Bonhomme answers YOUR questions
Are we going to see you racing again in the Red Bull Air Race?
"Probably not... there were lots of reasons for stopping at this stage but the catalyst was the format. I would always consider racing again if the conditions were right. What I must say though is that I have enjoyed the racing SO MUCH. The feeling of walking towards a well-prepared raceplane, then climbing in and starting the engine and taxying towards the runway for a race was the most enjoyable and rewarding moment. It was when I really relaxed, which of course helped with the flying that followed. And I loved the racing!"
How on earth did you get into flying with Red Bull Air Race?
"In my case, I got into the racing through meeting Peter Besenyei in the early 2000s when the project was being started... we'd been flying at the same aerobatic events and got to know each other and hence he asked me and Steve Jones if we were interested in a bit of racing. Of course we said "yes!" Nowadays (as it was then), you need some form of aerobatic background and also some experience of flying near the ground. After that you apply to the race committee and they will advise you if your experience is sufficient to be considered for the rookie qualification camp."
I plan to pursue a career as an aerobatic pilot after retiring from the air force so I just wanted to ask what is the process and things needed to be done before you enter the Red Bull Air Race series and how do you go about it?
"Aerobatic experience is vital. Also flying in single-engine, aerobatic aircraft such as the Extra or Edge is a great start. A good start would be competition aerobatics. As well as being able to cope with the challenges of the track you will also need to be able to land it on a short runway (500m). The landings on the dockside in Abu Dhabi and the driveway at Longleat spring to mind as the 'more fun' landings that we've had to fly. Also outside of the flying, you'll have to manage the distractions such as interacting with the team and coping with the media activities. It is busy!"
How does it feel to be the best air race pilot in history?
"Hmmm, I would not describe myself as that but what I would say is that I have thoroughly enjoyed the challenge of getting a raceplane around the track in the fastest time. You need a good team and I have been lucky or clever (I think lucky) to get the right team. Of course the pilot needs to point the machine in the right direction and the tension or pressure that causes errors is far more evident in the track but I have relished that challenge and, in equal measure, our team has also relished the challenge. I cannot emphasise how much effort has gone into making our team successful. We have lived and breathed the race and I think it showed. To do well (this applies to anything in life) you have to put the time in. I am fortunate because I love aeroplanes, flying, wings, aerodynamics, lift, drag, turn radii, racing lines, speed etc but above all I am unbelievably impatient which helps so much when you are trying to go fast in the track! The team are the same!"
Do you like other types of flying than aeroplanes, like sailplains (gliders), paragliding?
"Yes but up until now, I haven't had time. A good mate of mine is into gliding; maybe I'll pester him for a go as it seems to me to be a great way of proving your ability to judge and play with the elements of air and lift."
Did you ever get nervous before a race?
"I always got nervous before a race. I especially got nervous on Race Day morning, which I hated... But I came to see that as a healthy part of race day. Those nerves would trigger me to consider all of the what-ifs and safety aspects that might help me if the flying didn't progress as planned. It is also vital to have a healthy respect for the laws of physics to keep out of trouble and those pre-race nerves were a great reminder."
Cristoph Andreas Bieregel Maino:
How's life outside of the Red Bull Air Race? What's the one thing you are enjoying most of being outside and what's the thing you miss the most of being inside?
"I am already enjoying the spare head space. In the air race, it is a non-stop world of improvements and challenges to gain speed. That is a 24/7 activity all year round and my brain was gently ticking over even during the winter months with questions of how we go faster. The team were the same. Having now stopped, it is amazing how much spare time I already have. For certain, I will miss the banter and fun with my own and the other teams, and of course the moment I closed the canopy to go racing. The time in the track was fantastic but at most races, even if you progressed to the final 4, it was generally only 11 minutes of racing for an entire week away from home."
Out of your 19 wins, which one is the most memorable?
"All of the wins are memorable but some stick out more than others... Rio 2007 was amazing due to the number of folks on the beach that day. Barcelona 2009 was my first championship win as well, I can still see the sun dipping low to the west as I flew from the beach back to Sabadell airfield thinking about the effort of 2007 and 2008 to get to that top step of the Championship podium in 2009. New York in 2010 was a superb location and winning between the Statue of Liberty and Manhattan felt fantastic. And I have to mention Abu Dhabi as we've raced there more than anywhere else; it feels like home for the racing. More recently the two wins at Ascot in 2014 and 2015 stick in my mind. Ascot, in my view, is the very best location for an air race ever. And I know I've said it before but my folks would have been chuffed to bits to know that they had bred an Ascot winner!"