Callum Ilott – A pre-season like no other

Callum Ilott sim racing

The self-isolation directives imposed by the Government during the Covid-19 crisis continue to fundamentally change all aspects of social life. Amongst many others, one industry that has been brought to a standstill is the global sporting calendar and in particular, international motorsport. To celebrate Adrian Flux’s continued partnership with British racing talent, Callum Ilott, we caught up with the 21-year-old to see how he is managing to keep himself fit, sane and on top of his game during the current lockdown.

Rewind just a couple of months ago and Callum Ilott’s sole focus and attention was directed toward the upcoming FIA Formula 2 Championship. Teaming up with the front-running UNI-Virtuosi team for the 2020 season, the Cambridge-born driver was setting himself up for one of the most important campaigns in his career as he looked to make a big impact on the Championship makeup.

With a solid pre-season campaign under his belt and having formed positive relationships with his new team, the signs were looking promising and the young Brit was feeling hopeful as the season-opener in Bahrain in March loomed large.

“Pre-season feels a long time ago and a world away right now but things were feeling good. Joining a new team always has its own challenges but I felt at home with UNI-Virtuosi right away and felt that we were making good progress. The big unknown is obviously the new tyre in Formula 2 this year and that will be the same when we do finally get underway as well but I felt we were in a good place and couldn’t wait to get started.”

That wait though would end up being far longer than anticipated and one that Ilott amongst all other sportsmen and women still finds themselves in. It was around the time of the official pre-season test in Bahrain at the start of March where the severity of the Covid-19 pandemic began to hit home to many across Europe and beyond.

Callum Ilott gym

“I remember that in Bahrain there was a fair bit of anxiety and questions being asked surrounding how this virus could affect the season. I don’t think back then we had a real appreciation of the severity of just how widespread and impactful this virus would be. As racers, that is all we really think about but this has been a firm dose of perspective for all of us.”

“I was glad to just be able to get home and base myself in the UK”

A member of the esteemed Ferrari Driver Academy since 2017, Callum normally resides throughout the year at Ferrari’s base in Maranello and therefore got an earlier insight into the seriousness of Covid-19 before many of those back in the UK did. With Italy being one of the worst affected countries across the world, Callum reflects on a difficult situation for many colleagues and friends.

“I think above all else it was a really worrying situation and one that grew quite rapidly particularly in Northern Italy. It gave me a very different perspective in the early stages of the pandemic.  I remember being on the phone to my family as the news unfolded and then making a rapid decision to jump in the car to drive north to Germany in order to get on a flight.  I was just glad to be able to get home and base myself in the UK before the virus really reached Maranello.”

“I arrived home with an entirely different mindset having been through that experience.  It’s very tricky when you are still relatively young and you are living abroad and something like this hits.  I spent a lot of time on the phone with the other FDA guys over that period as we were all in the same boat.  I was keen to ensure they were able to get home to their families too.”

“It is a tragic situation and ever since those last days in Italy I have taken it very seriously.  I’m in touch with many of my friends and colleagues in Italy regularly. Luckily things like Whatsapp chat groups, the video calling that’s taken off, and all the Twitch streaming us drivers are doing now is making us all feel more connected, whilst we adhere to the guidelines and respect the social isolation policies . There will be a lot that changes after this time, and I think it is important to be able to have some form of hope and positive thinking around the situation too.”

With the effects of the global pandemic spreading, it was of no surprise to see the start of the 2020 FIA Formula 2 Championship postponed alongside its Formula One counterpart. With uncertainty remaining over how a rescheduled calendar will look and with no official news forthcoming, drivers and teams alike have been left to prepare as best as they possibly can for the eventual rescheduled season from home.

“It is about keeping yourself sharp and making sure that you are ready when things get going again”

For Callum, this has meant an extended period of time back in the UK alongside his family as well as a need to get creative to ensure he is in the best possible physical and mental shape once motor racing and sporting events get given the green light once more.

“Being based away from home in Italy normally, it has been nice to spend some more time with the family than normal. Like pretty much every house around the country at the moment, there are times when that might feel like too much time!  The dog likes having me here though!”

Ilott during the 2020 lockdown

“From a scheduling and preparation point of view, I’m lucky to have enough space at home to do enough physical work but there’s no doubt it’s a little different from the facilities on your doorstep at Maranello alongside the Ferrari Driver Academy. I’ve re-jigged my home workout area with some extra weights and now a Watt Bike. With the clever apps you can get these days I am enjoying the competitive element of that and getting plenty of virtual miles in on the bike. The FDA has been very helpful by providing us with a comprehensive timetable of activities which, alongside regular video catch-ups, helps to put some structure around our training.”

“While we don’t know what or when the season can start, it is about keeping yourself sharp and making sure that you are ready when things get going again. Everyone is in the same boat in that regard and you have to keep yourself motivated by trying to not allow someone to be working harder than you are whilst at home.”

“Sim racing is a new world – I had plenty of catching up to do at the start and still have some way to go but it’s been great fun to get involved with”

The lockdown period has seen an explosion of drivers getting to grips with the sim racing world and Callum has been no different to many in this regard, stepping up to compete in some of the world’s most prominent virtual events and helping to raise awareness and money for charity along the way too.

“It is no surprise that all the drivers are trying to get their fix by jumping on their simulators and racing online and that has been no different for me. I’ve been lucky enough to help the teams by working on their factory sims in recent years but the home simulator space and esports is an entirely different and new challenge!”

Callum Ilott sim racing

“I’ve had some problems along the way, dealing with some fairly dodgy internet speeds, having to upgrade some sim parts that are years old and then two fairly big technical breakdowns, but I’m getting there slowly. I’m probably spending around seven hours a day getting myself up to speed at the moment, as you have to be ready for whatever is around the corner.”

“The perfect example of that was being selected to represent the FDA Hublot Esports Team alongside Charles Leclerc in the Formula One Virtual Chinese Grand Prix a couple of weeks back. Albeit virtually, it was a great experience to represent the FDA and race alongside Charles and many of the other talents that line the grid.”

“Alongside that, myself and a few of the other younger drivers wanted to do our bit to help through the Race For The World Series. For us, it was as simple as jumping on our sims and trying to provide some entertainment, but to raise over $70,000 was a great achievement.”

While his esports competition is providing a welcome distraction, it is the real thing that Callum is craving as he looks forward to the feeling of getting back behind the wheel properly when the time is right and safe to do so.

“That first time getting back out there is going to be quite a feeling. The important thing is that we all do the right things across the coming weeks to help keep everyone safe and healthy but I think it’s important that we all have things to look forward to as well. For me, it’s the idea of that first race back and finally getting our season underway that is helping me through.”

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