Paul Bonhomme is the most successful pilot in Red Bull Air Race history. With 19 race wins and three World Championship titles, he knows what it takes to win. And now that he's swapped his pilot's seat for the commentator's chair he has a different perspective. We sat down with Bonhomme to discuss the 2017 season...
Matthias Dolderer was so dominant in 2016. In terms of personal development, their team and raceplane, what will pilots need to do to beat him?
PB: Matthias and his team delivered the full package in 2016. It is no good having the best aeroplane and then forgetting about the mindset or discipline required to win a race. You have to get everything right and Matthias did that very well. Other teams will have to follow that example in 2017. For a start, they will have to get the machinery right and then consider all the other parts of the jigsaw and not leave any stone unturned in the route for perfection.
Much like the difference between Dolderer in 2015, compared to 2016, you went from third to first in the seasons beforehand. What did you change?
PB: We eliminated the "what-ifs" in 2015. In 2014, we were slow spotting an engine issue that slowed us down in Malaysia and then I allowed that to cloud my efforts to eliminate small mistakes for the rest of the season. To summarise, I allowed one stuck engine valve to ruin my year. In 2015, we reverted to our previous form of 2009 and 2010 and went for the complete perfection aim. In other words, don't leave anything to chance. From what time you start breakfast to when you go to bed, everything was planned – it works.
Matthias has always been fast, but something switched in his focus in 2016, what do you think that was?
PB: He got rid of all the "what ifs" in 2016 and they had a plan for everything... the focus was on minimising small mistakes and making the most of their strengths.
Matt Hall will be flying an Edge this year, a raceplane he has very little experience in. Will 2017 be a learning year, as if it's his first season in the Master Class?
PB: Yes, but he'll do well. I think he will enjoy the Edge and I have a feeling it is slightly easier to race than an MXS. Clearly he will take time to get to know the aeroplane and it is unfortunate that the first race he will probably have a safety line to avoid and also the risk of an over-G, which is hard enough to manage in an aeroplane you know well. Matt is a professional though and I'm sure he'll do well in a short space of time.
Kirby Chambliss will be entering his 12th season, he still has the hunger to win – will he be one to watch for 2017?
PB: Kirby is looking faster than before but has to make sure that he goes mistake-free in every round. I was not a big fan of the "thrash around in the training flights then fly clean in the race" technique because it trains the wrong mentality. I preferred the "don't make a mistake at any time" approach and then when it gets to Race Day, you are tuned to flying precisely. You need to fly clean throughout the week of training and go faster by building slowly with your risk-taking on each gate as the week unfolds. This way, your brain is automatically "flying clean" and you don't have to make a conscious decision to be precise on Race Day...
Juan Velarde has shown so much promise in Free Practice and Qualifying but seems to lose form under pressure, what can he do to correct that?
PB: Experience. Don't forget that Juan only started in the Masters in 2015 and was in a slow aeroplane. He suddenly found himself going really fast in 2016 in his new Edge and proved that he can do it with his Qualifying win in Spielberg. The rest will come naturally with time and will come quicker if he takes the "plan everything" approach.
Care to make a prediction, Paul? Who will come 1st, 2nd and 3rd in the World Championship this year?
PB: The three on the podium at the end!
And who will be the surprise package in 2017?
PB: Haha, the one who surprises us all!
The season kicks off in Abu Dhabi on 10-11 February, get your tickets HERE!