What to know about Abu Dhabi's Red Bull Air Race

Planes flying at 420km/h, 25-metres off the ground while pulling 10Gs - it's time you understood how awesome this is.

Meryl D'Souza March 8, 2016

If you're planning to take a relaxing walk on Abu Dhabi's cornice this weekend, don't. Or do, but take some earplugs. 

The 11th edition of the Red Bull Air Race World Championship is set to take off on Friday, with the UAE's capital playing host to the season opener for the ninth consecutive time.

For the uninitiated, the race is basically a cross between Formula 1 and rallying, but with state-of-the-art planes navigating a time trial obstacle course 25 metres above your head.

How the race works

The weekend will begin with 12 pilots qualifying from two sessions to get the fastest time. The 12 are then placed into six heats, with each winner and the two fastest runner-ups moving on to the next stage, called the Super 8. Each pilot who gets this far achieves points towards their world championship score.

The four fastest from the Super 8 will then move into the Final 4, where they compete for glory - places first to fourth. 

After Abu Dhabi, the eight race series goes to: Spielberg in Austria, Chiba in Japan, Budapest in Hungary, Ascot in the UK, Lausitzring in Germany, Indianapolis in the United States before finishing in Las Vegas, where the Red Bull Air Race World Champion is crowned.

The planes

The planes regularly hit speeds of 420km/h, and over a tight compact course of just five km, the pilots regularly pull 10Gs of force - that's enough to lose consciousness, which makes it exciting. The course consists of 25-metre high air gates that the pilots must manoeuvre through. 

The pilots

The pilots are no weekend hobbyists either. To qualify, they must be active aerobatic air display pilots, and have each gone through underwater survival training - useful for Abu Dhabi's water course. Inside the tight cockpits they each have spare air and an oxygen mask, as well as parachute. 

Abu Dhabi's race

For anyone keeping score, the pilots love the scenic setting of Abu Dhabi's race. But the one thing that they dread is the weather.

"The wind is changeable in Abu Dhabi," says 2014 World Champion Nigel Lamb. "Trying to find the perfect line is a challenge in the circuit, staying on it with strong wind is even harder. You need to be a savvy pilot, but the wind is the wind, we can't make any changes to the aircraft – he who doesn't pay attention to the wind will suffer."

This year, the high-adrenaline, low-flying Abu Dhabi race will feature the high-G vertical turn after Gate 3 (see in image above). And although the Abu Dhabi course is considered to be one of the fastest races in the calendar, experts say that the race could be won or lost at the third and fourth Air Gates.

So if you go for that stroll on Abu Dhabi's corniche this weekend, be sure to look up. 

For more, visit redbullairrace.com.