But the only consolation for the Frenchman might be the thought that he is at least in illustrious company. Here are five more drivers who have crashed out of the lead, complete with our own ‘despair’ rating...
Mikko Hirvonen, Rally Finland 2010
Hirvonen was leading his home rally when he got to his favourite stage of all, Urria, which was SS4. He was pushing hard, but the car just got out of shape over a crest and rolled spectacularly into retirement, in full view of TV cameras and giving the massed crowd of spectators something to remember. His Ford Focus WRC was reduced to metal pulp, but Hirvonen said afterwards: “I’m not going to let a crash like that scare me or distract me.” It didn’t.
Despair rating: Low. It was early in the rally, he was pushing hard, and he gave us all some great TV.
Jari-Matti Latvala, Rally Portugal 2009
This may have been one of the biggest shunts of all time, as Latvala rolled 17 times down a hillside and thought initially that it was going to hurt big time. In the end, he just walked away. Latvala took the lead on SS2, extended it on SS3 and then drove off the edge on SS4 after braking too late for a corner. For a while it looked like Latvala’s job was on the line, but so far this year he’s just confined his accidents to testing. Long may that continue.
Despair rating: Mild to high. Yes, it was early on in the rally, but Latvala had been told many times before to take it easy: a fact that he ruefully acknowledges.
Sebastien Loeb, Rally Australia 2005
Loeb was leading comfortably on the second day of the rally, having already been crowned World Champion after another dominant season in the Citroen Xsara WRC. The Frenchman was caught out by some loose gravel on a relatively fast left-hander and then skated straight into a tree, damaging the front of his car terminally. To add insult to injury, the incident eventually handed victory to his team mate Francois Duval.
Despair rating: Average. These things happen, but there was no need to be pushing so hard with a clear advantage and the title won. It was a tricky place that should probably have been marked with more caution in the notes.
Marcus Gronholm, Rally Great Britain 2002
Another accident that occurred on the second day of the final round of the season with the title in the bag, suggesting that this might be the sort of time when even world champions tend to take their eyes off the ball. Gronholm simply ran out of grip in his Peugeot 206 when the road surface changed to asphalt on the notorious Epynt stage in mid-Wales. Fellow Finn Jani Paasonen in the factory Mitsubishi soon joined him, so at least he wasn’t lonely.
Despair rating: Average. Gronholm had a very comfortable lead once more, but that stage is a very peculiar place as countless accidents have testified.
Colin McRae, Rally Great Britain 2001
McRae came into the final round of the season leading the championship, but he knew he had to defeat Subaru’s Richard Burns in what was widely touted as the ‘Battle of Britain.’ In fact there were four drivers still in with a chance of the title, so the only option was flat out from the begininng. McRae was straight into the lead, but a monumental accident on SS4, which sent his Focus flying on the Rhondda stage, meant that the title eventually went to Burns.
Despair rating: Not applicable. McRae only knew one way to drive.