Zero gravity, zero problem! The Aston Martin Red Bull Racing Formula One support crew take pit stop practice to a whole new level in the weightlessness of Zero-G.
Aston Martin Red Bull Racing needed a new challenge after two record-breaking pit stops in the space of two races this season – and they found it at an altitude of nearly 33,000 feet on board an Ilyushin Il-76 MDK cosmonaut training plane.
Drawing on the help of the Russian space agency Roscosmos, the team took the 2005 RB1 car to the Yuri Gagarin Cosmonaut Training Center in Star City and set about proving that the sky really is the only limit.
Over the course of a week, 16 pit crew members took a crash course in cosmonaut training in preparation for multiple Zero-G flights in the plane’s fuselage along with the F1 car and a 10-strong film crew.
Each flight consisted of a series of parabolas, with the aircraft climbing at a 45° angle, then falling in a ballistic arc, to produce a period of weightlessness of around 22 seconds before the next climb.
Not all of that time could be used for filming the pit crew at work, however.
The F1 car and equipment had to be carefully secured before and after each weightless period – because no one wants gravity returning when a 400-kg car, the tyres or the pit crew are a metre or so off the deck.
That reduced each filming session to a take of around 15 seconds and provided the most physically and technically demanding activity the live demo team have ever undertaken.
It was certainly a creative way to raise the bar for an F1 show car team who have taken cars everywhere from the Himalayas to the shores of the Dead Sea, driving across snow, ice and the baking desert. Putting their bodies through the strains of Zero-G certainly left the pit crew with a whole new level of respect for their newfound cosmonaut colleagues.
“My stomach was fine – but it felt like my head was going to explode,” said Support Team coordinator Mark Willis. “It took two or three runs to understand what was happening. At first, I couldn’t think straight. My brain couldn’t compute what was happening… It took two or three parabolic flights to be able to think properly again. I’ve been involved in some special events from slaloming the car in Kitzbühel, to the salt lakes of Argentina, we’ve been to some strange places and done some strange things – but ultimately this is the oddest – but also the most special because there’s simply nothing comparable.”
Support Team chief mechanic Joe Robinson said that, physically, it had been the toughest challenge the crew had faced – but also the coolest.
“It pushed us harder than I thought it would,” he said. “You realise how much you rely on gravity when you don’t have any! It challenges you to think and operate in a different way – and that was brilliant. It was a once in a lifetime opportunity and honestly, I could have stayed and done it all month. It was amazing. I think it’s the coolest, most fun thing the Live Demo team has ever done with a show car.”
The Zero-G Pitstop film and the full breakdown of how the video was made, including exclusive behind-the-scenes footage are available now at RedBull.com/zerog