Briton Callum Ilott currently sits first in the 2018 GP3 Series standings after finishing first and sixth at the Red Bull Ring.
The ART Grand Prix driver has spent the past three years racing in the FIA European Formula 3 Championship with Carlin (2015), Van Amersfoort Racing (2016) and Prema Powerteam (2017) with his best championship finish fourth in 2017.
“I’ve been very fortunate to drive with some of the best teams in F3 and ART is right up there with its level of attention to detail, procedures and staff,” Ilott told The Checkered Flag. “From Sebastien [Philippe] and throughout the team, the guys are great. I just wish I had stuck with my French now! In GP3, it’s the best team and knows the car very well. Once we decided to drive in GP3, it was my prime choice.”
It was during his time at Prema, the possibility of Ilott joining the Ferrari Driver Academy started being discussed.
“Massimo Rivola, who oversees the FDA, was looking after another FDA member and team-mate of mine Guan Yu Zhou. I got to spend some time with Massimo at a few of the weekends and we got on really well. He got a good behind the scenes insight into my performances and we began to discuss me joining. Everything was sorted just before Macau so that was my first event as an FDA driver. It was cool to win first-time out too.”
Ilott, refers to the qualification race at the Macau Grand Prix which he won by almost eight seconds.
Ilott is in an unique position in that he was in the Red Bull Junior Team prior to joining the FDA.
The Briton joined the Red Bull team in 2015 but lost his place at the end of the same year after underperforming, but it means he knows what differences there are between the two programmes.
“They are two entirely different propositions. For me, the main difference is what I call the ‘family’ approach that the FDA team has created. Whether you race in GP3, F3, F4 or F2, we do a lot of the activities together. I even live in the same apartment block as some of the guys so it’s a way of life. I think that’s good for drivers as it can be a quite a lonely existence for a driver with the travel and training.
“This way you’ve got a chance to socialise and chill with drivers on similar schedules, having the same pressures. That’s a real benefit. The other difference is the amount of time we spend working during the week. The FDA is essentially full time to the point that I’ve moved to Maranello and we have something scheduled every day. Weekends are free though and I’ve had plenty of those with the late start to the season.”
The disappointment that Ilott would have felt from losing his position at Red Bull was the moment that caused him to grow as not only a driver but also a person.
“Moving on from Red Bull at 16 turning 17 was a milestone, but then sorting a deal with VAR and then winning first-time out was a great confidence booster. Then I think my win last year on Saturday at Macau with a 7 second lead was special – for me at least! People in our industry know how hard that track can be so that result was a decent boost.
“From a personal point of view, becoming part of the FDA has changed a lot for me. I think I’ve developed and matured a lot already in 2018 as a result of it. Moving away from home and to a different country naturally makes me much more independent and having the structure of our programme is new for me too. Though I still miss my dog!”
With speculation that European Formula 3 and GP3 are soon to become one series, having knowledge of the two will help the Briton if he remains in the series when that happens.
“There’s quite a few differences. The GP3 car is a fair bit heavier than the F3 car but it has more power so it’s actually quicker. The thing that everyone knows about GP3 is the tyre degradation – having to manage this and knowing when to push. That’s the biggest difference for me in terms of strategy for the weekend. Qualifying is really critical. There’s other elements such as DRS and the reverse grid so I’m learning a lot but I’m loving the challenge.”
In the opening six races of the season, five of the races have been won by ART with all the drivers having taken victory – Ilott twice and the others once.
The dominance of the ARTs is unsurprising given their history in the series but could allow for things to get too competitive between team-mates.
“We are all competitive and as we have seen from Barcelona, we each have the chance to challenge for wins but we get on and work together as a team. ART is a top team and I know it is capable of ensuring we can all deliver. It knows how to run four cars competitively too.
“Nikita and I have known each other since we were about 14 back in the karting world. I was team mates with Anthoine at VAR in F3 and I’ve known Jake for ages too. It’s a good dynamic within the team which is a real positive.”
Leading the standings, Ilott will be looking forward to be heading to his home race at Silverstone this weekend.
“I was lucky to get a last-minute F2 drive last year and being part of the British GP was so cool, but it was all so late, so I didn’t have a chance to enjoy the whole build-up. I was still reading the car manual and sorting out somewhere to sleep on the Thursday! The other good thing about a home race is having friends, family and some of my sponsors along.”
Coming off the back of a strong weekend in Austria, Ilott will be keen to strengthen his position at the top of the championship as well as put on a good show for his home support.
The British GP weekend takes place 6-8 July.