BAKU CITY CIRCUIT | 2023 FIA FORMULA 2 ROUND FOUR
Baku, Azerbaijan, 30 April 2023 – Clément Novalak Secures First Points of 2023 Formula 2 Campaign
FIA Formula 2 returned to Europe and the shores of the Caspian Sea this weekend, seeing Azerbaijan host Round 4 of the 2023 championship season. Located in downtown Baku, the legendary walled Baku City Circuit provides extremely high-speeds, with the combination of twisty, unforgiving corners inside of the ancient city. After a forgettable race weekend in Australia at the beginning of the month, Clément Novalak looked to start the European tour of his Sophomore F2 campaign by securing the first points of his season.
Friday morning’s free practice started with breezy eighteen-degree air temperatures as fog rolled in from the Caspian Sea, cooling the track to just twenty-seven degrees. Clément would utilize the first part of the session as reconnaissance laps to get a feel for the newly repaved track surface. On his first push lap, he would be ninth quickest with a time of 1:57.695. Over his next two flyers the Frenchman would improve his time by over a second, however his #21 Trident Motorsport machine was needing significant setup changes for him to be more competitive. After having his mechanics work on his suspension in pitlane, Clément returned to the track with ten minutes remaining in the session. On his first flyer, he would set personal best first and second sectors, but a brief yellow flag in sector three would halt his progress. Feeling more confident with his car, the Frenchman made gains in every sector on his second push, improving his time over a full second to 1:55.418. Just as Clément started his final lap, a red flag would bring a premature end to the session, seeing him finish with just the nineteenth fastest time.
The fog would clear later Friday afternoon as qualifying got underway, with the sun bringing forty-two-degree track temperatures. During Clément’s first warmup lap, drivers would struggle to slow their cars on the hotter tarmac with their super-soft Pirelli tires, seeing another driver crash at the first corner to bring out a lengthy red flag – suspending the session as officials worked to fix the TecPro safety barriers. The Frenchman would attack the track immediately after the session resumed, setting the twelfth quickest time on his second push lap with a time of 1:54.409. Clément returned to pitlane for fresh tires and a request for minor tweaks in his setup. When he returned to the circuit to better his time, he found himself caught up in major traffic as drivers were biding their time for perfect track position for the massively-beneficial tow down the main-straight. His first lap was hindered by the traffic jam, and the checkered flag would wave seconds before he crossed the timing-line for his final push lap. Another frustrating end to qualifying, seeing the combination of traffic and adverse track position halt any chance of improving his position.
Saturday’s sprint race would see Clément starting from P19 after his discouraging qualifying session. Under identical weather & track conditions as Friday’s qualifying, the Frenchman would enjoy a fantastic start, gaining multiple positions midway through the opening lap. He then obtained P15 after making a brave overtake through turn sixteen, where the Sophomore would remain until a safety car stalled his progress on lap three. Clément would drop to P16 on lap seven’s chaotic restart, where he settled into his signature steadfast driving style. For the next several laps, the Frenchman expertly managed his tires while extending the gap to over four-seconds clear of the driver behind, when the safety car reappeared after another on-track incident. Sitting in P15 on better tires than others around him due to his diligence, Clément would time the restart of the race perfectly. Dodging a spinning car in front & narrowly missing multiple cars in the wall of turn one, the Sophomore would emerge from lap nineteen’s messy restart in P7, an unbelievable feat. The race would ultimately finish behind the safety car, seeing Clément proudly rewarded with two points – the first of his 2023 FIA Formula 2 campaign.
Sunday’s feature race saw Clément get a lightning start as the lights went out, jumping to P16 with his super-soft Pirelli tires on the cooler track temperatures. He would then claim P15, where he would remain until lap 6 when he dove to pit lane as his tires were fading fast. The Frenchman would re-enter the track in P14 on fresh medium compound tires, where he would set out on defending that position for the next several laps. After falling into the grasps of DRS on lap seventeen, Clément would continue a valiant defense as his car didn’t have the pace to challenge for a points scoring finish. A fast-charging car entered into view on his side mirrors on lap twenty-seven, bringing an intense battle for the remainder of the race. After being able to keep the attack at bay, Clément would lose out on position as a drag race ensued for a photo finish, seeing him lose out for P16 by just .010 seconds.
Clément’s mature racecraft continues to impress, seeing fifteen positions gained during both races over the weekend and the first points of his 2023 Sophomore campaign. Qualifying woes continue to frustrate the Frenchman, with more work needed to be done during practice to fine-tune the setup of his #21Trident Motorsport car. Clément and his team will dive into the data and utilize the in-season test to the fullest in two weeks when he heads to the Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya from 10-12 May.
“I’m relieved to finally score points after a difficult start to the season, however points in the sprint race aren’t enough. This will always be a weekend of what could have been, and I’ll work with Trident in Barcelona to find the most out of my car.”
Friday 28 April: Free Practice – 19th, 1:55.418, 18 Laps | Qualifying – 19th, 1:54.509, 11 Laps
Saturday 29 April: Sprint Race – 7th, 2 Points, 21 Laps
Sunday 30 April: Feature Race – 12th, 0 Points, 29 Laps
ROUND FOUR TOTALS: 2 POINTS, 79 LAPS, 474 KM DRIVEN