In the post-Loeb era from 2014 until the present, Citroen has not won a driver’s or manufacturer’s championship. In addition, over that span, they’ve only won 6 rallies which is the fewest for any manufacturer over that time frame. Couple these facts with the ham-fisted way that Citroen handled the Kris Meeke situation this past season, and it paints the picture of a team in decline or even crisis. Remember, this is the team that racked up 9 world championships and 78 rally victories with Sebastien Loeb from 2003 through to the end of 2013.
It is for these reasons that Citroen made the effort to get Ogier on their team for 2019. Remember that M-Sport went through a very similar dry spell from 2008 until 2017 when Sebastien Ogier joined the team. Clearly Seb has the skills needed to turn a team around. However, even though he was joining a financially strapped team in M-Sport back in 2017, this season, he is joining a team that has been quite frankly floundering for the past 2 years. Yes, Ogier is a legend, but is he the only missing piece needed to turn things around at Citroen? I don’t like to reference circuit racing too often on a rallying blog, but taking a look at what Fernando Alonso has (or more accurately hasn’t) done at McLaren over the past few seasons can give some insight. Even employing a driver with his undoubted skills wasn’t enough to turn a struggling team into a winner. Will Citroen have the same problem?
So, will Sebastien Ogier be enough to right the ship at Citroen? I’ll be honest, I’m not so sure. Then again, I was completely wrong when I said the same thing about Ogier going to M-Sport back in 2017. That being said, there are a lot of things that I don’t love about Citroen right now. It is still hard to understand how a team with their resources flopped so badly after taking a year off to design a brand new car. It also appears from the outside that there is some invisible force pulling the strings from above. How much control does the Citroen World Rally Team really have over their own destiny? What’s the climate like inside the team? If you go off some of the information that has surfaced since Kris Meeke got sacked, things sound pretty tense. This could indicate a really toxic environment that even Sebastien Ogier might not be able to overcome. Despite all of this, I do want to see things turn around for Citroen this season. No, they will never give me the “warm fuzzy feelings” that teams like M-Sport and Toyota do, but if Citroen fail, then the World Rally Championship, and as a result, the sport of rallying as a whole suffers. If Citroen don’t find their way and the program’s plug gets pulled, there will be a far-reaching ripple effect of consequences. No one wants this to happen, so for that sake, let’s hope that Sebastien Ogier is able to help make things right at Citroen.