The messages coming out of Citroen right now couldn’t be more mixed. On one hand we’re told les rouges are looking at a multi-million-pound signing of superstar Frenchman Sebastien Ogier. But in the next breath the good folk of Versailles confirm a Wales Rally GB test in the French-Welsh enclave of Mazamet. Before you check, this is not near Machynlleth. It’s not near Wales. It’s south-west France…
Citroen’s team principal Yves Matton makes a good point about the test location and his decision not to come to Wales early for some wholly representative running. Don’t forget, all the work now is aimed at next season, the emphasis is on development rather than specific set-up running. But the other reason is rather more mundane.
“It’s very expensive to test in GB,” he told me. That’s what I’ve heard: hiring forests off Natural Resources Wales doesn’t come cheap.
But neither do four (or possibly five)-time world champions.
And that’s kind of the point. How are we expected to take this Ogier talk seriously if Citroen can’t afford to test in Wales?
And what sort of word does this send out to Sebastien himself?
Ogier’s current employer M-Sport – you know, the series’ genuine privateer team – owns its own forest in Cumbria (that’s closer than Mazamet) and yet Malcolm Wilson is still digging deep enough into his own pocket to fund a pre-event test in the right woods, in the right country.
Looking on the bright side, one can only imagine that signing Ogier will open the team up to more funding. It will have to. I can’t imagine Gap’s finest returning to Citroen only to be faced with slashed budgets and testing in France for a rally in Wales.
No, if Ogier’s back then I reckon that will send a real signal to the rest of the service park. And that signal will be a very straightforward one, stating that Citroen really is back.
It’s reasonably well known that PSA Group CEO Carlos Tavares is calling the shots on this one and it’s his wallet that’s financing the gig. If Tavares wants this thing done properly, it’ll be done properly. And I can’t see Ogier signing up for it in any other fashion.
So that’s great for the Parisians, if Ogier comes to the table.
But what if he doesn’t? What does that then say about Citroen?
Most likely it says that the team will remain mired in a horribly cash-strapped situation with little potential for filing down the rough edges which remain on the C3 WRC. If that’s the case, it’s hard to see Citroen returning to the glory years of 17 titles in 10 years.
Either way, it would appear there’s a whole lot more riding on this deal than just the potential for an ex-employee walking back through the front door in Versailles in the next few weeks.
It appears, it’ll come down to a question of cash or the right car from the start of next season. It would seem unlikely that the C3’s going to be absolutely on the money in the way M-Sport’s Fiesta WRC is from Monte next year. Ogier might counter this with the longer-term prospects of a manufacturer deal. But I can’t think of another outfit showing the kind of longevity M-Sport’s managed since 1997.