Fortunately for Loeb there were no punctures this time, just another masterful display from the Frenchman, giving his rivals an ominous taste of what’s to come on the remaining asphalt rounds this season.
The ghosts of the past from last year - when a penultimate-day puncture ended Loeb’s hopes of a ninth consecutive victory - have been well and truly laid to rest, and the reward is likely to be a ninth FIA World Rally Championship.
The only man with a realistic chance of depriving him of the title is his team-mate Mikko Hirvonen: a man who may not be quite as quick as the French master but is every bit as consistent: a trait that has taken him to within one point of Loeb in the championship previously. The difference is that this time, he has the same car as the best driver in the world. And now he’s beginning to feel more confident with it after a slow start in Germany.
Right from when he joined the team, Hirvonen said that he could see straight away why Citroen was always so quick on asphalt: it was just a question of how to tap into that speed. He’s getting there, albeit slowly - and with the more consistent asphalt conditions of the sealed surface rallies that lie ahead, he can only get quicker.
But it would be wrong to say that the title fight is over already, and Loeb is the first to admit it. He’s quite right to be cautious: despite his burgeoning lead, it’s all gone wrong for him in the second half of the season before. And he may already have used up his luck for the year following Hirvonen’s exclusion from Vodafone Rally de Portugal and a quite unbelievable litany of disasters for the Ford drivers - ranging from accidents to skiing injuries - in the first part of the year.
Germany, though, showed that things are now looking a bit more positive for the Cockermouth-based team. A second place may not be quite the same as a win, but the Fiesta’s pace on asphalt has again marked it out as a potential winner on sealed surfaces. The irony and frustration for everyone at Ford is that 2012 has probably been its car’s most competitive season yet, but this hasn’t translated into big points. Not for the factory team at least.
Once again leading Ford privateer showed that there is plenty of hope for the future, principally through the efforts of Mads Ostberg who is increasingly demonstrating the speed and consistency needed to mix it at the top.
The young Norwegian has both qualities in abundance as his championship position shows, and if the rumours that Jari-Matti Latvala is Volkswagen-bound for 2013 are to be believed, then he is doing his best to stake his claim to a factory seat after an impressive performance in Finland as well.
However, if there is a vacancy in a factory team next year then one very strong candidate for a top job will be Chris Atkinson: and the Australian is merely on the cusp of showing just what he can do this year. A proper programme of five rallies in a competitive car will finally give him the chance to consolidate the hand-to-mouth experiences in different teams that he has managed to scrape together so far this year - and at least he now has the advantage of having a pretty good idea of the strengths and weaknesses of his rivals’ machinery, having driven every current-generation World Rally Car.
This is the man who beat Petter Solberg in their last season at Subaru together, don’t forget, in the car that has managed to score three podiums in the hands of Dani Sordo. The performance of the MINI in Germany showed once again what might have been had the make been able to commit to an entire season this year and had Sordo not had an argument with a hinkelstein.
It also underlined why both Sordo and Atkinson amply deserve a second chance with a full programme, but the fact that Atkinson will finish the whole year now puts him in pole position for a top drive in 2013, whereas Sordo will only be seen on two more events.
However, following yet another impressive performance that belied his age and experience, a near-certainty for any Citroen vacancy that arises will be Thierry Neuville. Belgian drivers have always gone well in Germany - Francois Duval probably came closest to breaking Loeb’s supremacy in the past - because the nature of the roads is so variable, with constantly changing grip, just like it is back home. As Loeb himself put it, the surface alters virtually from one car length to the next.
This was the event where Neuville was always going to shine, having found the necessary consistency to match his obvious speed, and he certainly delivered - right up to the point where he had a minor indiscretion.
The other factory seat that will certainly be up for grabs is one at Volkswagen, and with the German giant hinting that they might run a third car right from the beginning of the year, the battle between Andreas Mikkelsen and Sepp Wiegand assumed crucial importance over the weekend. Mikkelsen has the looks and the speed but Wiegand has the passport. The German manufacturer would love to uncover the next Walter Rohrl, even though it says that talent will be the determining factor. And now that the season is starting to draw to a close, many big decisions are going to have to be made very soon.