Tanak the fast youngster who was a slow developer

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Paris (AFP)

Ott Tanak, who secured his first rallying world title on Sunday, may have youthful features, but he is a late developer.

When the Estonian clinched the World Rally Championships (WRC) in Catalonia on Sunday, he broke the rule of the Sebastiens, after Frenchmen Loeb and then Ogier had won the previous 15 titles.

Even though the Estonian's promise was recognised early, he was 29 when he gained his first WRC victory in Sardinia late in 2017.

After that he accelerated, perhaps because fatherhood made him more careful.

"It is said that drivers become slower when they have children," his wife Janika said in "Ott Tanak, the movie", a documentary released this year about the man she married in 2016.

"In Ott's case, the speed is still there. He says he's stopped taking unnecessary risks. Maybe it helped him to progress."

The 32-year-old, who has two young children, clinched this year's title by winning six of the first 13 rallies, compared to three each for his main rivals, Sebastien Ogier and Thierry Neuville.

He has won 73 stages, compared to 24 for Ogier and 42 by Neuville.

This season is his second for Toyota under the guidance of Finn Tommi Makinen, the world champion from 1996 to 1999.

Tanak says he also "learned a lot" racing with Ogier at M-Sport Ford before joining Toyota.

The native of Karla in Estonia inherited his passion from his father Ivar, a competitive rally driver. The two built Ott's first rally cars together.

Tanak received early help from Markko Martin, the only other Estonian to have won in the WRC, taking five rallies in 2003 and 2004.

Tanak drove one rally in 2009, in Portugal at the wheel of Subaru Impreza. With Martin's help, Tanak made further appearances over the next two seasons, first in a Mitsubishi Lancer and then, starting a long, complicated relationship, in a Ford Fiesta.

- Making a splash -

He won his first points when he finished 10th in Mexico in 2011. The next year, at 24, Ott drove the full WRC schedule for the first time.

"Too early," he later said.

Tanak was fast but he was, he said later, "not ready" and made too many mistakes.

The most memorable was driving his car into a lake in 2015 in Mexico, an incident which has collected 1.3 million views on YouTube, earning him the unfortunate hashtag #Titanak.

He admitted in the documentary that his "stubbornness" has made it hard to take advice.

The years 2011 to 2017 brought a series of break-ups and reunions with Ford, including the lost 2013 season when Tanak could not find a drive and missed the WRC. Then, in 2017, the year after he married, he finally found consistency and finished third in the driver standings.

Then he moved to Toyota where he finished third again in 2018.

Now, with his first world title in his pocket, Tanak still has the WRC on tenterhooks.

Will he stay at Toyota, move to Hyundai, or return to back to M-Sport for a fourth stint in a Ford?

Tanak is the king of WRC and the sport awaits his next move.