Red Arrows will be exempt from F1 ban on military air displays

Days after Formula One announced an end to military air displays at its races, the Silverstone Grand Prix has confirmed that its traditional Red Arrows displays will not be affected by the ban.

It was first reported on Wednesday that Formula One had banned race promoters from staging military air displays at races, as part of the sport’s aim to become carbon neutral by 2030, and also to attempt to remove displays of “military power or propaganda”. Military aviation displays have long been part of several F1 races, with the Red Arrows appearing at most Silverstone Grand Prix races since 1966 and both the Frecce Tricolori and Patrouille de France having a long history of flying over their countries’ Grand Prix events.

More recently, other air forces had been getting in on the action, with Al Fursan of the UAE making regular appearances at the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix and the Saudi Hawks displaying above the Jeddah circuit. Races in Texas feature a flypast by a locally-based US Army unit, while the Royal Australian Air Force has staged flyovers by aircraft such as the C-17 and F/A-18, as well as displays by their aerobatic team, the Roulettes.

The ban was not to apply to all forms of air displays; commercial airliners would still be allowed to perform flypasts (a tradition of Etihad Airways in Abu Dhabi, among others), provided they used sustainable aviation fuel. Other civilian air displays would also be permitted, such as Red Bull’s Flying Bulls warbirds collection, which regularly performs over the Austrian Grand Prix in Spielberg.

However, it has since emerged that there will be inconsistencies in how the rule is enforced. The Silverstone Circuit confirmed on Friday that the Red Arrows will be permitted to continue with their traditional pre-race displays in 2022 and beyond. Although not confirmed, it has also been reported that the Frecce Tricolori are likely to get an exemption – meaning the new rule would mainly be enforced against non-European militaries.  Automobile Club Milano is one of several organisations calling for the Frecce Tricolori’s race day appearences to continue.

According to Silverstone, the Red Arrows are “not classed as military aviation [by Formula One] and, as such, do not fall into the category of those displays that will no longer be permitted at Formula One events.” This is despite the fact that the Red Arrows, officially known as the Royal Air Force Aerobatic Team, is in every respect an RAF unit, with the remit of representing the UK armed forces at events across the country and around the world.

The exemption presumably reflects the fact that the Red Arrows, along with some other European aerobatic teams, have become much-loved cultural icons in their own right. That, combined with the fact the team flies training aircraft in non-standard paint schemes, means the team is less strongly associated with the military than some of the other aircraft which have performed at Formula One races in recent years.

It should be noted that as the Red Arrows have not confirmed their 2022 schedule, Silverstone’s announcement does not mean that they are certain to take part in this year’s British Grand Prix, merely that Formula One has given approval for them to do so.