Just like the new Formula 1 season, new technical regulations mean a fresh start for all teams in the 2014 Red Bull Air Race season! In 2010, the last year we raced, some teams consistently outperformed others. I feel sure this year will be different.
The main change is firewall forward. We all have the same propellor, the same exhaust system and a standardised engine that is supposed to be within 2% power of all other competitors. Assuming that the stewards and technical boffins can keep a firm grip on the regulations, we will all be turning the same RPM and leaning the fuel mixture to a similar power output. Mix this together with the weight regulations (the pilot and the machine) and we should see 12 competing aircraft racing with the same power and pretty much the same weight. There's only so much you can do to these aircraft to improve the aerodynamics and I expect most of that (engine cowling, cooling drag, engine air intake, wheel spats) was achieved by the end of 2010. Like the other teams I'm sure, we have some ideas on all those areas and will be doing whatever we can to try and gain an advantage but, in comparison to power and weight, we are talking tiny gains with these aerodynamic tweaks.
All this should make for some exciting racing and a constant mix-up on the podium. Theoretically!
Thinking engines, the Breitling Racing Team has not been blessed with the best start . . flight tests with the new engine began before Christmas and the engine is smooth and really cool with our installation. However, despite four weeks of testing, the Breitling MXS has been shipped to Abu Dhabi without us managing to identify the reason why the oil pressure drops to the minimum when I force the oil temperature towards the limit. Hard work in England in the winter! Given the much higher numbers we saw last time we raced in Abu Dhabi, I can't see how this engine will cope in those conditions so we are hoping that, together with the engine rep on site, we can identify and rectify the cause during the first training week. If not, we will have to consider an engine change out in the desert. Fingers crossed that won't happen.
So what's my prediction? I believe that the V3 Edge 540's will have an advantage in that they are lighter and, though they will probably have to carry weight to be on the regulation minimum, they will be able to distribute the weight to achieve the optimum balance for the machine. Having the centre of gravity (CG) in the right place gives slightly better performance and also better handling. For the moment, it looks like our MXS will be a bit heavy and our CG is much further forward than I'd like. So, the V3 should have a small advantage but, in the end I think it'll be down to consistent, very precise flying on the perfect racing line.
This could be anyone's year!
Nigel Lamb explains why we are keeping the winglets on for the first race of the season, & exactly how they work.
Nigel's first training run at the Red Bull Ring, Spielberg - in preparation for the championship deciding weekend.