Bonhomme has final word on Abu Dhabi
The 2019 opener in Abu Dhabi was packed with intrigue and excitement. The most noticeable aspect this year was the wind. As I have written before, and as every windsurfer in those parts will tell you, the wind will generally turn to a sea breeze at around lunchtime (the wind coming from the ocean).
Since we started racing here that is what normally happens, which is why a practice in the morning may not be an ideal set-up for an afternoon race run. It’s not the first time we’ve seen the wind change to a new direction on Race Day, but it’s the first time I’ve seen it happen in Abu Dhabi. Not only did it stay out of the south-east, it was reasonably strong – strong enough to have a massive effect on Race Day for most of the pilots.
As a race pilot, you cannot wait until the morning of Race Day to see what the wind is doing. You MUST have a plan for every wind condition so that as you enter the track, you know exactly what it is going to look like, feel like and where to point the aeroplane.
You can spend thousands of dollars on go-faster modifications to save a tenth of a second but if you collect a two second penalty because you haven’t rehearsed those wind conditions in your head, it’s all a waste of time (literally). It’s vital to have a fast aeroplane but you have to fly clean, no penalties, level in the gates, clean, no climbing in the gate, clean, no sinking in the gate, clean, no over-G’s, clean… are you getting the point here?
1. The flying needs to be precise and the tactics need to be aggressive, not the other way around
2. The pilots that fly a precise run rather than an aggressive run will more likely succeed
3. The importance of mental rehearsal prior to and during a day of racing cannot be overemphasised
4. Have a plan for every wind condition so you can flip to it at short notice
14th Cristian Bolton
Encouragingly for the Chilean fans, Cristian was second fastest in Free Practice 3 which was a good omen just before Qualifying. He flew clean in Quali but strangely was way off his FP3 times. In the Round of 14, he suffered from the un-forecast wind which had changed 180 degrees from Quali day. He was one of many to suffer from the tailwind into Gate 7 which lessened the time pilots had to set up for a smooth turn… his 12.4 G spike here got him a DNF.
13th Ben Murphy
Wise flying in the week from Ben: he made all his mistakes in the Free Practice sessions and then flew clean in Qualifying. The qualifying tactics were also wise; a “gentle” Q1 followed by tightening the VTM’s in Q2 got him to 7th place. The only snag is the 7th/8th heat in the Round of 14 is always tight, and naturally so, as both pilots have flown in the middle of the pack on the Saturday. Ben met Matt Hall, who left the door wide open by collecting an incorrect level at Gate 7 (the tailwind again)… Ben said he had instrument issues prior to the run and that extra workload could be the reason he didn’t spot the trouble others were having at Gate 6-7. He collected an over-G after 6 and a pylon hit at 7.
12th François Le Vot
Le Vot was one of the few pilots to try the 'S' turn after the chicane to get an advantage by turning right at Gate 3. It was a bold move and in the early stages of the week it may have worked. But as the others got skilled at the “straight line to 3 followed by the straight pull” tactic, it seemed the busy S turn/right at Gate 3 combo would involve high risk (incorrect level Gate 3) with not much time advantage. François’ Round of 14 attempt and weekend was stopped by a fast Velarde.
11th Matthias Dolderer
Matthias had an interesting week. He was trying the “chicane to Gate 3 S-turn” all week but then swapped to the “go straight” tactic on Quali day. And apart from his second fastest time in FP1 he seemed to be struggling with controlling the G. That reared its ugly head just at the wrong moment in Q2 and that one second penalty took him from a certain 2nd place to 10th in Qualifying. Annoyingly as 10th placed qualifier he started first on race day and was the first to discover the tailwind in the penultimate turn of the lap. He got an incorrect level at 14 which handed the heat to Mika Brageot. This was a perfect example of those tiny mistakes making or breaking your weekend.
10th Petr Kopfstein
Oh so close for Kopfstein. In the first round of Race Day, his incorrect level at Gate 14 (caused by the pesky tailwind) added two seconds to his time and gave Goulian an easy run in the Round of 14. Had Petr flown clean, his time would have been a 53.816s which could have been enough to throw some pressure onto Mike Goulian. A good lesson in needing to fly clean in any competitive run… even with a new engine, he couldn’t make up the time.
9th Pete McLeod
Pete flew beautifully in Qualifying and was second fastest. The only snag was in parc fermé – his engine ignition was found to be slightly outside of the rules (the magneto timing has to be within 20-25 TDC). No one suspected any foul play here but the infringement cost him his two points for Qualifying 2nd. That sort of drama on any weekend will have an effect, but Pete bounced back and was looking set to knock Kirby out in the Round of 14, but for that annoying tailwind that everyone was finding at Gate 6-7. Pete corrected late and got two seconds of penalty for not flying level in Gate 7. Once again proving that the margins are ever so tight and you have to fly perfectly for the entire run.
8th Kirby Chambliss
Team Chambliss will be ruing that fraction of a second of early pull into Gate 3 in the Round of 8. More annoying as it was an unnecessary risk. He was already on his way to winning the heat, and running a high risk strategy should have been saved for the Final 4. And especially as Nicolas Ivanoff had not posted a particularly good time. As we have seen before, the mental rehearsal of any track run has to be perfect and be repeatable in the track.
Check in next week when Paul Bonhomme reviews the top seven finishers from Abu Dhabi…