Sébastien Loeb – the most successful driver the World Rally Championship has ever seen – has announced that he will in all likelihood hang up his competitive helmet at the end of 2011, but he insists the burgeoning form of young team-mate and namesake Sébastien Ogier has not forced his hand.
Loeb made his initial tentative venture into the WRC back in 1999 at the age of 25, winning his first world championship event in Germany three years later and finishing as runner-up in the title chase the season after that. Since 2004, the record-obliterating Frenchman has gone unbeaten, claiming every drivers' trophy since 2004. He is on the verge of adding an incredible seventh consecutive crown to his collection this year.
Of his 134 WRC starts, all-but two have come with Citroën – and a staggering 59 victories marks a winning ratio of 44 per cent, or not far off one-in-two. In almost three-quarters of the events he has entered, Loeb has finished up on the podium – but the Alsacien's dominance has come under threat of late from Ogier, almost ten years his junior and a man who has defeated him three times in the last five rallies.
However, in making his retirement revelation in an interview with French magazine Paris Match
, Loeb is adamant that he is stepping down of his own volition, and not out of any fear that he is about to be usurped as Citroën's number one driver by his compatriot.
“Yes,” he truthfully answered, when asked if being regularly beaten by Ogier would accelerate his departure. “I would say to myself that it isn't worth taking excessive risks to try to keep up with him – but it won't be him that ends my career. It's me who will take that decision, and that will doubtless be at the end of the 2011 season.”
The 36-year-old added that the 15 major accidents he has suffered over the past decade have also impacted his thinking process, as he hinted that his thirst for glory has now been amply quenched.
“That's what is making me envisage the end of my career,” he candidly confessed. “I reckon I've taken enough risks already, and I'm no longer prepared to keep on taking them. My sole motivation now is pleasure.”
Loeb recently agreed a one-year extension to his Citroën deal to take him up to the end of the 2011 WRC campaign – which will see him compete in the French manufacturer's new DS3 under the sport's revised regulations – and after that, he ponders, he may be interested in having more children to accompany his two-year-old daughter Valentine, who he quips he would 'encourage to go rallying' if the desire took hold of her.
Reflecting on the path that has carried him to where he is today, finally, the holder of the Légion d'honneur mused that back at the age of 22 when he was working with electric cables in a factory and barely earning the minimum wage, he was 'a long way' from forecasting what he would go on to become.
“I've been lucky enough to meet good people along the way,” he acknowledged. “They helped me to progress quickly, and I was able to seize the opportunities that were presented to me – that's my real success. I practice a sport that relies very much upon talent, and I'm lucky to have that. I'm also someone who is precise and gives a lot of thought to things – and rallying is all about such logic.”