Callum Ilott: “I’m watching to see how Formula E develops” – exclusive interview
RealSport exclusively spoke with the former Red Bull Junior racer about his car catching fire, his ideal teammate, and his future in motorsport
If you’ve not been watching Formula 3 this year, you’ve been missing out on what has been a very tight competition. There are three drivers close together at the top of the constructors, including Lando Norris, who we recently interviewed.
However, still in the race in fourth is former Red Bull Junior racer Callum Ilott. Now racing for Prema Powerteam, Callum is easily having his best season in F3 so far, having finished last year in 6th and the year before, his rookie season, in 12th. With twelve races left in 2017, Callum has already tied the number of podiums he notched up last season, and won more races this season than he did all of last season.
RealSport spoke with Callum and ask him about his past, present and future in motorsport.
RealSport: Who or what was the main influence behind your desire to drive?
Callum Ilott: That’s my Dad. He was the main influence for sure. We aren’t a motorsports family but he’s always won when he has raced anything for fun. He’d passed the Rye House kart track whilst travelling to London on the train and thought I might like to try karting. So we just turned up asking for a go. And it all developed from there.
RS: When was the first time you thought that this was something you could make a career out of?
CI: The thought of becoming professional really started when we started winning titles in Europe. I think that’s when we believed that this could be something that would be a career.
RS: What is your best memory from karting?
CI: The 2014 season was a real highlight. I won the four-round senior CIK-FIA European Karting Championship, the WSK Super Master Series and also came third in the WSK Champions Cup. One meeting that really stood out was the CIK-FIA World Championship. I finished fourth which might not sound brilliant but I’d actually started 32nd and overtaking that many karts surprised a lot of people.
RS: In any category in your career so far, who has your toughest rival been?
CI: In karting the European championship title came down to the last race with the other front runner Nicklas Nielsen so that was quite tough.
RS: What did your time in the Red Bull Young Driver Program teach you?
CI: First and foremost, the Red Bull programme made it possible for me to make the transition to F3. Without their support I wouldn’t have been able to get into that category as quickly as I did. It was a fantastic opportunity and I’ll always appreciate what they did for me.
RS: Describe the feeling of getting your first win in a new category
CI: Winning for the first time in F3 was a brilliant feeling as we’d had a tricky time with the car catching fire just before and the team ended up building up a car around a borrowed tub overnight. To win with a ‘bitsa’ was really special.
RS: Your F3 career is on the up and up – is this year’s title a realistic target for yourself and the team at this halfway point of the season?
CI: That is still our aim. We’ve had some tough luck this year and the momentum has ebbed and flowed between the four of us at the front. It’s not going to be easy but winning the championship is still realistic and it’s what I’m pushing for.
RS: Do you see series titles as being key to young drivers being picked up by F1 teams, or are there other factors to consider?
CI: Titles aren’t necessarily a marker of future performance but of course they are what people remember. Look at Max Verstappen or Charles Leclerc. Both finished third in their F3 years and have gone onto even more success. So, yes, titles are nice but they shouldn’t be seen as the only gauge of future performance.
RS: You’ve raced at Silverstone before, but how was it driving in F2 in front of the home crowd before the British Grand Prix?
CI: It was a real privilege to race at the Grand Prix meeting. Just the whole feeling from the weekend is special and for sure, it was nice to get a glimpse of what it is like to race at an event like that. I haven’t raced that many times in cars in the UK so it was an opportunity for family and friends to come along too.
RS: Any further F2 outings planned – maybe a full race seat for 2018?
CI: I’ve nothing else planned in F2 for 2017. We haven’t got to discussing 2018 yet but F2 would definitely be one of my preferred options. It’s the natural progression for me.
RS: Your previous and current F3 team both use Mercedes power. Do you see Mercedes as being your route into Formula 1, perhaps in a similar vein to Esteban Ocon and Pascal Wehrlein?
CI: We use Mercedes power but I’m not affiliated beyond that. Being aligned to a manufacturer definitely helps smooth the path to F1 and I would be very open to joining any of the manufacturer-backed plans, not just Mercedes.
RS: If you could pick a teammate (past or present F1 drivers), who would it be and why?
CI: I have always admired Fernando Alonso for his ability to drive anything so he would be a strong teammate which is want you want – they are the best to learn from.
RS: Apart from Formula 1, what other series would you like to race in?
CI: At some point I’d love to do Le Mans. The current hybrid P1 cars are incredible and racing at night would be pretty special. I’ve got to say the momentum is swinging towards alternative powertrains and just at the manufacturers such as BMW, Mercedes and now Porsche entering Formula E. I’m watching with interest to see how that category develops.
RS: Which F1 driver (retired or active) do you feel resembles your driving style the most?
CI: That’s a hard one for me to answer but some in the media have referred to my driving style as flamboyant. Maybe your readers can make some suggestions?!