The Porto perspective

Posted on: 16th Sep 2009

OK, I admit it...despite working hard on putting a tiny error into the perspective of life, it’s been a struggle these last few days. You know the feeling .... you’re a bit grumpy when there’s nothing fundamental wrong (family in good health, dry roof over your head, enough cash to put food on the table etc) and the only thing that will shake it off is a bit of time. Watching a replay of the Monza F1 GP last night it struck me once again that there’s always another sportsman out there with a massive problem compared to your own. Take Hamilton on Sunday; a podium place all but guaranteed by the last lap; a tiny error and he’s out of the race. Nil points! Whatever gloss he puts on it, that must be tough to deal with! There were a lot of pilots in Porto who made crazy mistakes. Apart from hitting the start gate, rolling in the start gate is pretty bad and that was quite common on Sunday. Again though, as it is in life, so it is in our sport; another competitor’s mistake being worse than your own does not stop you beating yourself up. It’s quite interesting making comparisons with motor racing. In all two-dimensional motor sports there’s less room for error in terms of sliding off the track etc. but the winner can get away with many small errors because there are so many laps to put things right. In air racing it is different. We’re in the track for 80 seconds or so and, the competition being what it is nowadays, one small error is likely to cost you dear. You’ll often come across a pilot who, after looking at the results will tell you that he ‘blew it on the last cuban’. ‘Blowing it’ on the last Cuban (the vertical turning manoeuvre) can be the difference between honking 11.5 G’s (perfect) or being cautious with 9.9 G’s which may lose you 0.2 secs. Worse, of course, is 12.1 G’s; it feels exactly the same but since 12 Gs is the race limit, 12.1 gets you a ‘DSQ’. Remember that we don’t refer to any instruments at all.. it’s all done by feel and the feel is very different with higher or lower speed. I got my first ‘Over G’ in Porto and three other pilots had the same problem; that fine line between being perfect and being thrown off the track. Clearly, I have not been getting it right this season. There’s lots we need to improve with the aircraft but that’s only part of it. When I look back at the last three races, I have little regret over Windsor where I had a go at a ‘no margins’ flight which nearly paid off. My mistakes in Budapest and Porto are much harder to come to terms with. Budapest was a combination of failed tactics (I only discovered on raceday that a time saving oblique angle into one gate was not illegal) and focus (in my second race with the new time-saving line I blew it) whilst Porto really was pathetic; the intensity of the pylons coming at you every 3 secs or so is no excuse ... lining up with Gate 9 as you are entering and not really focusing on Gate 8 is simply not good enough. Some are getting it right though. Paul Bonhomme deserves to be where he is. Sure, he has a fast machine but it’s his consistency that makes him so successful. He is not the only one with that smooth, energy conserving style but he makes very few mistakes and that’s the mark of a true champion. He still has to perform well enough in Barcelona but I reckon he’s the most likely to win and, if he does, it’ll be well deserved. Having twice come second in the Championship and flying as he has all season, he will be a very popular Champion.