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Heart-to-heart with World Rally Champion Sebastien Ogier about his 2019 WRC campaign with the Citroen World Rally Team, surrendering the title after six years in a row, and his plans for 2020
Sirish Chandran: It was very disappointing that you had t o give up the championship. How hard have you worked this year and has this year been the toughest that you’ve ever faced?
Sebastien Ogier: I think we worked very hard for sure, but we always did that, you know...it’s a part of our job and my philosophy has always been the same as I enter a competition I always want to give my best and I think the team mates also tried their best, of course, but in this sport there can only be one winner at the end. We faced tough competition this year also, and though we didn’t manage to make it, it wasn’t such a bad season. We could achieve lots of podiums and victories, so we still had some positives in this season.
SC: What is the one area that you have to work for next year? Is it tarmac ability for the car to get up there?
SO: For sure it’s’ been a surprise this year to see that the car was not on a pace on tarmac because it used to be that the main strengths of the Citroen was that it was always very fast on every surface, so it’s been the bad news of the season, but it just means that we need to keep working even harder to be strong on this surface, and at the end most of the championship has been on gravel, so if you want to win anyway, you have to be strong everywhere, but that also means you can’t always focus on one area, you need to keep working on the overall.
SC: You contract has been renewed for one more year, does that mean that after the next year you retire?
SO: That’s always been my plan. I’ve been in the business quite long...so for sure there is a time when you want to do something else, maybe come down a little bit from the intensity of the championship because for sure it is requires a lot of energy and time away from you family, so for sure I want to enjoy a bit different things after that.
SC: So will one of your priorities for next year be to groom [Essapekka] Lappi to be the team leader, and take on from you?
SO: It’s always interesting to have strong teammates because if you have more drivers pushing the team or the car to the limits then it always gives you a chance to progress. So the more we have to push, the better it is.
SC: You talked about hard work when I was talking to the team yesterday. They also said that your level of commitment goes beyond hard work and that you and [Julian] Ingrassia are perfectionists. Is this something you always had or did it come with time?
SO: No I always think it has been in us and it’s many teammates who mention that aspect. Sometimes it can be a bit hard. We are very demanding to the people but we’re just as demanding towards ourselves. I always try to analyse what I’m doing wrong, and even when we win, we still try to see what we can do better the next race. I think that’s the way to stay on top and to stay competitive in a world championship.
SC: And when it come to the number of titles you have, do you ever feel the intensity or the hunger slowly dropping? You’ve already proved yourself so many times
SO: I think you can say that when chasing the first one you are maybe more hungry for it than afterwards, but when you still have the spirit of being a competitor and don’t like to lose, then you always try to stay in this position. On the other hand, you have the experience helping you to be stronger and you also have to calmness of already having done it. At the end it’s a bit like wine. When you’ve aged in rally, you have a good chance to get better.
SC: Talking about aging, do you have any dreams of going to the Dakar?
SO: Not really at the moment, it’s a not really in my mind. I have some ideas to try different things in different categories of motorsport, but not really interested with Dakar at the moment.
SC: Who do you think, apart from you, are the best drivers on the grid? Is it [Ott] Tanak? Is it [Thierry] Neuville? Where would you rate them?
SO: Of course you have to mention Tanak; he’s the world champion this year, and you never become world champion without talent. For sure he’s very good but it think the competitiveness in a world championship is very interesting at the moment, you see that there are many drivers capable of going very fast and winning rallies. The consistency as well: the last three years has often being a fight between Neuville, Ott, and us, and there’s a chance that it’ll continue like this in the future.
SC: And has it been the toughest championship that you have faced?
SO: It’s been a tough one, but I don’t know. It’s been a hard question to answer because I don’t think it has been easy this last season anyway, and we have to fight for the title in the last race. You tend to say it’s been tough because you don’t win but honestly, that’s how it is. I have no regrets. I gave everything I had this season, and you also have to admit that when a competitor is doing a great job you have to respect that and say well done, but at the same time you also tell them that next year we’ll come even stronger to beat them again.
SC: You started off in Citroen, and you came back this year. How has the team changed?
SO: Obviously in eight years a lot of things change, and also the context of the whole world has changed, with the economy and everything, so for sure the team, calculating a bit more in all that they do, investing a bit less in the sport because everything has to be more and more efficient, but it’s still a team with a lot of experience and a lot of competent people who will do good things.
SC: You were talking about the context of the world changing, and you had a situation where you were a four-time world champion with a massive factory operation, and then you had to switch to a privateer team. Was that hard at that point, going from such a well-oiled machine to a slightly smaller operation?
SO: It felt like a setback when it happened for sure, like the world is falling apart. You’re in a team where everything is working and earning a lot of success. But at the end, it brought me to a new situation and a new experience in my life. I had a really good time with the private team as well, and it was, honestly, very interesting for me. I made a lot of new people and I am very happy that it happened. In the moment it was like a big shock but in life the most important thing is to be healthy and happy work hard. New things are always coming, and you have to use every situation even if it looks bad at the moment, and maybe make it even better.
SC: And then when you switched back to Citroen, was it hard for you to come to terms with the car immediately or did they need to adapt the car to suit you specifically?
SO: It always needs some time to feel like 100 per cent at home, especially whne the championship is very competitive, and the contenders are as experienced with the material, it’s of course a challenge. But if you look, the decision was very good for us. But unfortunately after that we didn’t manage to improve the way we hoped but that’s a tough game and it’s never going to be easy.
SC: Was it a surprise in the middle of the season?
SO: I don’t know if you can use the word surprise, but of course there were some races where we weren’t too happy.
SC: There’s been a lot of talk about the new regulations that will come in and as a driver, what do you want to see? You probably will not be driving with the new car, but what would you like to see if you were to be driving?
SO: You follow the trend of society, you know. We all know the world is facing a major problem, and we have to make some acts in this direction, which means the automobile industry also needs to do that, and it’s happening. So I think motorsport has to do the same. At the moments, the rally scene is a bit behind, so I hope the rules get clear as soon as possible, and then motorsport can show the way as well.
SC: And would you support hybridisation and electrification?
SO: I think that’s a long debate. I’m not convinced that electric is the key to the future, but it’s one of the element we need to use now and that’s what looks better at the moment, but I think in the long term there will be probably better technology coming. I love nature, and I love the world, and to be honest I’m concerned about this topic as well, so that’s definitely something I’ll be more involved in the future.
SC: You talked about the fact that after next year your plan has always been to retire, when you see out your contract. But at the back of your mind, do you ever think that if you win three more titles you’d have a certain record?
SO: Honestly, no...In my eyes these records are not really important. I have already more than I had dreamed some years ago. I am very proud with what I’ve achieved. Of course you want more, but I’ve already made my decision to go somewhere else or do something else. There are so many things I still want to do in my life, and of course I’ll do my best to finish at a high next year, but this has never really been a target for me.
SC: You mentioned that the C3 was struggling on tarmac. Can you be a bit more specific about what really was not working out for you and the car?
SO: We had big problems with the balance. We were having a lot of understeer in some rallies. For this weekend we improved a bit that the balance was better, but the pace was still not great so we see that I was really trying. Of course I was not really fighting after the problems of day one, but still we were trying to drive as fast as possible, and sometimes we got close but not close enough. We also want to win stages and you need to be able to win stages if you want to win rallies, which means we need to carry on.
SC: What does it take to be dominant over a period of time in this rally and is it always difficult to remove someone who’s been dominant for a while?
SO: It’s a team sport, so first of all you need to have the chance to be with a strong team who can give you the support to win, a driver alone can achieve nothing. Also, for me it’s important to always ask yourself how you can be even better always try to push yourself and question yourself.
NOTE: The last round on the WRC calendar, the Kennards Rally Australia has been cancelled by the authorities due to critical bushfires in the New South Wales region. With the points until the Rally de Catalunya which took place back in October, Toyotas Gazoo Racing’s Ott Tanak is crowned the 2019 WRC Champion while the Hyundai Motorsport World Rally Team takes home the Manufacturers championship title.