In this new four-part series we talk to Paul Bonhomme about how he feels the pilots of the Red Bull Air Race have started their 2018 season. The series will focus in championship order after the first race in the season. In part one we look at the four pilots that are currently propping up the bottom of the table.
14th Pete McLeod
At the season opener Pete McLeod exceeded the G-limit in the Round of 14 and ended his Race Day early...
"I was really surprised by Pete in Abu Dhabi. As we saw last year he was on rails and I thought he would do better here.
"Maybe the new arrival at home is a distraction and you have to be a genius to get that out of your head when racing (I've been there and done that!). The chances are as well that his month before was not a month filled with eight hours of sleep a night – I don't know if that's a fact but it's a consideration. He's usually a lot more consistent in the track.
"He looked like he was being too aggressive with the aeroplane and in the Round of 14 he was up against Yoshihide Muroya and again he pushed too hard and exceeded the G-limit. As he flew first in the heat, that surprised me, but maybe he knew what was coming with Yoshi and thought he'd better get a move on.
"Pete will probably treat Abu Dhabi as mid-winter training and park it in the memory bank before heading to Cannes. I'd wager good money that Pete will be flying faster in France."
13th Matthias Dolderer
Much like McLeod, Dolderer lost out to Matt Hall in the Round of 14 after exceeding the G-limit late on in his run. Bonhomme was shocked with the German's performance...
"Oh wow! Talk about a rodeo ride, Matthias was just hilarious, one minute setting the lap record, the next trying to pull the wings off going through the vertical turn. He was top, then bottom and then goes and wins Qualifying. He was going for a really aggressive line after the chicane, and as the difference in time was so minimal I wasn't convinced that the risk was worth the reward... keep it simple!
"His raceplane at the end of the chicane was like an angry bee and when he got it right it just worked, but it was only a tiny advantage so it seemed like a lot of effort for not much gain.
"I'll use my golf analogy here. When he won the World Championship in 2016 he was 'enjoying a game of golf'. He was relaxed, swinging smoothly and the ball would go a long way. And then the next shot was good and so on. Now it seems that he's walking up to the first tee and gripping the club too tight, intent on sending the ball miles and it might go miles, but equally it might not. He's worrying too much about the result, instead of just relaxing, flying precisely and making sure he puts the aeroplane in the right spot and then at the end of it all seeing if his time is good. He's going out there trying to set a fast time and seems too tense. Sometimes it's worked but more importantly, sometimes it doesn't."
12th Cristian Bolton
Bolton was unlucky in his Round of 14 run, the Chilean clipped a pylon at Gate 7 and without that penalty his time would've seen him through to the Round 8. Bonhomme believes it's only a matter of time before he starts improving drastically...
"It seems Cristian is still trying to modify his aeroplane to fly fast, so that has to be taken into account with his training times. Even if he flies brilliantly he's still going to be on the back foot. By FP3 he was finding his form and his consistency was getting better. In other words: because of his slow aeroplane he has to really push to go fast and as we've seen before, that's when you lose consistency and mistakes start to creep in. The team will try and convert his aeroplane into something faster but that takes time and with such a short 'off-season,' it's difficult."
11th Juan Velarde
Velarde lost out in the Round of 14 to new Master Class pilot Ben Murphy. Bonhomme thinks the Spaniard didn't use the right tactics...
"On Race Day, Juan was seen doing some boxing training as a warm up before flying and I'm not convinced that's a good warm up. I would want something less aggressive to warm up... you don't want to get into a raceplane with any aggression, you want smooth precision. I thought it was interesting and I'll be surprised if we see him do it in the next race.
"On Race Day, with his experience, facing Ben Murphy should've been a walk in the park, but he didn't make it work for him. He would've heard that Ben had got a penalty so then he just needed to fly clean. He over-G'd at Gate 6 which I think is a tactical error not a flying error. You have to get the right tactic to clear that gate with the right amount of G. If you delay and then turn late and hard into Gate 7, you'll risk an over-G so rather than leave it to luck, I think the best tactic was to plan a "not-too-late" turn into 7 to manage the G... in other words plan a line that would be fast but with less risk of a G issue."
Check back soon for part two of Paul Bonhomme's rundown of the Master Class pilots. In part II we'll look at places ten to eight.