BAHRAIN INTERNATIONAL CIRCUIT | 2023 FIA FORMULA 2 ROUND ONE
Sakhir, Bahrain, 05 March 2023 – Clément Novalak Has Mixed Sophomore Debut in Bahrain
FIA Formula 2 headed to the Arabian Peninsula this weekend to kick-off the 2023 championship season – stopping at the small island kingdom of Bahrain, situated in the heart of the Persian Gulf. Returning to the Bahrain International Circuit just two weeks after clocking in 124 laps & over 650 KM during the official preseason test, Clément Novalak was eager to start his sophomore FIA Formula 2 campaign on the right foot. Clear skies were a fixture over the weekend, giving the Frenchman perfect weather conditions for his #21 Trident Motorsport car.
The race weekend started with free practice Friday afternoon, seeing the track temperature at 42 degrees. Clément elected to stay in the pits for the first fifteen minutes as track conditions were very sandy, letting other drivers clear the tarmac. When he would finally get on track, a red flag would halt his first push lap, however the Frenchman wasted no time once the track was cleared, jumping up to sixth position on the timing screens with a purple first sector. He would then head to the pits for setup changes after not improving on his time during his next few laps, when two red flags would prematurely end the session seeing Clément only lap the circuit nine times.
Bright lights would illuminate the circuit later Friday evening as the sun fell below the horizon, seeing the Sophomore struggle for pace on the cooler tarmac and softer tires. After grappling with his car for the first half of the session, Clément’s best time would come on his final attempt with just three minutes remaining. The Frenchman would set personal-best sectors one & two, but was unable to ace the third. Lack of meaningful laps in free practice would hinder the Frenchman’s ability to get a feel for his car and make proper setup changes, seeing him qualify in a disappointing twenty-second position.
As Saturday evening’s sprint race got underway, Clément quickly made an overtake to gain a position and would expertly manage his tires for the next several laps. By lap seven the abrasive track surface began to take its toll, seeing the Sophomore’s experience pay off as he gained two positions in one lap. He would continue to drive a solid race for the next eight laps, when more drivers fell into his grasps after their struggle on fading tires. From lap fifteen to eighteen, the French ace would make three more overtakes and settle into sixteenth position. As the checkered flag waved, Clément’s excellent tire management and experienced drive would net him a total of six positions – a sound effort showcasing excellent race craft after a disappointing qualifying.
Sunday’s feature race brought hot, sunny skies which baked the circuit to a blistering track temperature of over 46 degrees. Tire management would again play the most important factor, so Clément decided to start on the hard Pirelli compound hoping for a long first stint. Chaos ensued on the opening lap, seeing the French ace quickly dart through the field. By turn eight he had already moved into fifteenth position when the only safety car of the weekend was deployed after multiple cars made contact. Clément elected to play the long game and would pit for tires as he damaged the ones he started on trying to avoid the carnage on track. Opting for used soft tires, he would rejoin the field in seventeenth position as racing resumed – over ten seconds behind the nearest driver. A masterful drive by the Frenchman soon followed, seeing him catch the drivers in front just seven laps later. Other drivers began their pit stops by lap ten, with Clément driving in second position by lap fifteen. He would dive into the pits for fresh soft tires on lap eighteen, emerging in seventeenth position with fifteen laps remaining. Continuing his mature drive, Clément would battle his way to sixteenth position by lap twenty-four and was the fastest driver on track. Picking up two more positions on lap twenty-nine, points seemed to be in reach. With just two laps to go Clément was on the tail of the midfield pack, making an overtake to thirteenth on turn one of the final lap, but was unable to get around the struggling drivers in front and would ultimately finish just two seconds behind the final points scoring finisher – an agonizing result after an incredible effort.
Clément showcased excellent tire management and superb race craft to open his sophomore Formula 2 campaign, netting fifteen positions over both races, but a disappointing qualifying put the Frenchman on the backfoot. FIA Formula 2 stays on the Arabian Peninsula for two weeks, heading to Saudi Arabia and the incredibly fast Jeddah Corniche Circuit for round 2 of the 2023 season from 17-19 March.
“The weekend didn’t go as I had hoped. I wasn’t able to get the most out of my car on Friday, which put me on the back foot for Saturday & Sunday. The car had amazing pace in both races, so there are definitely positives to take away from this weekend. However, we need to figure out the qualifying setup – especially for a circuit like Jeddah.”
Friday 03 March: Free Practice – 17th, 1:46.350, 9 Laps | Qualifying – 22nd, 1:42.570, 10 Laps
Saturday 04 March: Sprint Race – 16th, 0 Points, 23 Laps
Sunday 05 March: Feature Race – 13th, 0 Points, 32 Laps
ROUND ONE TOTALS: 0 POINTS, 74 LAPS, 401 KM DRIVEN