by journalist Bruna Pickler (cover photo credit: Ferrari Driver Academy©)
Thank you, Callum Ilott, for your time. 2018 was your fourth time racing at Macau GrandPrix. As we all know, 4 is not a lucky number, specially not in China. For so, we have high hopes that your 5th attempt will be easier, with better chances for you to win. Please give us a clearer idea about you and your career by answering our questions below 🙂
Bruna Pickler: We know your first race was at the age of 8. Do you remember having any earlier thought about racing, before it became your career?
Callum Ilott: I’ve been into motorsport for pretty much as long as I can remember. Before I was competing, I’d be watching F1 on TV with my family. I was probably three or four back then so that might make F1 as one of my earliest memories!
How does it become a professional thing? It was your hobby at once, and then it became a profession. How did that transition happen to you?
We weren’t a motorsports family back then and there was never a plan for it to be a career at the beginning. I raced for fun at the beginning and because it was dad and son time. When we started, we hadn’t a clue what all the karting tricks were, and it took a bit of time to get the results, but, once we had sussed a few things out like setup, engine tuning, where to get the best chassis from etc., the results started to come. I’ve always taken my career one step at a time, knowing that progress can only come on merit, not on budget. Only when Red Bull took me to F3 did I think that it might be something that I could take further. Without its support, I just wouldn’t have had the opportunity to show what I could do. I honestly don’t think I would have the career I have today without the faith it showed in me. Now, I’m part of the Ferrari Driver Academy and joining was another major step forward in my development as a racing driver.
We heard that you stopped school (formal education) at a very young age. This happens to, actually, many of the best athletes around the globe. Any thoughts regarding resuming school, and/or going to University? If you would, which subject/profession would you pick to study?
That’s not correct, I actually stayed in school until I completed my AS Levels so until I was nearly 18. I am very unusual in that I stayed in the mainstream education system a lot longer than most young racing drivers. Most have private tutors. We felt that it was important to have some aspect of normality in my life and also the challenge of balancing school and racing is character building. After an initial move out of a school that was unsupportive, I was lucky enough to go to two schools that did everything they could to support me whilst I was absent Wednesdays to Sundays – Heath Mount then Haileybury don’t really feel any need to resume schooling or go to University. I have definitely been to the University of Life with everything I have done in the past 10 years! Career-wise I’m a bit of an entrepreneur; I love doing the deals and I’ve got an interest in fashion. Having my own label would be pretty cool.
What is the role of social media in your career?
It’s become such a big part for all drivers. Fans, teams, sponsors want to see what you are doing, find out how a weekend has gone or catch up with what you are up to away from the track. It’s also the way most announcements happen these days so I don’t think, as drivers, we could live without it.
Do you believe that being more active on social media attracts more attention to potential sponsors, or how is the relationship of these two subjects?
Yeah, sponsors who I have worked with will look at the demographic of your audience and see if it fits the profile they want to reach. It’s not just about numbers but about having the right fans to make it work for a sponsor.
What are your favorite social medias? (per time spent at)
Definitely Instagram, more pictures, less words works for me.
If you were not the great racing driver the world learned to love, what other career would you have?
I think I might have done something entrepreneurial, something involving setting up my own business.
What is the best place to have an afternoon coffee in Cambridge?
I was born in Cambridge, but we live further south nearer to London. In truth I spend more time in Italy so I’m a bit out of the loop on local coffee shops. If you want to know about Pizzerias in Modena, then I can help.
Anything else you would like to share with us about Cambridge? Or other cities in the U.K.?
London is a cool place. It’s easy to get to from my parent’s home and it’s got everything you could want. Shopping, cool restaurants, bars and when if you feel like it, a bit of culture.
What is the best gift you ever received from a fan?
I’ve had a few nice things, especially from fans in Asia who are very kind and thoughtful. Having dedicated fans that send pictures or bring cakes to a race track still surprises me.
What does your training consist of? (Special diet, daily gym training, restrictions when travel, etc…)
In Italy I’m down the gym every day, sometimes twice a day and I’ve just come back from a week-long winter training camp in Livigno with the Ferrari Driving Academy. When I’m at home in the UK, I manage my own routine and despite going to about six Christmas parties this year, I still managed to keep on form! I had no problems during the F2 testing at the end of the year, so I know, physically, I’m in good shape, for the season ahead. I eat very healthily but don’t need to follow a specific diet like some drivers. There’s been no restrictions in travel, almost the opposite Since Abu Dhabi, I’ve clocked up a few miles going to Japan, Dubai and back and forth to Italy, so most of December was either in a plane or waiting to get on or off one.
What could you tell us regarding the cars/brands you’ve raced for ‘till now?
It’s really been focussed on F3 using different versions of the Dallara chassis, but I’ve also raced in Toyota Racing Series in New Zealand, GP2, GP3 and next year will be F2. I’d love to race pretty much anything, if the opportunity comes up, doing some races in sports cars, alongside my single seater career, is something I’d look at.
What keeps you motivated to everyday self-improvement?
Doing the best job I can keeps me motivated. I work hard in and out of the car, but you have good days and bad in motorsport; there are a lot of factors that determine success. I just focus on doing the best job I can each time I get in the car and repay the faith that the Ferrari Driver Academy has put in me.
What do you get from being in the Ferrari Driver Academy?
2019 is my second year in the Ferrari Driver Academy and I’m very happy to continue my development with Laurent, Marco and the rest of the organisation. There are a lot of positives that made accepting a place an easy decision for me at the end of 2017. What I really like is how complete the programme is. Of course, there is a big element of physical training but there’s a lot of other activities that range from Italian language skills to yoga and simulator sessions. It’s all about improving yourself as a driver and developing all the skills needed these days. I also like the family approach that the FDA has created. We do a lot of training together, and I’ve ended up sharing a house with Marcus Armstrong. That family emphasis feels very genuine and it works well for me.
Macao Grand Prix
What are the feelings you were left with, regarding the final race of Macau GrandPrix F3 last year (2018)?
This year it didn’t go my way in the final race when we didn’t have the straight-line speed to compete after each restart. I was happy with the podium on Saturday, but the unpredictability over the weekend is the special appeal of Macau and why I come back year after year. Obviously, Sophia’s accident cast a big shadow over the events that day and we were concerned for her safety and for others that had been involved.
What was your feeling during the race? When it all stopped, did you have any idea about what had just happened?
At the start, everyone was worried as it was such a big one, but once news came back to the pitlane that she was conscious, we all were relieved initially. It’s tough when you know people are badly injured, but you just have to remember that there are specialists on hand to help immediately and that’s why we are always very grateful to all of those trackside with a role to play. Once we knew everyone was being taken care of, we then had to wait for the repairs and prepare ourselves to get back out there. Mentally it’s not easy to stand around waiting for news of those injured, and then psych yourself up to get back in the car and carry on and finish the job. I know we were all feeling it whilst we were waiting, even though we tried not to show it.
Are you returning to compete in Macau next year? What else is in the agenda for the year of 2019? Could you disclose which countries are on your list to visit and race?
My plans for 2019 will be announced soon. I’m keeping an eye out on what format the Grand Prix takes and will always look at a chance to race there, except on the motorbikes, I’m not sure I could do it on two wheels.
Who is your current idol (in any field)?
I don’t really have idols as such. There are drivers that I respect both for who they are and what they have achieved. Drivers such as Vettel, Hamilton and Loeb in WRC. You’ve also got to say that Billy Monger is inspirational too. I’ve known him for a long time since we raced together as boys. To have gone through his accident, the recovery and then get back into a race car and get the results he has, is incredible.
Do you know the rules or ever tried to play either archery or equestrian sports? Which would be your favorite to try once, archery or horse-jumping?
My mum and sister both ride horses but having tried it, it’s not for me. I want something I am fully in control of.
F1 and F3
What would be your suggestion to someone who would like to be involved in working in this field (not necessarily as a pilot), but to be involved in working with racing cars. What are the easiest ways in, what are the professions that require/allow more people, or that allow you to have a long-time and accomplished career in this sport?
There are lots of ways to get involved and I think it’s important that anyone can take part. The easiest is to go and watch a race event. There are tracks all around the country. If you want to be more hands on, then look at some of the motorsport engineering courses out there. Some universities have Formula Student teams that build and compete against other colleges.
To work for a team, it’s important to get some experience before you can expect to work for the big outfits. Maybe join a motor club to meet competitors is a good way to get started.
In your opinion, when would be the perfect timing/conditions for you, to evolve into the next levels of this career, namely F2 and F1? (What are your ambitions)
This season is about doing a good job in F2 and I want to keep pushing to reach F1. Simple.