ILOTT: TIME TO MAKE MY MARK

Motor Sport News - - Insight: Brits In F3 - CV

While Lando Nor­ris has fol­lowed the FIA’S sin­gle­seater lad­der in his ca­reer pro­gres­sion, Cal­lum Ilott has truly trod­den his own path.

One of the head­line facts of Ilott’s rac­ing ca­reer so far is that he’s only ever done one car rac­ing event on Bri­tish soil – hence why he’s prob­a­bly the best home-grown hope in F3 that most know al­most noth­ing about.

Al­most all of Ilott’s rac­ing ca­reer has been played out in Europe, with cam­paigns in Ger­man and world-level karting pay­ing div­i­dends be­fore a move di­rectly to For­mula 3. That’s not the FIA’S cho­sen ca­reer step, but it’s also not a unique one.

Max Ver­stap­pen made a sim­i­lar ca­reer vault, and was even one of Ilott’s karting ri­vals at world level. And there are more sim­i­lar­i­ties be­tween Ilott and the rapid, head­line-mak­ing Dutch­man too, such as a Red Bull link.

Ilott made the move to Euro­pean F3 on the ad­vice of Dr Hel­mut Marko, and gained back­ing from its Ju­nior Team pro­gramme to do so for 2015. How­ever, un­like Ver­stap­pen, it didn’t quite work out for Ilott.

There’s been no rapid rise to For­mula 1 for the 18-year-old from Cam­bridge, but what there is on the ta­ble for Ilott is a shin­ing chance to win this year’s Euro F3 crown and make him­self a house­hold name. This year he will race for se­ries dom­i­na­tor Prema Pow­erteam, and will be a favourite for the cham­pi­onship.

“I have to win it this year, if not it’s a mas­sive op­por­tu­nity missed,” says Ilott.

“You al­ways have to go into each year think­ing things will be big­ger and bet­ter, that’s got to be the aim. Last year I had the speed to win races reg­u­larly, but the car let me down a few times and the luck wasn’t there. This year re­ally is a huge op­por­tu­nity for me.”

Ilott prop­erly be­gan to es­tab­lish him­self in world motorsport last year when, in his sec­ond sea­son of F3, he fin­ished sixth in the Euro­pean Cham­pi­onship, win­ning two races with the Van Amers­foort team. He also took a podium in the qual­i­fy­ing race for the Ma­cau GP.

Con­sid­er­ing his lack of car rac­ing ex­pe­ri­ence prior, that was a huge achieve­ment. Ilott only set foot into a car for the first time in late 2014, with a For­mula Re­nault test, be­fore he signed to do Euro F3 in 2015 with Car­lin. A warm-up in the Toy­ota Rac­ing Se­ries helped, but he still went into a hugely com­pet­i­tive se­ries as a to­tal rookie.

Ilott ac­knowl­edges his ca­reer path hasn’t been con­ven­tional, but ar­gues he wouldn’t have it any other way.

“I didn’t do a lot of karting in the UK be­cause we al­ways saw Europe as a bet­ter op­tion,” he ex­plains. “At the time UK grids in KF3 weren’t great, but the for­mula was huge around Europe, so we did the Ger­man cham­pi­onship and then moved into WSK [World Se­ries Karting].

“The plan changed when I had a meet­ing with Dr Marko at the 2014 Bri­tish Grand Prix, and he wanted me to go for a test with Car­lin. It was only my sec­ond-ever go in a car, and it was in a For­mula 3, but I was quick straight away so the deal was done and Red Bull sup­ported me.

“I had no idea what I was step­ping in to at the time. I just thought ‘a car’s a car, let’s get on with it’. Whether it’s F3, F4 or For­mula Re­nault, the gaps be­tween them aren’t that big. It’s about get­ting the miles in and learn­ing how to get the best from each one.

“Peo­ple say I’ve missed out by not do­ing things like F4 and Fre­nault, but I don’t agree. This year will be in­ter­est­ing as I’m rac­ing against peo­ple like Lando and Mick Schumacher [Ger­man F4 grad­u­ate and son of F1 leg­end Michael] who have fol­lowed the FIA lad­der, so we can see first-hand which route works best.

“Ob­vi­ously I’ve had two years in F3, so I feel I have the edge. F3 teaches you so much, and it’s a form of rac­ing where it’s also a lot about the car and you learn how much tiny changes can af­fect the en­tire per­for­mance. I’ve also been up against the best driv­ers for the last two years, and I’ve learned from them. I was con­stantly be­ing pushed as I was chas­ing times and build­ing up my ex­pe­ri­ence.

“In F3 ex­pe­ri­ence is huge. It’s rel­a­tively easy to be within a sec­ond of some­one, but find­ing those last few tenths is so tough. You have to learn when to trust the car, when it’s go­ing to step out and when it’s ac­tu­ally slid­ing or when it’s just the feel­ing of sus­pen­sion move­ment. If I could do it all again I’d still choose that over win­ning F4 ti­tles, the only thing I’ve missed out on are the FIA’S Su­per­li­cence points.”

Ilott feels ready for this year, and to put the lessons he’s learnt into good use. Dur­ing his first year at Car­lin he took tips from driv­ers like An­to­nio Giov­inazzi and Jake Den­nis. Last year he led the line for Van Amers­foort, fin­ish­ing over 60 points clear of the team’s next-best driver.

“I was happy with my per­for­mance last year, but I had two en­gine fail­ures at key rounds and the team had as many prob­lems with my car alone as any other team would have across four!” adds Ilott.

“Over the first half of the year I had more points than all of my team-mates com­bined, so I was set­ting the bench­mark a lot of the time. With­out the prob­lems I could have fin­ished third in the cham­pi­onship quite eas­ily, and I have to build on that this year.”

The next step is win­ning Euro­pean F3, even with a raft of tal­ented new­com­ers com­ing in. But where then?

Ilott’s frac­ture from Red Bull’s Ju­nior Team pro­gramme at the end of 2015 raised eye­brows, but he never ques­tioned his own abil­ity.

“The Red Bull deal made me put pres­sure on my­self,” he adds. “I was al­ways think­ing ‘am I do­ing well enough?’ at ev­ery event and not know­ing ex­actly where I stood with things. You re­ally think about it a lot when you have a brand like that be­hind you. In a way it’s clever as it pushes you on, but I re­laxed a lot more last year with Van Amers­foort [with­out Red Bull back­ing] and that made a dif­fer­ence.

“Re­al­is­ti­cally, I’m not funded for F1. With Red Bull be­hind me I might have been, but I know my chances of mak­ing it there are in­cred­i­bly slim, so I have to look at other op­tions. Win­ning F3 would hope­fully open a lot of doors in that re­spect.

“It’s funny when you see driv­ers like Max [Ver­stap­pen] move up like he has. When I raced against him in karting he was that bit older and more ex­pe­ri­enced, but even then ev­ery­body knew he was go­ing to make it. He’s won in pretty much ev­ery cham­pi­onship he’s done, so it’s not like he doesn’t de­serve it. It’s just up to me to make my own way and see what op­por­tu­ni­ties I can make for my­self.” ■

Ilott has moved to Prema this sea­son Ilott led the line for Van Amers­foort team

Ma­cau podium (left) was a high­light

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