That Sebastien Loeb’s unprecedented fifth straight World Rally Championship was buried deep beneath Lewis Hamilton’s F1 crown in Monday’s papers was a sign of two things: the magnitude and sheer drama of the Briton’s victory, and the predictability of the Frenchman’s own success.
And that is a shame. Loeb, a personable guy and a sensational driver, is a winning machine. But his career and his legacy have been blighted by one glaring flaw – timing –because his extraordinary talent has blossomed during what must go down as one of world rallying’s most ordinary periods.
Sure, Seb has taken on Tommi Makinen and Juha Kankkunen, the men whose records of four titles he has just eclipsed, but both were firmly in the twilights of their careers by the time Loeb got into his stride.
He scored several victories against Carlos Sainz and Colin McRae, modern-day greats both, but Carlos was thinking of retirement by then, and Colin was struggling to come to terms with ultra-sophisticated World Rally Cars that rewarded neatness more than balls-out commitment.
Which leaves Marcus Gronholm as a rival, and no one else. His 2008 team-mate Dani Sordo has been blown away; Ford’s Mikko Hirvonen and Jari-Matti Latvala have been boys against a man.
Loeb has also won in Finland on raw pace alone this year, a feat achieved by only three other non-Scandinavians (Sainz, Didier Auriol and Markko Martin, stats fans). Freed of championship considerations, he may well tick the still-empty box marked ‘victory in the Welsh forests’ on his CV in a few weeks’ time.
Trouble is, Seb is racking up a legacy that doesn’t seem to matter, because none of his fellow WRC stars look remotely capable of holding a candle to him.
He tests an F1 car later this month in a PR stunt for sponsor Red Bull, and part of me wants him to stick in a lap time good enough for the drinks firm to take him onto the grid instead of the forests. At least then he might have the competition that he would so clearly relish.