MERCEDES AMG PETRONAS driver Lewis Hamilton swapped his Formula One car for an even faster form of transport as he flew with the RAF Red Arrows on Friday 21 June as part of the team’s build up to the British Grand Prix weekend.
Lewis joined the BBC’s David Coulthard and the Royal Air Force Aerobatic Team, popularly known as the Red Arrows, at their base at RAF Scampton in Lincolnshire for a once-in-a-lifetime experience at one of their scheduled practice sessions. The day gave Lewis, the Mercedes team and the RAF an insight into how much is shared between the worlds of the Red Arrows and Formula One, and was filmed by the BBC for a feature to be shown during their pre-race coverage of the British Grand Prix.
With engineers and mechanics from the team’s factories in Brackley and Brixworth joining Lewis on the day, the opportunity to see how the Royal Air Force operates behind the scenes and how the Red Arrows pilots rely on the expertise and precision of their engineers and support staff (the Blues) to perform proved invaluable to Lewis and the team.
After going through the rigorous medical and safety preparations with the Blues, Lewis and David got their first experience of the Hawk T1 jets in a three-ship formation with Red1, Red 6 and Red 10.
During a 30-minute flight, the pair went through a series of ‘loops and rolls’ in their jets, experiencing forces of up to 4.5G. Following a quick debrief, Lewis took his own Silver Arrow, the MGP W02 demo car, for a spin along the runway at RAF Scampton whilst Red 10 and David flew overhead, with the car and jet reaching respective top speeds of 300 kph and 520 knots (c.1000 kph).
Lewis and David then had the opportunity to take part in a Reds practice display before coming back down to earth to share their experiences with the pilots, the Blues, Lewis’ engineer and the team’s mechanics.
We had an amazing day with the RAF Red Arrows last week and I absolutely loved the experience of flying with their team. To see first-hand how skilled the pilots are, and the similarities to the level of team work and precision that we need to get the best out of a Formula One car, was fascinating. The loops and rolls in the jet are such an intense experience and I’ve got so much admiration for those guys and their unbelievable flying skills.
They actually let me fly the jet on the first flight; the pilot brought me up into position and then gave me the controls. That was intense and it’s surprising how sensitive the controls are and how tough it is to keep in formation. To then jump out of the jet and drive our Silver Arrow down the runway at 300 kph with a jet screaming 100ft overhead, hitting close to1000 kph, was beyond cool.
We’re used to big lateral G loads in Formula One but experiencing negative vertical G is something else. A big thank you to everyone at RAF Scampton for such an incredible experience, for allowing us to go behind the scenes of their practice display, and for making us feel so welcome.
Squadron Leader Jim Turner, Red 1, Team Leader of the Royal Air Force Aerobatic Team
The Red Arrows were honoured to be able to host Lewis Hamilton and the MERCEDES AMG PETRONAS Formula One Team at our home base at RAF Scampton. Both Lewis and David Coulthard flew with the team, starting with a shakedown sortie to see if they were up to flying in a practice display.
They both did very well so then flew with us for a practice display sortie which the team had scheduled and seemed to relish the opportunity to take part in the show. The importance of effective teamwork and the emphasis on safety were the most obvious similarities between our two teams, with the quality and skill of the engineers and the operators very clear to see.
Both David and Lewis were exceptionally friendly and down-to-earth and were very keen to mingle with the personnel, friends and families of the team who were there on the day. I would like to thank the personnel of the Red Arrows, MERCEDES AMG PETRONAS and the BBC for making such a special day possible.
Squadron Leader Mike Ling, Red 10, Road Manager of the Royal Air Force Aerobatic Team
It was a privilege to meet both Lewis Hamilton and David Coulthard and work with the MERCEDES AMG PETRONAS Formula One Team. I was able to speak with David in the cockpit and it was interesting to hear both his and Lewis’ perspective on how the experience of flying at close to 1000 kph compares to driving a Formula One car.
They were surprised with how sensitive the jet’s controls are and impressed with the skill it takes to fly in close formation. What came across during the day, and hopefully what the BBC viewers will also see, is the similarity between the teamwork required in Formula One and the Royal Air Force. The driver of the car is the tip of the iceberg when you consider the team of specialists in the Mercedes garage and factory.
And, although it is the nine pilots of the Red Arrows who fly the display, there are another 100 engineers and support staff who ensure the team continue to perform to such a high standard.
Peter Bonnington, Race Engineer to Lewis Hamilton, MERCEDES AMG PETRONAS Formula One Team
“Meeting the RAF Red Arrows team at RAF Scampton last week was a great experience for us, especially seeing how many parallels there are between Formula One and the operation of the Red Arrows.
The level of preparation is first class; all of the jets need to be fully operational with safety being paramount, very much like we run our Formula One cars. The team working at RAF Scampton very much has the structure and feel of our race team with specialist technicians working on the various areas of the Hawk jets and being overseen by the Chief Engineers who take overall responsibility of the aircraft.
It was a pleasure to meet everyone and to spend time exchanging our experiences and methods of working, and we hope it’s a relationship that we can build on in the future.