Formula 1

Callum Ilott: “The team made it as easy as possible for me to hit the ground running”

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Credit: Xavi Bonilla / DPPI

Callum Ilott enjoyed his first free practice session on Friday morning at the Autódromo Internacional do Algarve, with the Briton taking to the track for Alfa Romeo Racing ORLEN in place of Antonio Giovinazzi.

Ilott, the runner-up to Mick Schumacher in last years’ FIA Formula 2 Championship, was announced to be Alfa Romeo’s second reserve driver for the 2021 Formula 1 season earlier this week, and he was given the opportunity to take to the track in the C41-Ferrari for the first time in Portugal.

On a track new to him, he completed twenty-one laps and finished a respectable seventeenth fastest, just two places and 0.425 seconds behind veteran team-mate Kimi Räikkönen

After the session, he admitted he was surprised by the pace jump when he switched from the hard to the soft tyres, but by the end of his time in the car he was feeling more comfortable.

“I really enjoyed being in the car today,” said Ilott.  “The team made it as easy as possible for me to hit the ground running and it was an excellent opportunity to gain experience, make the most of this hour and help the team gather data for the weekend.

“This is not an easy track, but I was able to build confidence with every run. The first run on hard tyres was good and I was able to get comfortable with the car; when I made the jump to softs I was a bit caught out at first as there was a big grip increase, but I was able to get more of a feeling for where to exploit the grip towards the end of the session.

“Having worked with the team in the past really helped: all in all, it was a successful day, running consistently and learning a lot.”

France the Next Chance for Ilott to Run with Alfa Romeo – Vasseur

Frédéric Vasseur, the Team Principal at Alfa Romeo and the CEO of Sauber Motorsport AG, has hinted that Ilott will be back in the C41 for practice for the French Grand Prix.

Ilott has twice tested with Alfa Romeo across the past two seasons, but practice on Friday marked the first time he participated in an official session in Formula 1, having had his planned outing with the Haas F1 Team at the Eifel Grand Prix cancelled last year due to the weather.

“We have a good relationship with Callum,” Vasseur is quoted as saying by Motorsport.com.  “He’s confident with the team, the relationship is good. He was quite relaxed in the car. I really appreciate the session.

“It was the first one, he will probably drive also the car in FP1 [again], the next one will be France, it will be probably much easier for him.  You know that we want to do a couple of FP1s during the season. I didn’t pay too much attention to the first one. It was like a warm-up.

“The next couple of FP1s will be on tracks that also he knows much more. We won’t burn the first two or three laps of the session to test the track, and it will be much easier.  But honestly, it went very well this morning.”

Vasseur says Ilott had a difficult task in practice this weekend to get up to speed, with sessions having been reduced to just an hour for 2021.  It meant for the Briton that the session was more condensed than it would have been for the likes of Charles Leclerc and Antonio Giovinazzi, both of whom tested for Alfa Romeo prior to racing for the team.

“It’s even more difficult than it was in the past,” insisted Vasseur.  “If you remember in the past, we did the same exercise with Charles in 2017. Even with Antonio in ’18, it was always very challenging for them. Now this season, it’s even more difficult, because you have only one hour.

“It means that the first stint is a bit shorter, and you have two or three laps in the first stint, very often just one lap or two laps in the second stint to demonstrate that you are on the pace.

“Before the session, everybody thought OK, you have no mistakes, no pressure, you can take it not easy, but do your job.  But then at the end, everybody is focused on the lap time, they know perfectly the situation.

“For sure you look stupid if you crash the car, but you can look stupid if you are too slow. The exercise is very, very difficult.”

Callum Ilott made his free practice debut in Portugal on Friday – Credit: Antonin Vincent / DPPI
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Thirty-something motorsport fanatic, covering Formula 1, Formula Renault 2.0 and Formula 3. Feel free to give him a follow on Twitter at @Paul11MSport.
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