It’s a good time to be a Formula 1 fan from the UK.

Concerns about the state of British motorsport that arose when, in 2018, just a single driver flew the Union Jack on the F1 grid, have quickly been allayed thanks to a bevy of young talent rising through the ranks.

George Russell and Lando Norris claimed a British one-two in Formula 2 last year, both securing graduations to F1 in the process with Williams and McLaren respectively. Third-placed Alexander Albon also clinched an F1 drive with Toro Rosso, and while he may race under the Thai flag, he was born and raised London.

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Seeing the trio move into F1 seats not only gave hope to those racing in F2 in 2019, but also to the other British drivers rising through the ranks. So who could be next in line?

Callum Ilott will be the only British rookie racing in F2 this year, and one of only two Brits on the grid (the other being Jack Aitken, who will enter his second F2 season).

Ilott gained plenty of experience in F3 before mounting a title challenge in GP3 last season, ultimately finishing third for ART Grand Prix with two wins to his name. A first full year as part of the Ferrari Driver Academy also helped Ilott’s preparations for a long-awaited step up to F2 for the 2019 season, signing for the Sauber-linked Charouz team.

“I’m really happy to have the opportunity to do it firstly. It’s amazing to get to this position, and to do it with a team like Charouz with the link to Sauber as well, it’s a real privilege,” Ilott says of his move up to F2.

“Obviously I tested the car at the end of last year, and I’d previously raced [F2] at Silverstone in 2017, although that was the older car. I had a little bit of a feel for the car, and I quite enjoyed it. It’s probably the fastest I’ve driven. It’s definitely a nice car to drive. That adds to the whole excitement I guess.”

With the F2 grid losing its top three from 2018, the fight at the front is harder to predict. Experienced heads such as Nyck de Vries, Luca Ghiotto and Nicholas Latifi will be hopeful of mounting title challenges, while of the rookies, attention will naturally turn to 2018 GP3 champion Anthoine Hubert and – as the hype train relentlessly chugs on – Mick Schumacher.

While Ilott wants to reserve judgement of where he stands in the pecking order until after the first race in Bahrain, he was pleased with how testing had unfolded: “It was positive. A lot of potential there. I think we’ve got a positive car. It seems definitely quite strong in some areas. So we’re looking forward to it.

“If I look at the performances of last year, I definitely think they had a strong race pace with the car. We’ll definitely be up there quite a few times, but we’ll just have to see how strong and how good we are, because there are a lot of strong drivers and strong teams out there as well.”

Ilott’s preparations for the move to F2 have been well-supported by the Ferrari Driver Academy, which he joined at the end of 2017. This even extends to off-track affairs. Steps such as linking Ilott up with a local Italian family to help him learn the language and more about the culture have been positive, with the 20-year-old also experiencing a change in mentality.

“I think as a person, I’ve developed a lot,” he says. “Being shipped off to Italy, Monday to Friday, doing stuff working, trying to improve the racing side as much as my personal engineering and that side - you’re always competing, you’re always fighting, and you’re always trying to get the best for yourself. Realising that and just making the most of it, I think as a person, you become humbler. You want to fight for it more, you realise what’s important and what’s not. That for me has developed quite a bit.”

Ilott has also noted some changes in his on-track approach through his work with Ferrari: “In the first year, it was good to have that support. In F3, I was quick, but It was quite an inconsistent driver, and I think last year I completely changed that around. I was consistent, sometimes quick.

“Hopefully if I can put that together, that would be key basically. I think they really helped to try and dial something in me. I don’t know how, but it’s paying off in that way. I just need to show that it can work and put it altogether.”

Ilott’s work with Ferrari has already borne fruit for his 2019 plans. While much of the fanfare on Tuesday surrounded confirmation of Mick Schumacher’s maiden Ferrari test in Bahrain, Ilott also had his first F1 run-out announced, set for the post-Spanish Grand Prix test with Alfa Romeo in May.

It’ll be an opportunity for Ilott to not only get a handle for F1 machinery, but also cement his place among the wave of British talent currently cresting in motorsport. He’s cut from the same cloth as the likes of Norris, Russell and Albon, having spent much of his career racing against them. He was a title rival to Norris in F3 only two years ago.

“We all raced together in karting for many years,” Ilott says. ”Then I was teammates with George in 2015 at Carlin. Lando, I raced with him in Formula 3 in 2017. It’s really cool to be racing with these guys and growing up with them.

“I took a different path a little bit in cars, and now I’m almost a year behind compared to them. But it’s really cool to see the guys who I’ve grown up racing, sometimes beating, sometimes them beating me. They’re in F1 and doing a good job.

“Right now, F2 is the next step, and both of them doing a really good job from last year, and I’ll be looking at what things they did and what was good about it last year.

“It’s cool to see, definitely, and for British motorsport, it shows just what a good job we do and how strong we can be.

“You’ve got four years of really strong guys coming through which is nice for the British public to see, because hopefully there’ll be four or five of us on the grid instead of just one.”

It’s a good time to be a British Formula 1 fan – but also a British racing driver. Even amid the buzz of the recent F1 graduates, eyes will already be on the future talents coming through the ranks.

And Callum Ilott will want to make a statement as the next one to watch through 2019.

 

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