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Ilott recognises struggles with mental health during junior career

by Alejandro Alonso Lopez

Photo: FIA F3 European Championship

Callum Ilott has revealed he struggled with mental health during his junior career, especially in 2016 when he also suffered from chronic fatigue

The IndyCar driver recently opened up on the Formula Scout Podcast about the feelings he had in his junior single-seater career, how he dealt with it and why he now sees overcoming such a tough period as a strength whereas at the time he didn’t.

“It’s one of those things [mental health] that sometimes people speak about it more. Lando [Norris] obviously dove into it quite a lot,” Ilott said as he admitted to also have struggled himself.

“An athlete is, it’s a weird life. You know, your mood is dependent on your results most of the time. And of course, those results can change during the weekend, weekend to weekend, year to year. When we were doing Formula 3, there was three races on a weekend, and you could do a great first two races and mess up the third race, and you leave that weekend feeling like you’ve done a shit job in a certain way,” he explained.

“There’s obviously up and down of emotions, which is in some ways is probably quite healthy and in some ways really isn’t healthy. And then having to deal with personal setbacks. This is life-changing things.

“It’s like exams. If you fail your exam or your university degree, you don’t get the opportunities that you want to and that affects you. In the same way if your family put all their savings into your university degree and you fail your university degree, I think that’s a lot of pressure and a lot of stress to deal with. And on a year-to-year basis, of course it’s not the same, but it’s a similar feeling and weekend to weekend it changes.

“So the answer is yes. I have struggled at times. I’ve had to see people to help with that,” he affirmed.

“I mentioned earlier that in 2016 I had chronic fatigue for almost nine months of the year. I was sleeping 14 hours a night, going to school and racing.

Photo: FotoFormulaK

“And still like every free period I would have at school, I’d be sleeping because I was so tired. And that was including the 14 hours a night, so whatever I could on top of it.

“I look back and I go ‘fuck, that’s not really, that’s not ideal, but I got through it’. I somehow recovered quite well thanks to the help of some people. These are the hidden things. Like I didn’t mention it at the time, I just got through it.

“To be honest, I didn’t even know what was wrong with me at the time. I just knew I was really struggling. And that year I got really depressed because of it. Because when you’re so tired, there’s nothing you can [do], mentally you’re tired as well.”

Ilott, who was 17 at the time, balanced school with competing in the FIA European F3 championship. He finished sixth in the standings driving for Van Amersfoort Racing, and won two races. The year before had been his first in single-seaters, and he did it as a Red Bull junior, driving in the Toyota Racing Series and then joining Carlin in FIA European F3.

“So with the exams at school, with school, every day was super tough for me [in 2016]. And of course I had parted ways with Red Bull the year before, the year was super tough driving-wise, racing-wise. So yeah, the answer is yes. And I think it’s very common, but again I wouldn’t speak about it all the time because that stuff is viewed still to this day as a weakness.

“Now I view that as a strength coming on from it that I got through 2016. But at the time, even later on, with the pressure and the stress you have that your whole career and your whole family is behind you on this, and you suffer at home because of everything behind. I would never speak about it because – I always thought it was a deemed as a negative, so that’s something I had to deal with myself. And I had to keep my world separate, if you know what I mean? Racing couldn’t mix with what I was feeling or the people I had to deal with to help with that.

“And most people can’t help with it. It’s not something that’s as simple as seeing someone, you’ll be fixed. I don’t operate like that. I have to be at peace of mind first before I can even start thinking things. And that’s very tough when you are in the position of the stress that you have on all of this, and especially with the way that some of the championships were formed. I mean, you had two months between Sochi and Abu Dhabi, which was the final round of the championship on a normal year without the COVID-19 stuff.”

You can listen to the episode on Google Podcasts, Overcast, Pocket Casts, RadioPublic, Castbox, Apple Podcasts, Spotify and below.