After a brief cameo in F2 towards the end of last year following the end of his successful 2021 F3 season, Frenchman Clément Novalak will be looking to establish himself as a rookie in Formula 2 this year. F1 Feeder Series caught up with the 21-year-old MP Motorsport driver in an exclusive interview to discuss all things F2, including his thoughts on Round 1.
By Tyler Foster
Novalak had a difficult first round to his rookie campaign, struggling in qualifying before not scoring and experiencing an engine failure in the Feature Race. He described how things went from his perspective in the opening weekend.
“Yeah so Round 1 was obviously quite tough, getting front wing damage in race one and then having to pit for that and the engine failure in race two. But I think our rough weekend started off in qualifying, where qualifying P18 was more than less ideal. The good thing was the race pace was extremely strong, and in both races, I made good starts and good progress.”
“Obviously, the engine failure came about which ended our race, otherwise I think we could have easily been in the top eight with the pace that we showed on the race on Saturday and on Sunday, the first part of the race. Which still makes me confident, obviously it’s still round one.”
The good thing was the race pace was extremely strong, and in both races, I made good starts and good progressClement Novalak (MP Motorsport)
Despite this disappointing start, the F2 Championship this year is long and will offer opportunities of redemption. For Novalak, he is well versed in just how important having a positive outlook is, especially if you want to achieve consistency.
“There are twelve rounds to go, if you discount Sochi. It was productive, I feel like we did the right thing with the car. Got it in the right direction and I’m just looking forward to Jeddah. Should be good fun, it’s a great track. I really enjoyed myself here last year – super high speed, very ballsy.”
After finishing third in his second campaign in Formula 3 last year, Novalak raced for MP Motorsport for the final two rounds of the F2 season in 2021, at Jeddah and Abu Dhabi. While he didn’t score any points, he did sign for the Dutch team permanently for 2022 fairly early on in proceedings. We asked him how this opportunity came about and whether it was a big advantage having those two rounds in F2 from last year.
“There is an overdemand in terms of which seats drivers really want, so you do have to get out there and fight your way into those seats early and use the momentum that you have with you to be able to get in the right place for the following year. I came off a good Zandvoort and Sochi. People are surprised how early the discussions for race seats start for the following year. It’s all very hypothetical early on but I was swayed in MP’s direction because I believed that they are a really good team.”
There is an overdemand in terms of which seats drivers really want, so you do have to get out there and fight your way into those seats early and use the momentum that you haveClement Novalak (MP Motorsport)
“We had practically just finished the F3 season. So, it didn’t give me a lot of time to prepare but I had time to go to the sim and stuff. It’s not a big head start.“
MP Motorsport have been a solid midfield team for a number of years now, usually housing decent drivers who aren’t quite talented or rich enough to sign with the bigger teams. For Novalak however, it was obvious why MP were such a good fit.
“I think with Drugovich in his year in F2, they were extremely strong. They had somewhat of a harder year last year, but knowing the engineering team and also having Felipe in the other seat was a big factor. I want somebody strong next to me that can help me develop.”
“As much as everybody wants F2 to be a one-year programme and be able to win straight away and move on to better things, you have to plan for two years. That is why I wanted someone next to me who could teach me as much as possible, plus I get along really well with Felipe so it’s an added bonus really.”
Strengths and weaknesses
Stepping up to F2 from F3 isn’t a huge jump technically, but it is competitively. Nearly every driver at this level has deserved their seat through their own performances at a lower level. For Novalak, it was clear what his strength last year was and he also identified what his biggest weakness was that he has since worked on.
One of the things I regret though about last year in F3, was not being able to nail my qualifying a little bit moreClement Novalak (MP Motorsport)
“The race pace was extremely strong towards the end of the year. One of the things I regret though about last year in F3, was not being able to nail my qualifying a little bit more. My qualifying has let me down and it was something I vowed to work on in the winter. I think you learn a lot more at the front than in the mid-pack because the guys you are racing against are the real deal.”
One of the reasons that Novalak finished third last year in F3, was a result of his incredible consistency. He finished in the points for all but three races in the championship. This resulted in the Frenchman receiving the nickname, Mr Consistent. We asked him his thoughts on the name and whether this was a positive thing.
“Practically like Alain Prost isn’t it.”
“The thing about being consistent, obviously you need strong pace in any championship to do a good job and to win you need to get pole, which is one of the things that I lacked probably a little bit last year in qualifying in F3; but the consistency was always there. Not saying that you race to finish second or third, but you have to be objective about it and that’s the way I am.”
“I don’t know if it’s a good nickname or not, I’d rather be called ‘winner, winner, chicken dinner’ but it is something that people look at in professional racing.”
Testing was “quite difficult” for Novalak. The young Frenchman is very honest with himself about his performances.
“I am still confident, it doesn’t mean that I’ve lost my mojo. I think we can still do an incredibly good job this season and I think Felipe has shown that the pace is in the car. In terms of pace, if I’m driving well I don’t think I’ll be off the pace.”
The tracks at the disposal of F2 this year are excellent. We asked Novalak just what circuits caught his eye the most and which he was most excited to race at in F2.
“I drove Zandvoort in F3 and I know how physical it was. It actually played a big part in my training programme structure for this year, because I know for a fact how physical the track was in F3 and the F2 car is even heavier in the steering. I think Baku is going to be amazing, I’ve never been there before, and the races always seem to bring a pump in action.”
There’s a lot of double headers, a lot of moving around. It will be tiring but at the same time challengingClement Novalak (MP Motorsport)
When discussing the missing slot since the removal of the Russian Grand Prix and Sochi as a location, Novalak said, “I’d want to go to either Suzuka or Texas. Obviously, it’s a cost thing but I see it as a shame because I’m a big culture guy.”
“It’s quite hectic the fact that we’ve got fourteen races this year”, Novalak said about the F2 calendar. “There’s a lot of double headers, a lot of moving around. It will be tiring but at the same time challenging.”
While Novalak is still a rookie, the likes of Oscar Piastri have proven that in this era, youth can be just as dangerous as experience. The Frenchman is in the right place to have a strong campaign this year but will eventually need to really impress those around him if he has any hope of reaching Formula 1.
Header photo credit: Formula Motorsport Ltd
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