A visibly relaxed Ogier delivered an early salvo in the fight to be crowned 2021 World Rally champion this morning despite low-lying fog and changeable grip proving a challenge for all the leading drivers.

He punched in fastest times on three of Friday’s four tests on alpine roads north of Bergamo near the picturesque Lake Como to lead title rival Elfyn Evans by 6.5 seconds.

The only hiccup came on the second run through 'Valla Imagna' when his Yaris ended up on two wheels after he nibbled too much road at a left hairpin and caught the verge.

The Frenchman does not necessarily need to win Rally Monza but if positions remain unchanged by close of play on Sunday, he would clinch an eighth title by 24 points should neither he nor Evans manage to score Power Stage points.

“It was tough [this morning] – but maybe not as tough like last year,” said Ogier. “At least there is no snow or heavy rain.

“A change of grip for sure, but still more consistency and a good car to drive. So far, the plan was to enjoy it and so far we enjoy. It’s all good at the moment.

“When you enjoy driving most of the time you are going fast," he added. "It was a long time ago that we did not start the rally with a good set-up, so it feels good to finally see the times coming."

His upbeat mood is in stark contrast to last month's Rally Spain where the seven-time champion admitted post event he had never changed so much on a car as he tried to unlock the Yaris's true potential on asphalt.

Fourmaux has learned a hard lesson - Millener

M-Sport Ford’s Adrien Fourmaux was the first driver to be caught out by this morning’s greasy conditions. On stage three – the 6.8-miles of ‘Gerosa’ – he ran wide on a left-hander and clipped the bank on the right, with the impact flipping his Fiesta into a roll.

Fourmaux went against the grain by opting to bolt Pirelli’s soft compound rubber onto his car - but the decision didn’t have the desired effect.

M-Sport Ford Team Principal Richard Millener admitted the outcome had left the young Frenchman "gutted" and put the experience down to character building.

“We have ended up where we are, unfortunately, and I said to him, 'This is one of those tough lessons to learn',” said Millener.

“If you go back a number of events when he had his strongest performances, Adrien would say it wasn’t all plain sailing. It’s challenging but he has learned a lesson here. It’s one to take on board.

“It’s a shame for him because I think he could have been competitive here; his shakedown time was good, he is very good on the technical stages like the circuit stages here so yeah, it’s a shame.

"He is upset, he is gutted about it, but we just deal with it and move on," he added.