The 2014 WRC season has reached its midpoint, and we begin our series of half-term driver reports by analysing Sébastien Ogier’s performance behind the wheel so far.
As FIA World Rally Championship title defences go, the first half of the season has been almost perfect for the determined Frenchman.
Yes, he’s been driving the best car. And yes, he’s benefited from others hitting trouble at the vital moment. But there’s no denying that Ogier has a formidable knack of getting the very best performance out of himself when he needs it most. And as his rivals know so well, that usually translates into yet another rally win.
The VW Motorsport team leader has won five out of seven events so far this year and has already scored 166 points – 12 more than he had at the same stage of the season in 2013.
And with a 50-point lead over team-mate and chief title rival Jari-Matti Latvala heading into Neste Rally Finland, Ogier could literally spend the next couple of events lying on a sun-drenched beach and still be leading the points standings on his return. That’s how dominant he’s been. There is no better WRC driver at the moment.
The way he took the fight for victory to Latvala at Rally Italia Sardegna. Ogier suffered massively as the first car sweeping the rocky gravel stages, but he didn't panic. He set himself the target of staying in touch with leader Latvala and then gradually turned up the heat as his road position improved and his determination became stronger. He eventually forced Latvala into a costly mistake and victory was his. This was a drive of a true champion.
A certain snow bank at Rally Sweden is sure to give Ogier nightmares for years to come. He had done the hard work by carving out a 5.8s lead after seven stages – a great effort as the first car on the road. But he made an uncharacteristic error a stage later and lost 4m 30s after sliding harmlessly off the road and getting stuck in a snow bank. He did recover to finish sixth but he knew Sweden could and should have returned more. “I’m stupid,” he said bluntly afterwards.