And having been presented with a commemorative fleece to mark the occasion, an exquisite room overlooking the Mediterranean and the first of numerous glasses of Champagne, it was quite clear that Volkswagen had suddenly raised the bar when it came to presentation. And we hadn’t even left the hotel yet.
The main launch took place in the Sporting Club d’Hiver just next to the Casino: formerly the Rallye Monte-Carlo headquarters and media centre. It’s an art deco style building with a sumptuously baroque interior, but this time it was transformed into a shiny white stage, pierced with blue rays of light to echo Volkswagen’s corporate colours.
The actual presentation reeked of high-tech efficiency, with team principal Jost Capito one of the first onto the stage to talk of the team’s goals: podiums next year and wins in 2014. Then he introduced a natty audiovisual presentation - which was breathtaking - and the full driver line-up for the first time: Sebastien Ogier, Jari-Matti Latvala and Andreas Mikkelsen.
They all looked very neat in their blue VW fleeces, but if you examined them closely you would see that Jari-Matti’s fleece was entirely unbranded: a legacy of the fact that his Ford contract does not formally expire until the end of the year (even though he’s driven the Polo R WRC already).
One of those vehicles was on the stage (how exactly did they manage to get it up two flights of steps?): but not the rally car. Instead, this was the new limited edition Polo WRC road car: the fastest Volkswagen Polo ever made. But more about that in a separate article. There was so much going on that Capito pulled the wraps off it almost as an afterthought: a classic “here’s one we made earlier” moment.
Then, on to the individual driver interviews next door in what used to be the Rallye Monte-Carlo manufacturers’ room (where representatives of all the different manufacturers on the rally had their desks). While we spoke to all the drivers, legends from the past such as Markku Alen, Carlos Sainz, Juha Kankkunen and Jacky Ickx - resplendent in some particularly memorable red trousers - looked on. This is the newest team in the FIA World Rally Championship, but the atmosphere was already steeped in history.
Kankkunen - not a man to be easily impressed - agreed that it was the most impressive launch he had ever seen. And this was from a champion who had driven through the era when money quite literally grew on trees.
The best bit was yet to come though. On a podium erected outside the Casino, just like the ramp that the Rallye Monte-Carlo traditionally got underway from, we finally saw it: the real Polo R WRC in its new Red Bull livery. In the flesh the car looks even more purposeful than it does in photographs: those arches are outrageously wide and it’s low as well, seemingly hugging Monte Carlo’s famous asphalt. In short, it looks damned fast.
But all this was making people hungry. So on to dinner, where the drivers finally got to relax with their work over for the day. Dinner was served in the dining room of the fabled Hotel de Paris: a space that makes the inside of the Sistine Chapel appear understated. On the menu was foie gras, melt in the mouth beef and yet more Champagne. Or anything else you wanted.
In short, things weren’t being done by halves. And without yet even turning a wheel in anger, Volkswagen had managed to fire a serious warning shot at the opposition.