The biggest talking point of ADAC Rallye Deutschland was the relationship between Citroen’s two drivers, which in many ways was a shame as it slightly took the edge of the fact that their employer has now become the most successful manufacturer in the history of the World Rally Championship. That’s a fantastic achievement for a company that was until recently best known for creating the 2CV.
Germany was also the very first asphalt victory for Sebastien Ogier, in the same place that Sebastien Loeb claimed his very first overall victory, back in 2002. So cause for celebration all round - or so you would have thought. Instead the atmosphere post-rally was best described as guarded.
Citroen should be on top of the world right now: against stiff competition from Volkswagen they have succeeded in securing the services of the world’s best rally driver for another two years. Loeb thought long and hard about a change, but the biggest vindication of his decision to remain at Citroen comes from the fact that so many of his rivals say that he should have moved on. There’s little altruism at the top end of the WRC: the only reason why Loeb’s opposition would suggest a change so enthusiastically would be if they thought that it would weaken him.
But there was clearly a lot going on behind the scenes of the new deal, which Loeb covered with his statement that “Citroen really proved to me that they wanted me to stay.”
Lots of people have interpreted that as a favourable financial deal, but that’s not entirely correct. Of course, unless a team is contemplating signing Mother Theresa, money is always going to be a powerful incentive - but Loeb has earned a lot of that already and Volkswagen would have offered him more.
No, instead what Loeb means is that Citroen were willing to do the deal on his terms. Which firstly means that if Loeb wants to stop at the end of next year he can, and secondly means that he can insist on a structure that enables him to function at his best. That includes a team being a team around him, rather than a selection of individuals with different interests. A team, in Loeb’s book, does not make life difficult for its drivers, like it did in Greece when only Ogier rather than Loeb received split times.
A team works together. So if you’re leading, with a championship advantage, you expect support, not opposition. It’s sensible enough.
That would have been the gist of the negotiation Loeb had with Citroen’s senior management over the last few weeks - as he does not exactly see eye to eye with team principal Olivier Quesnel any more, who regards Ogier as the future of the team. Long-term, of course, Quesnel is right because by 2013 Loeb will be 39.
Already though there has been a subtle yet perceptible regime change at Citroen. Before lunchtime on day two in Germany the positions had already been decided (or “managed” as Loeb preferred to call it) in favour of the seven-time world champion. Previously, they had been allowed to fight.
Understandably, Ogier was not happy - but when push came to shove, he obeyed the orders to the letter. Ogier knows that his time will come, but quite naturally he wants it come as soon as possible.
So when Loeb punctured, after all that had happened, Ogier allowed himself a smile. His only real mistake was to say exactly what he was thinking - that there is a bit of justice in the world - rather than something glib about this all being part of the sport and nothing is decided until the finish.