Ilott: ‘The point of Red Bull collaboration was to follow in Verstappen’s footsteps’

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Callum Ilott seeks refuge in IndyCar after a lack of seats in F1, but has already had a rich career in the subclasses of F1. In his younger years he raced in various subclasses and there he worked with various junior teams. For example, he had a short term at Red Bull’s junior program, before making the switch to Ferrari’s program. In the Chasing the Apexpodcast he discusses his experiences with the various programs and how he came to those programs.

In the podcast, the British top driver is asked by the host whether a collaboration with a junior program is the easiest way to Formula 1. According to Ilott, that is the case, especially if you do not have the financial support to reach the top yourself. But also in terms of form, Ilott was not always easy, especially in his earlier years at Red Bull.

“In my entire career I have shown brilliant moments where I have shown how fast I am. It was that speed that I had already shown in karting’, says Ilott. Coming out of the karting classes, Red Bull advisor Helmut Marko saw a future in the young driver and so he joined the Austrian team. “The whole point of working with Red Bull was to follow in Verstappen’s footsteps.”

‘At that time I think I was the young driver in the karting world. I should have continued that strong form,” he continues. It didn’t really happen in the lower junior classes. He skipped Formula 4 and was immediately placed on an ultra-competitive Formula 3 grid. “It wasn’t easy, but I didn’t do badly at the time,” he emphasizes.

How Ilott ended up in F3 via Red Bull

It was Red Bull that immediately let him take that step to F3. Perhaps the move came too early, although Ilott himself does not suggest it. ‘To put it in perspective: in 2014 I was in the last year of my karting career. I can still remember going to the Silverstone Grand Prix halfway through that year and having a meeting with Marko.’

“He told me at the time that he had a spot for me in Formula 3, with Carlin. Of course you can’t say no to that. So I didn’t do that either. I didn’t have a bad year, especially when you see what very strong drivers were on the grid that year,” he continues. He landed on the F3 grid the year after Verstappen and Esteban Ocon battled it out for the junior title.

There he encountered several gentlemen who can be found on the F1 grid today. He fought against the top talents of the future and therefore fell outside the top ten. “In retrospect, that eleventh or twelfth final classification was not bad,” says the Brit. “Charles Leclerc finished in fourth place at the time, George Russell was in seventh or eighth place and so was Alexander Albon.” That offers some comfort.

Ilott moves to Ferrari

The magic was gone after that year with Carlin. Ilott had to go through the junior classes on his own, which he succeeded. “After that year, I raced alone for another year and a half,” he recalls. “In 2017 I ended up next to Guanyu Zhou, who was my teammate at Prema and part of the Ferrari Driver Academy.” Zhou transferred to Renault’s junior academy not much later.

‘Massimo (Rivola, ed.) was then responsible for the FDA (Ferrari Driver Academy, ed.). He saw me crash at one point when I was in the lead and said: ‘You are so unbelievably fast. If you control other aspects of racing a little more, you’ll get there,” said Ilott. Rivola saw a future in him and picked him up for Ferrari. In the end, a debut in F1 did not come, all the more so because Mick Schumacher won the Formula 2 title in 2020 and preferred a seat at Haas.

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