It all seemed business as usual for Volkswagen motorsport; they were 4 time world champions with both the manufactures and drivers tiles swept up. But in the following days after Wales rally GB VW dropped a bombshell, they were pulling out of the WRC.
The announcement came as a huge shock after Sebastian Ogier had taken his 4th consecutive victory at the Deeside based event. Team director Sven Smeets confirmed VW’s departure the following Wednesday stating “Of course, we regret the departure from the WRC very much as this was the most successful chapter in the Volkswagen brand’s motorsport history. The team has done great things”. VW’s dramatic motorsport restructure is believed to be connected to the ongoing ‘dieselgate’ scandal with VW’s sister brand Audi pulling out of the WEC endurance series.
In normal conditions Ogier’s bargaining rights would be near irresistible for any major WRC team; he is after all a 4 time world champion and seemingly unbeatable on any surface. But the timing of VW’s announcement now means there is a very limited time window for Ogier to secure a drive for the fast approaching 2017 season. This has potentially already closed down any deal with German based Hyundai motorsport. With both Danni Sordo and Hayden Paddon in long term contracts and Thierry Neville deciding to stay put after ongoing talks with Citroen, its seems like there is little chance Michael Nadon (team director) would have any room to accommodate the VW drivers, including Ogier.
One potential option for him is Citron Racing, the team he departed from in 2011. Team Principle Yves Matton must certainly be relishing the opportunity to have the 4 time world champion back in the citron squad, but whether Ogier can be squeezed in alongside the confirmed line up of Meeke, Breen and Lefebvre is perhaps somewhat doubtful. Also considering the bad tempered terms in which Ogier left Citroen, he may not feel comfortable returning to the citron Marque.
It is widely considered Ogier’s two targeted seats are with M sport or the newly founded Toyota Gazoo racing. Toyota in many respects would be a logical destination for Sebastian. The team has a large budget and will certainly be aiming for a long term future within the WRC. However, whether Ogier would be willing to take a gamble on the new, relatively untested Yaris WRC machinery is debatable. But then again that’s exactly what Ogier did when he departed Citroen for the VW project. That was however, undertaken with a full 12 months development alongside Ogier.
Ogier’s last port of call could be with the Cumbrian based outfit of M sport. Team manger Malcolm Wilson came within a whisker of signing Ogier in 2011 and now could be his best chance to date to grab the reigning world champion. There’s a lot in it for Ogier too, the 2017 spec fiesta has impressed in pre season tests and more importantly, like Toyota, there are a number of seats still available. One potential issue for M sport would be the budget required to sign Ogier. However, with Ogier still receiving a salary from VW until the end of 2017 a 1 year deal could be struck.
With the opening round of Monte Carlo a matter of weeks away, Ogier will have to make a swift and decisive decision. At present M sport seems like a likely bet as Mr Wilson will certainly be doing everything within his power to grasp the big O. Ogier’s decision will also affect how the remaining VW drivers Andreas Mikkelson and Jari Matti Latlava negotiate their seats for the upcoming season. Its seems unfathomable that only a matter of weeks ago the driver’s contracts seemed relatively sewn up, with only a handful of seats to be confirmed. Now though the drivers market has been blown wide open, if there’s anything to be sure of it’s that 2017 is going to be a very interesting year.