Citroën has underlined that it 'would not prevent' record-breaking multiple World Rally Champion Sébastien Loeb from making his F1 debut – provided it comes outside of the WRC season – as the Frenchman expressed his 'surprise' that his remarks about compatriot Sébastien Bourdais had been 'misquoted or taken out of context to spread rumours'.
Over the weekend of the German Grand Prix
at the Nürburgring – one speculated to have been Bourdais' last in the top flight with Scuderia Toro Rosso, following a disappointing and lacklustre sophomore campaign during which the quadruple former Champ Car king has found himself routinely outpaced by rookie team-mate Sébastien Buemi – quotes were attributed to Loeb to the effect that he would happily replace his countryman at the small Faenza-based squad should he be asked.
The comments in French sports newspaper L'Équipe
were understood not to be without foundation, given that the 52-time rally-winner tested successfully for STR parent outfit Red Bull
Racing at Barcelona late last year – impressing the energy drinks-backed outfit with both his pace inside the car and feedback out of it – and is reported to have since spent some time at RBR's Milton Keynes factory and in its simulator three weeks ago.
However, the man himself – under contract at Citroën until the end the 2009 WRC campaign, with negotiations for 2010 'in the process of being finalised' – has insisted that his attentions remain entirely on chasing a sixth consecutive drivers' world championship crown.
“I know what my priority is,” stressed the 35-year-old Alsacien, the most successful driver in official WRC history. “It is the World Rally Championship – but what would you expect a driver to answer if asked whether he would like to drive a Formula 1 car? That said, with four rallies still to come, we have our work cut out if we want to secure a sixth drivers' title and a fifth manufacturers' crown. For the moment, my energy is fully focused on that goal.
“I am a little surprised by the turn this whole business has taken, and above all by the way what I said has been misquoted or taken out of context to spread rumours. It just isn't really my style to make declarations in the press about Sébastien Bourdais.”
Loeb has also tested Peugeot's Le Mans 24 Hours-winning 908 HDi FAP and competed in the legendary round-the-clock La Sarthe classis for Pescarolo Sport in both 2005 and 2006, finishing second outright alongside fellow home favourites Franck Montagny and Eric Hélary at his latter attempt. He currently sits a single point behind Ford rival Mikko Hirvonen at the head of the WRC championship standings following a torrid mid-season run, and with 40 points remaining up for grabs, Citroën Racing director Olivier Quesnel affirmed that there can only be one sole focus for the near future.
“Citroën Racing has never prevented its drivers from expressing their passion for motorsport,” stated the Frenchman. “As we have already said, Sébastien Loeb is shortly due to do some testing with the Peugeot 908 HDi FAP, because I know how important it is for him to try his hand at different activities as a driver. Should Seb get an opportunity to race in F1, our reaction would not be to prevent that from happening, so long as it would happen after the final round.
“We've got the challenge of Rally Finland coming up at the end of the month. The 2009 World Rally Championship is turning out to be a thrilling contest, and I just hope that we will succeed in sparking the same sort of media interest as these rumours concerning Formula 1 have.”
Whilst reigning British F3 Champion and current RBR and STR reserve driver Jaime Alguersuari
is widely tipped to be unveiled as Bourdais' immediate replacement from the Hungarian Grand Prix, it has been noted that Loeb remains a possibility to fill the cockpit in the inaugural Abu Dhabi finale on 1 November, which takes place a week on from the twelfth and last round on the 2009 WRC calendar in Wales.