With 20 drivers competing in 18 races at nine different venues for six different teams, the final GP3 season is set to be one of the most competitive yet.
Britain’s Callum Ilott is entering his rookie GP3 season with strong confidence and high hopes after joining the most successful squad in GP3 history, ART Grand Prix. Overtake Motorsport caught up with the 19-year-old from Cambridge to find out his thoughts on the season ahead and his future as a Ferrari Academy driver:
Callum, you are the first British driver to become a Ferrari Academy driver (FDA), which must be a real honour for you. How did it feel when you were first approached by Ferrari Academy and how did it all come about in the first place?
Callum Ilott – Being part of the Ferrari Driver Academy is a big honour for sure and I’m proud that they approached me last year with this opportunity. It all came about as my F3 season progressed. Massimo Rivola, the head of the FDA was looking after another FDA member Guan Yu Zhou in Prema, the team I was driving for in ‘17. We got to spend some time together and Massimo could see my performances first-hand. From there, we started a discussion about me joining and everything was set up ahead of Macau. It was nice to repay their faith in me with a win first time out in FDA colours.
In the short amount of time with your new family in Maranello, what do you think the academy has improved in Callum Ilott?
CI – The main thing for me is that for the first time, I have a structured full-time development programme, which has kept me very busy in the off season. We get support in all the areas of being a driver today and I feel that thanks to this, I‘ve made improvements both on and off track. One of the main ones, of course, is fitness. I’ve always trained but this year I feel stronger and better prepared. FDA encourages all of us to work together and that is, again, something I hadn’t benefitted from before. Spending time with other drivers is cool, both professionally but also for chilling too. As a driver, you can end up spending chunks of time on your own and that’s not ideal. With us all in Maranello, it’s easy for a group of us to meet up. The FDA promotes itself as a family and I think that’s a good thing that you don’t get with every junior programme.
Last year, you had a successful season with six wins and ten pole positions plus the great weekend at Macau, winning the qualification race and challenging at the front of the main race. That was a step up from two race wins in the whole of the previous two seasons. What do you feel made the difference in 2017? Did you personally feel a move to GP3 was important to carry the momentum on?
CI – Experience plays a big part in that progression. I’d jumped straight into F3 from karting only the year before so I was on a steeper learning curve compared to drivers that may have done Formula Renault or F4. I skipped a big step in missing those junior formulae. 2016 was only my second ever season in cars so I was still developing my driving. That year, I had my first race car wins and was the youngest driver to achieve multiple wins and multiple pole positions. Plus, I finished the year with more points than all of my teammates combined. Why GP3? Well, I want to continue my single seater career so we had to move forward. We looked at the all opportunities and GP3 was the most attractive for 2018. I get to race at more of the F1 tracks, learn about tyre management and DRS, and I have a chance to show the F1 paddock what I can do.
After driving a Formula 3 car for the past three seasons and having tested through the winter in the GP3/16 car, what would you say are the main differences between the two cars?
CI – There’s a bit more power in the GP3 car which is always a good thing and of course we’ve got DRS. Another element is the tyre management. I’ve been using the testing to get my head around how the Pirellis work and when to push in qualifying and during the races. It is things like that where being part of a top team like ART’s has helped me make the most of the tests so far.
On the subject of testing the GP3/16, how prepared do you feel for the 2018 season?
CI – We’ve had a long winter but it’s been good to have the three official tests. As a driver, you always want more track time but I feel positive with where we are. I say it every year but testing is testing and you don’t really know what everyone is doing but I’ve been happy with the pace at each of the tests.
ART have dominated the GP3 series in recent seasons and took the top four positions in the championship table in 2017. Do you think it will be a similar story in 2018? Who do you think will be your closest challengers?
CI – ART is a strong team and it knows what it takes to win in GP3. There are very few technical changes from last year so that points to us being in good shape but it’s too early to make predictions. We’ll know more after Barcelona. For sure, my team mates should go well. Anthoine has the consistency of a second year and Jake did a season in 2016 but I’m there to win, do my best to beat my teammates, and of course show Ferrari what I can do.
Which track are you most looking forward to racing on in 2018 and why?
CI – I’m looking forward to Silverstone, it’s my home race and we don’t get many chances to race here where it’s easier for friends and family to come and watch. You’ve also got the British crowd pushing you on. That’s worth a couple of tenths! I enjoy a new challenge so getting to race on different tracks like Sochi is cool. I’ve tested at Yas Marina and catching some winter sun at the end of November sounds good to me.
You have mentioned in interviews previously that you are having to learn Italian in the Ferrari Academy, how is that coming along?
CI – Sta arrivando lentamente. I can understand a lot as I have been with Italian teams most of my driving life so far, but getting my driver’s brain engaged to speak it is still challenge!
If you could go back to 2014 before you were racing in cars, what one piece of advice would you pass on to yourself?
CI – Take each year as it comes, be prepared that things don’t always go to plan but keep focused on what you want to achieve.
Are you a driver who constantly thinks about racing away from the track or do you like to distance yourself to relax? What are your hobbies and interests away from racing?
CI – Racing is a constant but I do like my downtime. The experts more and more say that relaxation and rest time are very important. So for me, that could be just sticking some headphones on, taking my dog out or just bingeing on a box set.
The final season of GP3 series begins at the Circuit de Catalunya, Barcelona on Friday 11th May with Practice 1 at 08:30 and Qualifying at 17:50 on the same day.