Loeb opted to run softs on his M-Sport Ford Puma Rally1 car second time through ‘Saint-Geniez’ – ‘Thoard’ – a move that was mirrored by Ogier but only after he clocked what his fellow countryman was doing.

Ogier – who goes in to the final leg tomorrow with a 21.1 second lead over the nine-time World champion – made the most of the gamble on a stage where large parts were covered in snow and ice.

He told stage end reporters he copied Loeb despite knowing it was a risk but back at service in Monaco the 38-year-old expanded on his thinking.

“I start to know him after all these years and I was guessing he would try something [different],” said the Toyota driver. “I was waiting a bit on the road section and I see before the start he was going on slicks.

“We thought it would not be the best choice but still, I wanted to have a straight fight and don’t have any different tyre choice to make the difference. I said, ‘OK, if he goes with this I go with the same and may the best man win and survive’. It was not easy but it felt good in the stage.

“It was probably not the perfect choice to go on the slick but, like I say, I just follow his choice in this moment and in the end, we manage to make a bit of a gap tonight – nothing crazy because tomorrow is still long and the conditions are tricky but generally, I am happy with today.”

Four stages stand between Ogier and his ninth win at Rallye Monte Carlo, including the points-paying Power Stage, but the Frenchman insists he is not resting easy on what is traditionally one of the most unpredictable rounds on the WRC schedule.

“It’s good to have 21 seconds, it’s an interesting gap, but with the conditions we expect tomorrow morning – frost and maybe ice – it will remain tricky until the end. It will remain tricky until the end,” he said.

Those views were echoed by his team boss, Jari-Matti Latvala. “Monte is an event where you always have to be focussed – yes, every rally you focus – but on the Monte you probably need a couple of per cent extra to be alert because if you lose your focus immediately it can pay you big time," he said.