Before François Le Vot burst on to the Red Bull Air Race scene he was already a legend in his native France – and further beyond.
He has previously been celebrated and has a list of accolades a mile long. The Armée de l'Air Best Student Pilot of 1992 has become famed for capturing World Aerobatic crowns on the team and individual levels, as well as for earning three consecutive victories in the Red Bull Air Race Challenger Class before promotion to the World Championship line-up (where he has also seen the view from the race podium). There is even more to discover about the pilot everyone knows as "Zool"...
1. He is used to people mispronouncing his last name.
Many assume that because he is French, the "t" sound is dropped, as in "escargot." But when saying Le Vot, it is not.
2. He has had a passion for flying since age three.
"It comes from a dream I had, in which I could fly low above the beach and the sea. I developed my first mental visualisation techniques soon afterward in the hope of making that dream come again," describes Le Vot, who still devotes countless hours to mental training. "Actually, the race happens to provide the closest sensations to that dream: flying low!"
3. He also has earthbound obsessions.
"I was born in Tunisia, and my whole childhood until age four was spent looking for fossils," Le Vot shares. "I've retained a passion for the desert, paleontology, prehistory and geology, to the point of sometimes flying with geological maps."
4. And he loves the sea, too.
From ages four to nine Le Vot lived in Polynesia, where he discovered the wonders of the ocean, and that keen captivation continued when he spent his teenage years in Brittany, as well as now at home in the maritime region of Hérault.
5. His classmates thought he should become a comedian.
"As far as I can remember, I've always been considered as someone quite funny," Le Vot discloses. "I think our short passage on this planet shouldn't be dedicated to developing worry wrinkles on the forehead. I prefer the crow's feet on the edge of my eyes. Let's have a laugh."
6. He was part of the Chanel line.
Le Vot is a descendant of the family of Saint Pierre Chanel (1803-1841), who was sent to Oceania to evangelise and eventually died there. "From this story, I suppose, I developed a passion for Oceania," Le Vot states, before adding slyly, "or maybe it's because I spent the best holidays of my life there at the age of nine!"
7. You can call him "coach."
A couple of times each year, Le Vot takes the time to train competitive aerobatic pilots, working with teams from countries like Australia, Great Britain and Germany. It is an experience that he finds fun and fascinating. "I hope they learn as much as from me as I learn from them!" he declares.
8. He reveled in his 2014 season as a Challenger Class pilot.
Looking back, Le Vot remarks, "It was one of the most pleasant flying experiences – no stress of taking care of a team or a raceplane, just the pleasure of being invited to exhilarating events. Things have changed, but I'm working hard to come back to victories."
9. He is not the only François on the team.
Levot's friend François Hanne is the tactician for FLV Racing Team 12. They've known each other since they both joined the Armée de l'Air in 1990, and today they remain close collaborators in what they call "Operation Podium."
10. He is crazy about his children.
François has three daughters and a son, and he says, "I love my kids, and I think they like the way I joke with them and make them laugh. Though occasionally, when it's time to study math, I think they like me just a little bit less!"