Ferrari Junior Callum Ilott experienced his most challenging GP3 Series weekend in Russia after car issues left the Brit third in the title standings with one round to go.
"I’m disappointed to break my run of a podium every weekend and miss out on the points. I always try to drive the best race I can, working with the car that we have. On this track I was fighting for grip and with the tyres from an unusually early point. It’s puzzling how much performance changed from qualifying to the race,” remarks Ilott. “Of course it’s great that we get the Team Champions title for ART with a round to spare.”
Ilott’s first visit to the former Olympic venue began with a qualifying session scheduled at sunset. In spite of the fading light adding another dimension to the session, Ilott quickly got to grips with the new track. When the poleman's time was subsequently discounted for exceeding track limits, Ilott took up a front row slot in second.
“It was getting so dark out there that it was hard to see anything at all,” laughs Ilott. “On my last run I was fastest in the first two sectors, but I just lost a little time in the final part, struggling to see the few reference points we rely on in that part of the track.”
In Saturday morning’s opening encounter, Ilott’s strong getaway meant he drew alongside pole sitter Leo Pulcini on the long run down to Turn One. Squeezed toward the wall by the poleman, Ilott was forced to slow, allowing Giuliano Alesi to get past. Whilst others took the escape roads, Ilott boldly kept his foot firmly in on track over the next few corners to take back second position.
“Something needs to be done about the starts in GP3,” says Ilott. “People were going off-track all around me and I have to say I was a little surprised that, just like at Monza, it seemed that multiple off-track excursions in the races didn’t incur penalties for repeat offenders,” considers Ilott. “These kind of anomalies can impact on track racing and race results.”
“The stewards have a very difficult job determining penalties for off-track excursions and it’s not always clear what advantage has been gained. As drivers, we trust the stewards to be consistent to avoid race results being affected.”
From lap three, Ilott struggled with an unexplained issue that meant be began to lose over a second a lap. Despite continuing to attack his rivals over the mid sector of the race, Ilott’s car’s lost performance prevented any fightback up the order. By lap 13, Ilott was eighth and fought hard with Juan Manuel Correa, trading places back and forth before the tyre degradation was too much and Ilott ultimately finished 13th. “We still don’t understand at all what happened with the car as yet, but certainly the tyre degradation didn’t help as it was severe,” adds Ilott. “It was massively frustrating to drop down the order after a strong qualifying and out of the points, knowing there was little I could do.”
After a difficult Saturday, Sunday was equally trying after Ilott was forced to pit mid-way through the race after the oil temperature on the car soared.
“It’s the first weekend we haven’t scored a podium across the whole year, but you have to expect one weekend not to go your way in any championship, and for me it’s Russia. It’s just a case of moving on now and continuing to deliver the best I can with the car I have.”
After title rival Mazepin retired after another off track excursion, Ferrari junior driver Ilott still remains focused on second place in the championship. “That’s the target for Yas Marina,” concludes Ilott. “After a strong and competitive year, I am aiming to get back the place in the championship and to be top rookie.”
The GP3 Series will conclude at the Yas Marina track in Abu Dhabi on the 23rd November.