Virtual reality racing

Google and Red Bull are bringing high-octane racing closer than ever – inches from your face

This new Red Bull and Google partnership is not for those with a fear of flying: the two giants are going to put us right in the middle of the Red Bull Air Race through virtual reality (VR) headsets.

If successful the tie-up will set a new benchmark for watching live events and could be replicated by other motor sports. It’s happening on February 2, 2018, during the championship event in Abu Dhabi, and will allow spectators to put themselves in the place of the pilots and see exactly what they see as they fly their 370kph, 10g planes through the course. There is a snag – it currently only works with Google’s Daydream headset (£99).

Red Bull and Google promise it will be a totally immersive experience, with real-time telemetry and live flight data such as pitch, roll and airspeed displayed on the screen. And, says Czech pilot Martin Sonka, it could even aid the pilots: “We can see mistakes that we’ve made in previous flights and find the right corrections.”

Virtual reality (VR) headsets have previously been used to take users on rollercoaster rides, or on laps around a circuit from the comfort of their sofa via a smartphone plugged into a visor. As you turn your head your view changes too, whether that’s left, right or behind courtesy of a 360-degree video image.

GoPro has been trialling live 360-degree immersive video for years. Randy Mamola was able to ride virtual shotgun with his son during a MotoAmerica race at Salt Lake City in 2016 (watch at while he was the other side of the world. But that was one camera, for one person, on one stream, unlike this global Red Bull/Google project.

Formula 1 actually tested live 360-degree cameras at the Singapore Grand Prix, becoming the first theoretically to be able to sync it with live television feeds and remove the previous 30-second delay for processing. That was a test for a later implementation as part of Liberty’s grand plan, presumably.

IndyCar has been innovating with live visor cam technology, which does what it says on the tin, and has had remotely controlled cameras turning and spinning to follow passing cars for years.

But this Red Bull and Google partnership, if successful, could signal a shift into the mainstream for virtual reality.