Last weekend, 30,000 screaming fans packed out Ascot racecourse once again to witness the Red Bull Air Race World Championship's glorious return to the British skyline. Reveller's watched in awe as British pilot and all-round badass Paul Bonhomme came first in the fifth round of the competition.

But what is it all about?

12 pilots compete in the Master Class category in eight races across the globe for the title of 2014 Red Bull Air Race World Champion. The objective is to navigate an aerial racetrack featuring air-filled pylons in the fastest possible time, incurring as few penalties as possible.

Pilots can win World Championship points at each race and the pilot with the most points after the last race of the season becomes the Red Bull Air Race World Champion.

As it stands, victorious British pilot Paul Bonhomme, the most successful pilot in the history of the Red Bull Air Race, sits second in the standings behind Austria's Hannes Arch, while fellow Brit Nigel Lamb lies in third place.

We caught up with Paul to find out what makes a Red Bull Air Race pilot. As it turns out, not only does he fly around at 43,000 feet on a regular basis, but he also delivered his own baby.

If this interview doesn't inspire you, nothing will…

This is going to sound really arrogant, but a flying suit covered in three-day-old champagne smells rancid. The first thing I do when I get home is empty my suitcase. If I don’t do it immediately it’ll stay there for days and stink everything out.

My dad was a pilot. I used to blag rides with him all the time. He was without a doubt my biggest fan until he passed away two years ago. He would call me saying, ‘Oi, what are you doing on turn four? You need to be tighter there!’

I got disqualified from one race for hitting too much g-force. The limit was 12 and I got to 13.2 - the most I’ve ever experienced. [Apollo 16’s re-entry was 7.3.] I’ve also been as high as 43,000 feet and down to 30 feet.

Never ask a concierge in a hotel for the best bar in a city. Go out and search for it yourself. I will say that there’s no place better for a cold beer than Sao Paulo in Brazil, though.

We start a race at about 200 knots. That's approximately 230mph.

When I'm not racing, I'm a commercial airline pilot. Your job there is to manage the risk factors; it's very different to flying small planes.

What is the point in taking part in a competition if you’re main aim isn’t to win it? I got a few funny looks in the playground the other day because I said to my eldest, ‘It’s not the taking part that counts, it’s the winning’. Apparently that thinking is frowned upon in some modern schools, and that’s crazy.

I've crashed a plane once. It was during an air display in 1993 and it was entirely my fault. I got distracted beforehand and didn't rehearse in my mind what I was about to do. Most aerobatic plans have an inverted fuel system, so they still work upside down. I miscalculated and gave myself an engine failure while overturned at 70ft. I managed to roll myself the right way up and crashed in a field; the plane was a write-off.

Before a race, I like to have a 10-minute power nap. You eat throughout the day and I think sleep should be the same.

I once got collared for bombing down a street on a bicycle I’d rigged with a home-made sail. I found some wood and a bed sheet, and I built this sail onto the front of my bike because it was a windy day. I just thought it’d be a pretty good way of getting around.

When someone says ‘Right, you’re on your own. Good luck!’, that’s when you really start learning.

Astronauts like Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin and Michael Collins are heroic. To go into the unknown is always brave, but computer modelling was barely existent in the '60s, so going into space was ballsy stuff.

Delivering my own baby is the proudest moment of my life. We were planning a home birth and the midwifery team didn't arrive. I called 999 and a man called Mark talked me through the whole thing. My daughter Poppy was born 20 minutes later. 

From the age of six to 16 I lived next-door to my best friend, Tim.
Age 15, we went hitchhiking around France. Our parents dropped us off at Southampton docks and said, “Go have fun. See you in a few weeks time.” I look back on that, two 15-year-old blokes sleeping on beaches and grass verges, meeting new people…it was brilliant fun.

Take one step at a time. I was told at 16, "Don't try to be a Concorde captain or a space shuttle pilot next week/" I didn't ever envisage doing what I do now, but I knew I was passionate about flying and that was enough."

Red Bull Air Race will be at Ascot Racecourse on 16-17 August 2014.

Words by Anouska Christy


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