Knocked out on penalties
Two top 10 finishes but ultimately an unsatisfying weekend
Hertfordshire’s Callum Ilott endured a frustrating weekend on the Norisring street circuit in Germany with just two seventh places finishes and a sense of what might have been. Despite its seemingly simple layout of just four corners and a length of only 1.4 miles, the Norisring remains one of the tougher circuits to master on the European F3 Championship calendar. Bumpy and dusty off-line, the track places an emphasis on mechanical grip with braking and traction crucial at the two hairpins for a quick time. Friday’s qualifying had seen Ilott achieve that brilliantly, securing two pole positions and a second place for the three race programme. However, the need to change Ilott’s engine after it developed a problem in the preceding free practice led to the 17 year old missing 72 minutes of the 80 minute session and much more. Championship rules for an engine change meant Ilott was handed a draconian ten grid place penalty for each of the three starts, effectively ruining any real chance to haul in championship leader Lance Stroll. “Three ten place penalties for an engine change hit our championship challenge very hard,” said Ilott. “It’s played a huge part in how our weekend played out and it’s just disappointing that a more appropriate penalty for the driver is more likely for next year, not this.”
Despite the setback, Ilott was intent on reaching the points-paying top 10. He charged from the off in Saturday’s opening encounter, scything through the field, even overtaking around the outside at the hairpin to catch and pass rivals with ease. With less than 10 minutes of racing completed, Ilott was swiftly up to fourth and chasing down Nick Cassidy. Ilott passed the New Zealander into the hairpin before Cassidy grabbed the place back on the exit. Undaunted, Ilott attacked at the Schöller-S and made the move stick, regaining a remarkable podium position from a starting slot of 12th. Catching the leaders Lance Stroll and Joel Eriksson with ease, Ilott saw an opportunity to climb higher but his stellar run ended with contact with the leader Eriksson and retirement for the pair. “That was my error, pure and simple,” said Ilott. “There was a gap but I lost the rear end on the dusty entry and unfortunately for myself and Joel, we were both out on the spot.”
The coming together meant Ilott would be docked a further five places on the grid for the second encounter, ultimately lining up in 15th place. Intent on making amends Ilott started to climb through the order right from the start, moving up two places in as many laps. After the first of what would be three appearances of the safety car, Ilott made a stunning move to take 10th place around the outside of the first hairpin. As the race entered its second half, a collision between Red Bull drivers Sergio Sette Câmara and Guanyu Zhou led to a further safety car period and saw Ilott ease into ninth place. With 10 minutes left, Ilott moved up to eighth enjoying another spirited battle with Nick Cassidy and Niko Kari, seizing seventh before a further safety car punctuated the final run to the flag.
Sunday’s race in front of the large assembled crowd offered no respite from the safety cars. With the starting lights failing just before the off, the race began behind the now familiar Audi R8. Good progress in the opening laps enabled him to move into the points and with Joel Eriksson and George Russell tangling in front of him, Ilott was into the top eight before a complete race stoppage just moments later led to a complete restart. With pressure to keep to the timetable, the timer continued to count down whilst the track was cleared leaving Ilott very little time to mount any substantial recovery. Battling with Cassidy saw Ilott slip one place before the Mücke Motorsports teammates of Mikkel Jensen and David Beckmann collided to enable Ilott to ultimately finish seventh and add another six points to his tally. “For sure it's no fun starting a race behind the safety car,” added Ilott. “It then went from bad to worse with all the carnage. I enjoyed my front row seat and did my best not to get caught up in other's accidents and at least bring home a few more points.”
“The weekend promised much more but circumstances prevented us from capitalising on that pace,” concluded Ilott. “At the halfway stage of the season, we are still in the top three of the championship and now we head to the team’s home circuit of Zandvoort. We’ve also got the official championship tests next week which gives us the chance to try a few different things on the car. It’s a very competitive championship and we’ve still got every chance of success.”
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About Callum Ilott
Based in the UK and still in full-time education at Haileybury, Hertford, 17-year-old Callum Ilott is one of Britain's upcoming young driving talents. At 12, he secured his first British national karting championship and just one year later dominated the international under 15s KFJ category with multiple championship wins and was nominated as the youngest ever WSK Driver of the Year in 2012. Aged 15, he won the CIK-FIA European Karting Championship, the WSK Super Master Series and finished fourth in the CIK-FIA World Championship. Aged 16, Callum was Red Bull’s first ever driver to progress from karts to F3 to race in the FIA F3 European Championship securing a podium at the Nürburgring. In 2016 he will return to the championship with experienced Dutch team VAR.