Martin Sonka has been one to watch since the Red Bull Air Race World Championship returned to the skies in 2014. It was only his second season and he was constantly improving, finishing the season with a podium.
He built on this success in 2015 and by the end was classed as one of the favourites to take the title in 2016. Unfortunately he was unable to live up to this and didn't have a great season. At the final race of 2016 the Czech pilot was very despondent, saying: "I think I've collected every penalty possible this season, I just have to put it behind me and focus on 2017."
He certainly did that, and at this year's season opener in Abu Dhabi he stormed through the track taking the race win. He was more than a second quicker than anyone else in the Final 4. This was exactly the start he needed to be dominant in the World Championship.
Sonka was full of confidence as he headed to race two in San Diego. He was going well, but missed out on the Final 4, losing to eventual race winner, Yoshihide Muroya. Sonka's time in the Round of 8 was the third quickest in the round, but saw him finish fifth overall in the race. Sonka was disappointed after. "We were not fast enough. I'm a little bit disappointed not getting into the Final 4. It was simply not enough."
At the third race of the season in Chiba, Sonka was in the top three of every timesheet leading up to Race Day. He knocked out Mikael Brageot and Michael Goulian on his way to the Final 4. In his final flight of the day Sonka collected a two second penalty for incorrect level flying through a gate. This penalty saw him pushed down to third in the race. If it wasn't for that penalty, he would have won by 0.775s.
Exactly the same thing happened at race four in Budapest. Sonka went out and set the fastest time in the Final 4, only to pick up a penalty for climbing in the gate. Without this penalty he would've won by 0.933s. After the race in Budapest, Sonka said: "I feel very, very disappointed after this race because I made a similar mistake in Chiba. We were fastest and because of my fault we fell down to third place and now we were fastest again and we fell all the way to fourth. So I'm super disappointed and it's difficult to comprehend."
After being knocked out in the Round of 14 in Kazan, Sonka was only able to collect two World Championship points, which now sees him in joint second with Yoshihide Muroya. Both pilots are on 39, just two behind current leader Kirby Chambliss. After the race Sonka said: "I could be first in the standings with a nice margin, but because of my penalties, I'm second. I'll think about it and maybe I'll find some positives later. Of course we are not happy with the results. We'll aim for better next time."
With three races still remaining Sonka and his team have a great chance to take this World Championship. He has stiff competition with other pilots hitting form. Chambliss has won the last two races and Pete McLeod has finished second in the last two and is now just one point behind Sonka.
Sonka will be fully focused on race six in Porto, a location he hasn't raced at before. He'll want to be back on that podium as we then head to the two land-based tracks to finish off the season. There's everything to play for!