IT is usually a sport which is based firmly on the ground – where drivers with the skills of the likes of Jenson Button and David Coulthard career round a track at speeds of up to 225 mph.
But now a Scots oil worker is to take Formula One to the skies – in the first race of its kind in Europe for more than 25 years.
Des Hart is to compete in the Air Race F1 – piloting his plane at levels as low as 35ft while racing eight other aircraft at speeds of up to 250mph on a two-km circuit above Lleida-Alguaire Airport in Catalonia, Spain. Hart, from Perthshire, is one of only three British pilots to compete in the major international race, and the only Scot in a field of 14.
Formula One flying is still performed in Reno, in the US, but was stopped in Britain in the late 1980s because of safety concerns and the high cost of running the racing aircraft.
“It is just like Formula One – we race around a track as cars do, but obviously have to make sure that we don’t bump into each other in the air,” Hart said. “It is a re-launch of the races which used to take place in Britain in the 1980s,”
He plans to fly his aircraft – which will be decorated with a giant Saltire – to Spain a few days before the race on 1 June, when the pilots will have to undergo classroom-based training sessions to teach them the rules of F1 racing before they take to the skies.
“I’m going to fly down to Spain just for the heck of it,” he said. “It is a tiny, tiny aircraft, just like an F1 car. You get out and your legs are dead and you’re freezing because there is no heater in it.”
The Casutt racer aircraft, which was built in the 1980s specifically for Formula One racing, has very little in the form of instruments in the cockpit, to keep it as light as possible, although that limits how and where it can fly.
Hart said: “I won’t be going up into the clouds when I travel to Spain as there would be no way to navigate.”
Hart, who is a ship broker in the oil industry, based in Aberdeen during the week, has flown in other aerobatics display shows – but has never taken part in an aerial F1 race.
“I’m a rookie, while some of the other pilots have competed in America,” he said. “My aircraft has actually taken part in one before – it raced in the 80s – but I haven’t.”
Jeff Zaltman, chief executive of Air Race F1, said: “This is a big step for the sport of air racing and we are proud to be taking it with the beautiful tourist city of Lleida. This momentous event will enthuse and inspire many thousands of live spectators and television audiences.”
It is hoped the Spanish event will be the first in a Europe-wide series of Air Formula One races. In the US, the circuit is very popular and attracts prize money.
The British Formula Air Racing Association (Fara), which is part of the Royal Aero Club and which first brought the sport to Europe in the early 1970s, has backed the event.
Martin Luton, spokesman for Fara, said: “Britain has been responsible for many of the most influential moments in the history of air racing in all its forms, but Formula One has been absent for some time in Britain, so we have been putting a lot of effort into reviving Formula One back home in recent years.
“This new international collaboration will be a great launch pad for the development of new pilots and more national events.”