LATVALA: ‘OGIER NEARLY BROKE ME’
Finn says VW stint prompted some soul searching
Jari-matti Latvala has admitted his time at Volkswagen Motorsport came close to ruining his career as a professional rally driver.
The Finn slumped to his worst ever finish as a professional driver with sixth place in last year’s WRC standings, but he finds no fault with the German manufacturer. In a forthright and insightful interview with Motorsport News he lays bare the problems he suffered as Sebastien Ogier’s team-mate.
Latvala, who recently kick-started his career as a Toyota driver with second place on the season-opening Monte Carlo Rally, worked alongside Ogier for four seasons and won nine rallies from 52 starts in a factory Polo R WRC. By comparison, the Frenchman took four-straight drivers’ titles (Latvala was second twice, third and sixth last season) and won 23 world rallies with VW.
Latvala said: “Everything went wrong and it was a different situation at Volkswagen. I didn’t win [the title] because I tried to drive like Sebastien. I was so confused in my driving, I was trying to do everything like him all of the time. I was looking at the data from my engineers and looking at how he was using the brakes – I tried to change everything and do the same. I even had brake support under the pedals like he had. I was trying everything.
“At the end of last year, I was so confused, everything was so difficult. I just didn’t know, I was asking: ‘How should I drive?’ I was going over everything. I had tried to copy everything Seb was doing and this is why, when I was in Volkswagen, I had no chance. I couldn’t concentrate on the job I was supposed to be doing because all of the time I was looking at what he was doing. I forgot about my own driving style and I totally focused on doing the same as him.”
Latvala arrived at Volkswagen after five seasons as a Ford driver, four of which with his countryman Mikko Hirvonen alongside him. Having enjoyed the family atmosphere of M-sport’s squad, he struggled to acclimatise to life alongside such a single-minded individual as Ogier.
Latvala missed the team approach he and Hirvonen had engendered in the fight against the all-conquering Citroen and Sebastien Loeb combination.
“When I was at Ford,” Latvala explained, “Sebastien Loeb was so dominant. Mikko and I had to work together to try to beat him, we couldn’t do it on our own.
“When I went to Volkswagen, it was different. There was nobody there to help me try to beat this new Sebastien. When you are in the same team as a four-time world champion, you are alone and I had to fight against him in a different way with a different philosophy.”
Since departing Volkswagen, Latvala says he has rekindled that team approach at Toyota with countryman Juho Hanninen.
“I feel the same now as when I was at Ford,” said Latvala. “Juho and I are working together to win, it’s different now.”
Prior to its departure from the world championship at the end of last season, Volkswagen prided itself on an open approach, with former team principal Jost Capito saying: “There are no secrets in this team, everybody, all of the drivers, they all have the same access to data for the set-up of the car. The only thing we don’t talk about is their tyre choice, but otherwise, we have no team orders and nothing hidden.”
Latvala’s deal to drive for the Finnish-based Toyota team was seen by many in the service park as a career saver and, so far, the 31-year-old looks as comfortable in Tommi Makinen’s squad as he did at M-sport.
Next week’s Rally Sweden will provide a stern test for the new Latvala-toyota relationship, with J-ML – a three-time winner of the event – famously comfortable on the Varmland roads.
Latvala (above, left) has found a new lease of life, and confidence, with Toyota
Latvala lost his way with VW team