Callum Ilott’s ‘A’ star performance in qualifying was rewarded with just two point paying positions this weekend at Spa. The weekend started well with Ilott securing three front row slots behind McLaren junior driver Lando Norris and nearly four tenths quicker than his nearest rivals in the second qualifying session.
With the F3 event supporting the legendary Spa 24 Hours, the first two races took place on Friday. In dry conditions, Ilott made a good getaway and slotted right behind Norris, well positioned to slipstream past on the long Kemmel straight. Ilott made his move, drawing alongside the leader as they entered Les Combes. As the cars turned into the second part of the corner, Ilott was squeezed off the track as Norris made contact. Ilott was a passenger as he was launched over the sausage kerbs. With the front wheels off the ground, his car clipped Jake Hughes as he returned to the track also forcing Jake off the track. Rather than investigate the “full incident” after the race with access to on board footage and all the car’s race data, the race officials elected to immediately serve Ilott with a drive-through penalty, dropping him to the back of the field and out of the Championship points. In hope of a safety car that never came, Ilott persevered, setting quick lap times, catching the pack and eventually making his way up to 14thposition.
The second race of the day saw the British racer again on the attack from the outset and past Norris on the run into Les Combes. With Ilott ahead, he missed the melee as Norris clashed with Ilott’s team mate Guan Yu Zhou. Ilott held the lead until lap two when Maxi Gunther used the tow to gain momentum, passing at Les Combes. Next Jake Hughes was past but Ilott got the place back before charging back into the lead of the race. Unfortunately for Ilott he was unable to maintain his position and initial race pace as his tyres uncharacteristically lost grip. He then started to slip down the field, resulting in a sixth place finish.
Despite starting on pole for Race Three, it was always going to be a difficult race starting on old tyres against Norris P4 and Guan Yu Zhou P2 who had much fresher rubber as a result of their 1st lap collision in race 2. Ilott made a good start from pole, leading until Les Combes when the slipstream effect saw Guan Yu Zhou and Gunther, together with Norris all make a pass, leaving Ilott fourth. It was then Ilott’s turn to return the favour, passing team mate Gunther for third. Later in the race a safety car followed a high speed crash on the Kemmel straight between Gunther and Hughes with officials assigning no blame to either driver following a detailed post-race investigation. This bunched up the pack and allowed both Norris and Eriksson to gain places on the restart. Unable to maintain the pace of the leaders, Ilott battled for the remainder of the race with his teammate for the final podium position. With just a lap to go, Ilott was slipstreamed and repassed by Zhou, missing out on a final podium place.
“It was always going to be a difficult weekend given the long straights at Spa but I am really pleased with our qualifying performance. Although pole position is not an advantage at Spa in an F3 car, as a driver you want to show your qualifying speed under pressure and we did that,” says Ilott. “I also do not think we could have done much more in Races Two and Three where we were just not able to maintain our speed as the races developed. We’ve now got to regroup as the gap to my rivals has extended but our qualifying pace is strong and worthy of good points. The next round is at Zandvoort where overtaking is much harder. If we can qualify well again then we’ve a good chance to close the gap and keep the championship alive.”
Ilott now heads into the Championship’s summer break before reconvening in Holland at Zandvoort on the 19th and 20th August.