Despite a strong qualifying performance with P2 in both sessions, Callum Ilott’s return to F3 at the 65th Macau Grand Prix was only rewarded with a third and seventh place. Against this year’s crop of both European and Japanese series F3 drivers, Ilott, driving for his former team Carlin, was competitive from the outset on a track he really enjoys. “I’ve enjoyed coming back to F3 and racing these cars at Macau again,” says Ilott. “After strong quali and the podium on Saturday, Macau showed again how unpredictable it can be on Sunday when we just didn’t have the straight line speed to compete at the re-starts.”
Despite a scare at the end of qualifying that saw Ilott make a skilful avoidance of Marino Sato’s crashed car, Ilott lined up on the front row alongside eventual winner Dan Ticktum. “I was halfway through braking for the Police corner when the yellow flag was shown,” says Ilott. “I saw a gap but it was tight, especially as the rear of the car is wider. Somehow, and I’m still not quite sure how, I squeezed through.”
The Qualification Race that determines the grid for Sunday’s Grand Prix took place early on Saturday morning. In Ilott’s first F3 race start since the 2017 event, the Ferrari junior tucked in behind Ticktum before making a move, around the outside of the fast Mandarin curve to move into the lead. Oversteer on the exit of the tight Lisboa meant Ilott ran very close to the barrier but was still ahead. “I had a good start and got into the lead but Dan was faster in a straight line and towed past a lap later and I was back to P2.” There was further drama on lap three when a stray dog forced a safety car period. “Macau is unpredictable!,” adds Ilott. “I saw it but I was clear but it was closer for Dan.”
The race resumed with now six racing laps to go. Ilott put up a robust defence to hold off both Joel Eriksson and Sascha Fenestraz but the Swede found a way past with five laps to go. Ilott then withstood further pressure from Fenestraz, setting a personal best lap in the process, before the flag fell and Ilott secured another podium, his third at one of the most difficult tracks to master. “It was good to be back on the podium. We lacked a bit of speed but with changes planned to the car, I felt all was to play for on Sunday,” claims Ilott.
Sunday’s Macau Grand Prix saw Ilott make a less successful getaway. On the long run to Lisboa, Ilott was able to move into fourth but was hemmed in on the outside at the righthander and slipped back to fifth. Ilott then ran side by side with Mick Schumacher in the mountain section before getting ahead of the European champion. “I bogged down at the start and was trying to find some space, ending up on the outside. It was very close with Mick but it was clean from both sides,” adds Ilott.
The race was then stopped after a serious accident involving Sophia Floersch, that led to a lengthy delay to repair the barriers and catch fencing. “Everyone was concerned about Sophia and those behind the barrier,” says Ilott. “My thoughts are with her, the marshals, photographers and everyone else involved,” The race was restarted with nine laps to go and Ilott fell down to seventh on the run down to Lisboa.
Undaunted, Ilott fought his way back up to sixth before a further safety car bunched up the field. This time into Lisboa, Ilott was hit hard from behind and only just avoided ending up in the wall. “It was a big knock but the main issue today was a lack of speed to be able to tow back to the cars in front,” adds Ilott who slipped to seventh by the flag. “This year it didn’t go my way but that is the special appeal of Macau and why it has drawn me back year after year. I enjoyed working with the guys at Carlin again too. The main thing now is how Sophia is and I’m thinking of her, her family and all those involved.”
Ilott now heads directly to Abu Dhabi to conclude his GP3 season where he currently lies third in the standings, his highest championship position in cars.