Massive news out of the WRC today as Citroen have secured the services of former Ford #1 Mikko Hirvonen going forward. In an uncharacteristic press conference held by the 2011 champions, Hirvonen was announced as teammate to 2011 drivers champion and arch rival Sebastien Loeb. If you can’t beat them, join them right?
We all knew it couldn’t last from day one. Sebastien Loeb and Sebastien Ogier that is. The two had a very public falling out this season to which we have not seen since Lewis and Fernando a few years back. To amazing talents on one team is just not conducive to a happy workplace environment. Loeb was critical of Citroen for allowing Ogier equal status at the start of the year. The two French aces exchanged wins as was to be expected. After Loeb resigned with Citroen, Ogier was asked to move aside a number of times to allow the most successful rally driver in history. Ogier refused until he was mathematically eliminated from the championship hunt. This left the French manufacturer with a real dilemma. Loeb was going to be with the team until 2013 and that was not the original plan. Ogier was groomed to be Loeb’s successor and it showed on stage. With Ogier’s exit from the team, this will allow for proper competition between the two.
Hirvonen comes from Citroen’s main rival (and only for a number of years) Ford. The Finn has been so close to the drivers title in years past, but has not been able to secure glory. Mikko had a chance this season heading into Rally GB, but failed to stay in the rally when it counted most. Ford commended Hirvonen’s performances by granting him #1 status within the team. While faster, Latvala was never in a position to fight for the title as his consistency issues would continue to plague.
This is a questionable move for Hirvonen however. Can he finally taste championship glory behind the wheel of a DS3? Probably not as long as Loeb remains. Mikko has been brought in as a solid points scoring #2 driver. The guy finished and scored points in every event this year minus Great Britain. He is calm and collected and will likely offer little challenge to Loeb’s supremacy while on the same team. I am led to believe Olivier Quesnel will make sure of that! This gives Citroen a very solid lineup going forward though when you think about it. Hirvonen will offer Citroen solid finishes and the chance of victory in the event Loeb crashes into more motorists.
This goes beyond drivers however. This will give Citroen an intimate knowledge of Ford and the Fiesta as a rival. With Mikko’s departure, Citroen gain a tactical advantage against Ford in knowing how the car works and what technological aspects that make the Fiesta tick. This cannot be underlined enough as the cars will still be relatively new next year and any information can prove vital against a main rival.
We now wait for Ford and M-Sport to sort out the contractual details of Ford’s participation in the WRC. Once that is finished, we could expect to hear possibly Sebastien Ogier confirmed at the blue oval. This would give Ford a lightning quick lineup and possibly their best chance at beating Citroen for the title. Ogier will have one thing in mind as he starts his career over with a new team. Beat Sebastien Loeb at all costs. Roll on 2012!