In the first 2017 edition of his column for Badger GP, FIA European Formula 3 frontrunner Callum Ilott talks us through his busy off-season, new team and lofty ambitions for the season ahead.
Hello again! So are you ready for another season of petrol-fuelled story-telling from the world of F3? This year I’m going to try and mix it up a bit with a few more thoughts and opinions along with my race reviews, something I’m sure fits in with the Badger ethos.
Since we last spoke, things have gone a bit crazy with so much going on. After Macau last year I signed a contract to race with Prema Powerteam for another crack at FIA F3 in 2017.
I had a lot of fun and some success last year with Van Amersfoort Racing, but this year we’re going all out for the title, something Prema has won six times and is keen to do for a record-breaking seventh. I’ve got myself in the best position I can for this season; Prema is a fantastic team with great experience, strong resources, consistency and I feel good about the year ahead.
I also managed to sneak in my first GP2/F2 test in Abu Dhabi straight after Macau. It was amazing to get to drive round the Yas Marina circuit – on the track where I saw my first GP when I was a child. I loved the car. Very fast. And I’m looking forward to the step up to it when the time is right. Maybe next year, we’ll see.
Following the Christmas break and a chilled beach holiday, me and the team have been flat-out so far this year with pre-season training. My Italian is improving little by little; I spent a lot of time in the country whilst I was karting so it’s been a case of trying to remember all the useful phrases. I’ve already been to Prema a few times this year, getting to know the engineers, processes and put some miles on its sim. In the past 12 months I’ve been in a lot of different sims; from F1-grade down to ones for playing online gaming and the Prema one is very good.
Off track preparations have been really positive too; I’ve been selected for the BRDC Superstars programme and I’ll be part of the MSA Academy too. Both programmes do their bit to help develop young British drivers and it’s great to have their support this season.
Back in the Groove
One of the great things about FIA F3 is that we get a reasonable amount of in-car test time before the season starts in April. At first it took me a little while to settle back into the car; you spend an entire year driving one way with one team and then you have to adapt all of a sudden. Our first test in Hungary was a little low-key, running through the usual testing programme and just getting used to the new car. By the time we got to the Red Bull Ring, at the end of March, I enjoyed a quick lap or two to top the time sheets. Testing showed we could be quick but I know we really only see the real performance of everybody on race day. We are in good shape but we’ll only really know when those lights go out.
The first round of the season is this weekend at Silverstone – my home race. Silverstone is obviously very fast and very technical, and it’s often the most precise guy out there who gets the win. I made my Euro F3 debut at Silverstone in 2015 and picked up two top-ten finishes. It might seem strange for a British driver but that’s actually the only time I have raced there, ever! So it’s fair to say that I am looking forward to a little more Silverstone track time this weekend. There’s a risk of rain, so some wet racing on damp track should mix it up a little.
When I’ve not been driving on the simulator and training, I’ve been keeping an eye on Formula 1, and who can blame me! It’s exciting to see Ferrari back up there with Mercedes; I think the first two races almost guarantee that it’s going to be Mercedes vs Ferrari and Hamilton vs Vettel for the title, which is great.
The bit I was worried about was the possible lack of overtaking. It’s great to have good-looking, fast cars, but not if the racing is worse. But I think China has put some of my fears to rest – it was good to see Max V making those moves count. It’s good also to see other young drivers coming up through the ranks, like my old team mate Lance Stroll from my karting days, and of course Antonio Giovanazzi who was with me for my first season in F3 with Carlin. Antonio really got the chance to impress at his first F1 race weekend, but shame for him that China didn’t go his way. I do like the way the drivers are able to push the tyres 100% in 2017 – just the way it should be – now all they need to do is reduce the turbulence for the fans’ sake and it should be perfect.
That’s all for now guys, time get my head down at Silverstone. If you’re at the track over the weekend, feel free to come and say hi! In the meantime, be sure to give me a follow on Twitter or Instagram at @callum_ilott.