Britain has always had a large motorsport culture with a rich heritage and a huge amount of past and recent success on the global scene. Although there may only be one British driver currently racing in Formula One, there are many young racers on the fringes hoping to make it to the highest series of motorsport. One of these is Callum Ilott, a member of the Ferrari Young Driver Academy, he will be making his highly anticipated debut in GP3 with ART later this year. I spoke to one of Britain’s most exciting motorsport prospects about his future and career so far.
Having had an interest in the sport since he can remember, motorsport has always been part of Callum’s life. “I used to watch F1 on TV,” he said, “I was lucky enough to go to a Grand Prix when I was about 11. I had some bragging rights on my mates as we even got to go in the some of the garages. Now I know how hard it is to get in there!” As with many people who now work in the industry, they can often remember an event that encouraged them to pursue their love of the sport. Visiting a Grand Prix at the age of 11 has inspired Ilott to follow his dream career.
Even before this visit, Callum was already karting. “Just before my seventh birthday, my parents took me down to Rye House to have a go in one of the karts,” he explained. However, a simple day out soon turned into a hobby, which has now gone on to the beginning of a promising career. This doesn’t mean that was always the aim though, with Ilott saying: “it evolved gradually. Once I started having success on the international karting scene it began to seem like something I should be doing.”
One of his standout moments so far, and what brought him to the attention of many, was at Silverstone in 2017. Callum was unexpectedly called up to Formula 2 from European Formula 3 to race with Trident Racing. “I really didn’t have much time to think about it as the deal came too late to give me a chance to. I got the call on the Tuesday and was starting to read the manual on the Wednesday night. The team didn’t have my name sticker on the car on Thursday morning, it was that last minute! There was no time to jump on a simulator or have much time to process all the new things like DRS, pit stops and the hand clutch,” he told me.
Unfortunately, due to mechanical reliability Ilott was unable to show his true potential, saying: “I was hampered by problems with the radio ‘comms’ over the weekend, and of course the rear wing breaking in qualifying. All in all, I was happy with my personal performance, all things considered!”
It appears that Callum is right to be happy with his performance as many others also were. In a recent interview Alexa Quintin, Head of Communications and Media for F2, told me: “Callum did a stint in F2 at Silverstone last year and I must say, he made no mistakes. To come up from F3 at Silverstone, trying to learn the car, the tyres, the strategy and the pitstops, he did pretty well.” Reiterating this, he said: “I think the team was impressed, and I had some nice feedback from drivers and some other influential people in the paddock.”
For the upcoming season, Ilott will race with the ART team in his debut GP3 season, and will aim to replicate the success of fellow Briton George Russell. Nevertheless, it will be a challenge, something he is well aware of. “It’s a new series, car, team and new tracks, so I’ve got a bit to learn,” he explained. “That said I’m with ART, which has dominated GP3 so I’m with the strongest team to do the best job I can.” ART Grand Prix have won the Team Championship in 7 of the last 8 seasons, and so there will be great expectation upon Callum and his teammates Jake Hughes, Antione Hubert and Nikita Mazepin.
In 2017 it was announced that Callum would join the prestigious Ferrari Young Driver Academy. Set up by the senior Scuderia Ferrari F1 team, the initiative aims to help coach young drivers in all aspects of what is required of a driver racing on a global stage. “It’s very special,” he told me, “Ferrari is such an iconic team, I get excited every time I head there.” In fact, he has just moved out to Maranello, Italy, to fully immerse himself and make the most of what is an incredible opportunity.
Like previous Ferrari Driver Academy members, Ilott is hoping to use his time there to progress his career. “My aim since day one has been to get to the top of motorsport and I’m doing all I can to get there,” he said.
Growing up in the 21st century means Ilott’s childhood memories of F1 were dominated by one driver in particular. “I admired Michael Schumacher the most I think. I have been lucky enough to meet him more than once over the years,” Callum explained, however added that there were many people he admired and respected, but never many he wanted to be like. “I’ve always done things my way. My career hasn’t been conventional; I didn’t race in the UK and skipped the junior formulae like Formula Renault and F4, so my career has always been different.”
I finished by asking about what advice he would give to other young people wanting to pursue a career in motorsport. “There are plenty of places to try karting so give it a go first before committing to buying a kart and kit. Don’t worry if you are not from a racing family either; we had no experience and just got stuck in and learnt as we went along. It might seem daunting, but you’ll find people who will help, there is always someone who can offer advice – good or bad,” he replied, adding: “make sure you enjoy it, there are tough days and good days and I think you have to love it to be able to take the hard races or disappointments as well as the trips to the podium.”
Having had an unconventional journey to a career in motorsport, Callum Ilott is one of Britain’s rising stars. With the backing of the prestigious Ferrari Junior Driver Academy, and the admiration of many influential people within the world of motorsport, he is destined to succeed in whichever series he goes on to race in. Competing in GP3 this season will be a steep learning curve, but with the team’s past successes, there will also be expectation resting on the Brit’s shoulders, not that this will faze him with the aim of Formula One still firmly in sight.
(heading picture credit: Ferrari Driver Academy)