Sebastien Loeb: what it all means.
After all, he probably spends more time in an Airbus than most employees of Air France. And that’s fundamentally why, after 12 years of FIA World Rally Championship competition, the world’s most successful rally driver has decided to spend more time at home in Switzerland with his wife Severine and young daughter Valentine (the person he says who “makes me laugh more than anyone else in the world”). Because after you’ve won everything there is to win and earned more money than you could ever spend, there are not many other reasons to carry on.
Equally, at 38, Sebastien isn’t ready for a pipe, slippers and carriage clock quite yet. So there’s going to be a semi-retirement: some rallying, looking after his sportscar team and a new project with Citroen - which will probably be the World Touring Car Championship.
In theory, it’s perfect. Seb gets to do the rallies he enjoys, has an exciting new project to sink his teeth into, and most importantly of all, he spends less time watching films at altitude.
But - and there is always a ‘but’ - it’s going to be hard for Seb to cut the cord when the time finally comes. So is this why his programme is starting on Rallye Monte-Carlo and remaining a bit open-ended afterwards? Because somebody as competitive as an eight-time world champion would find it very hard to swallow the prospect of being out there, but not really able to defend his title.
Deep down, maybe Sebastien thinks he can still win a 10th title even without doing all the rallies. He’s done it before: in 2006 he missed four rallies with a broken shoulder and the end result was the same. So if Sebastien gets to halfway through the year and finds that he’s leading the championship, is he really going to walk away? Really? Hence the reason for keeping the exact details of his partial programme somewhat vague. Because this way, Seb doesn’t have to really fully commit to anything until it’s time for the plane to leave for Sweden. The big question is: will he be on it?
Sebastien is a fantastic ambassador for the sport and his colleagues are certainly going to miss competing against him. Although at least one (who had better remain nameless) has said that he can’t wait for Seb to leave, as then someone else might stand a chance of winning something. It’s nothing personal: just an amusing but understandable point of view from one of the many people for whom a Loeb hammering has been a regular ritual humiliation.
And that’s going to be the flip side to Seb’s departure: next year, we’re sure to see some new winners on the top step of the podium - and probably some new manufacturers as well. Which is bound to be exciting, isn’t it?