“Top Gear” Video Features Race Between A McLaren Speedtail And An F-35B Lightning Jet

The F-35B and the McLaren involved in the "Top Gear" race. (Image credit: screenshot from BBC video below).

Here’s the full film of the McLaren Speedtail vs F-35 race.

Last February, the popular British TV auto series “Top Gear” (at its 28th season in the UK) aired an episode that featured a race between a sports car and fighter jet. Both the McLaren Speedtail and the F-35 represent the best of breed in their own fields: the car is the McLaren’s fastest production vehicle ever thanks to its top speed of 250 miles per hour (403 kmh) while the Lightning is the most advanced, complex, expensive and controversial aircraft ever produced.

The race consisted of a triangle-shaped track along the airport tarmac: the track forces the F-35 to perform some turns and lose part of the advantage it would get flying straight.

The F-35B and McLaren start side-by-side. The supercar gets the lead after the initial jump, but the F-35 is in the air before the Speedtail gets to the first turn. From there, the supercar has the lead a few times, but the plane shows its superiority and it eventually manages to cross the finish line well before the Speedtail gets there.

The F-35B Lightning involved in the race was ZM145 “011” and the pilot (based on his name tag) belonged to 207 Squadron, or 207(OC) Squadron according to the official designation, the first unit dedicated to F-35 pilot training outside of the United States. The 207 Squadron shares RAF Marham (the airbase where the race was held), with the “Dambusters” of 617 Squadron (and they should be joined by the Fleet Air Arm’s 809 Naval Air Squadron by 2023). Aircraft, personnel, equipment and support infrastructure, dubbed “Lightning Force”, are pooled and jointly manned by Royal Air Force and Royal Navy personnel. To reflect that, 207 Squadron was purposefully chosen because it has both Air Force and Naval lineage.

The full video of the race has just been released:

Although it may seem weird to compare these machines, it’s worth remembering that there are many technologies used both in a combat jet and a supercar or F1 sports car: as we explained in a detailed article published here at The Aviationist years ago, Hands On Throttle And Stick, Variable Geometry Intakes, Movable Ailerons and Wings, Boundary Layer Control, etc. are only but few technologies common to Military Aviation and Formula One.

Aerodynamics is also the same, even if it is applied in reverse: while airfoils of cars’ surfaces are used to create a downforce needed to push the tyres onto the track, wings’ surfaces have to generate lift to sustain the aircraft’s weight. Everything is ruled by a simple physical principle: by having to travel different distances over the same time along the contours of an airfoil, air flow generates a difference in pressure: where distance is greater, speed has to be higher and pressure will be lower. As pressure tries to balance, a force in the direction of low pressure is generated. A modern F1 car is capable of developing +3.5 G lateral cornering acceleration while an aircraft can produce +9 G vertical accelerations.

However, not only technical things make the two worlds so similar:  both are based on teamwork, beyond the envelope research and endless practice and the “communion” is often sanctioned by the use of the same symbols. For instance, the famous symbol of Scuderia Ferrari, the black Prancing Horse, is the emblem that  the Italian WWI ace Francesco Baracca used on his planes and that it is currently used by many Italian Air Force units as the 4° Stormo.

Races between fighter planes and Formula One cars or Motorbikes have been organized too. One of the most famous ones took place on Dec. 11, 2003, at Grosseto airport, where the Ferrari F2003-GA piloted by six times world champion Michael Schumacher challenged the Eurofighter Typhoon flown by the astronaut (and former Italian Air Force test pilot) Maurizio Cheli.

The race between Schumacher’s Ferrari and the Eurofighter was not the first of its kind. The previous and most famous precedent dates back to 1981 when Gilles Villeneuve and other Formula 1 drivers, competed on the Istrana runways against the 51° Stormo’s F-104s. The race ended with a clear victory of the four wheels due to the fog that forced the airplanes to take off weighted down by extra tip and pylon tanks.

This event is still engraved in the memory of aviation and motoring enthusiasts and contributed to the Italian Air Force’s decision to present Ferrari with F-104G MM.6546/4-47, painted red overall with the team’s badge on the air intakes and re-coded 4-27 to represent the 4° Stormo (“4”) and the race number of the late Villeneuve’s Ferrari 126 CK Turbo (“27”). The fighter is still on display at the Fiorano racetrack.

[Read also The Pagani Zonda Tricolore and the MV Agusta F4: the guest stars of the Rivolto airshow]

Dealing with motorbikes, in 2003, an Italian AF F-104 was painted with the red, white and black colors of the 10° Gruppo and boasted a flashy “999”  in homage to the 9° Stormo and to celebrate the twinning with the Ducati. The “999” is in fact a famous motorbike model of the Italian Racing Team which sports a similar colour scheme to the one devised for the special Starfighter. The special coloured aircraft was involved in a speed race against a Ducati 999 held in Grazzanise on Oct. 14, 2004.

[Read also the Lotus “Evora” S of the Italian Police on display at the Italian Armed Forces Day]


It’s worth mentioning that the full video of the F-35 winning the race against the McLaren was released few days after the news of an issue that risks damage to the F-35’s tail section if the aircraft needs to maintain supersonic speeds is not worth fixing and will be addressed changing operational procedures, was broken by Defense News. “The deficiency, first reported by Defense News in 2019, means that at extremely high altitudes, the U.S. Navy’s and Marine Corps’ versions of the F-35 jet can only fly at supersonic speeds for short bursts of time before there is a risk of structural damage and loss of stealth capability” the report explains.

About David Cenciotti
David Cenciotti is a journalist based in Rome, Italy. He is the Founder and Editor of “The Aviationist”, one of the world’s most famous and read military aviation blogs. Since 1996, he has written for major worldwide magazines, including Air Forces Monthly, Combat Aircraft, and many others, covering aviation, defense, war, industry, intelligence, crime and cyberwar. He has reported from the U.S., Europe, Australia and Syria, and flown several combat planes with different air forces. He is a former 2nd Lt. of the Italian Air Force, a private pilot and a graduate in Computer Engineering. He has written five books and contributed to many more ones.