BAKU CITY CIRCUIT | FIA F2 ROUND SIX
Baku, Azerbaijan, 12 June 2022 – Bad Luck Follows Clément Novalak to Baku in Form of Technical Failure
FIA Formula 2 headed east to the shores of the Caspian Sea this weekend, seeing Azerbaijan host Round 6 of the 2022 championship season. Located in downtown Baku, the legendary walled Baku City Circuit provides both extremely high-speeds, with the combination of twisty, unforgiving corners inside of the ancient city. After an unfortunate race weekend in Monaco last time out where Clément was taken out of both races by competitors, the Frenchman looked to bounce-back in Baku to get his season back on track. Having never driven the Baku circuit, Clément looked to maximize the time on track with his team MP Motorsport in preparation for strong competition over the weekend’s two races.
Sunny skies and hot temperatures were a fixture during the weekend which got underway Friday morning for free practice. The wind was strong coming off of the Caspian Sea, dropping leaves and debris off the overhanging trees, adding an additional challenge for Clément’s first time around the ancient city. The Frenchman looked to utilize the first half of the 45-minute session for track familiarization, saving the second half for push laps to properly prepare for qualifying later in the afternoon. After a few reconnaissance laps, Clément started a few push laps, setting the sixth fastest time with 1:59.823. Feeling evermore confident finding the limit of his MP Motorsport car, he went for another push lap with 25 minutes remaining in the session when he went deep in turn 5 and his car came to a complete stop, effectively ending his session after completing only seven laps. Showing strong pace early in the session, his limited track time would put him on the back foot for the rest of the weekend.
Qualifying brought 45 KM/H winds and 43-degree track temperatures Friday afternoon. After his shortened free practice, Clément needed to find the limit immediately. He was able to improve significantly on his second push lap, seeing a time of 1:57.427, before diving into the pits at the mid-point of qualifying to change to a new set of Pirelli super soft tires. On his first push lap out of the pits, a driver clipped the wall which brought out a short stoppage of the session. With just six minutes remaining, the session went green again, leaving enough time for two more laps which would set the grid for the weekend. After improving his time by over a second, he started his final push lap of the session. Setting three green sectors on his final flying lap, Clément was able to improve by another second, with a final time of 1:55.456; good for twentieth fastest of the session.
Saturday morning’s sprint race saw sunny skies and no wind, with Clément looking to make as much progress as possible while starting from the back of the field in P20. As the lights went out, the young ace had his signature lightning-fast start, picking up a position through the first corner. While approaching turn two he was bumped wide and lost his newly found P19, however he was able to hold onto his starting position of P20 through the end of the first lap. For the first eleven laps, Clément was unable to make progress while keeping his competitors behind with superb defensive driving. With the constant attack from behind, the Frenchman eventually fell out of DRS range with the pack in front, and found himself in front of his own DRS train, inevitably relinquishing his position on the main straight – falling to P21. On lap fourteen, the race’s first safety car appeared when a driver struck the wall in front. Clément and his engineers decided to dive into the pits for super soft tires, a strategy which paid off immediately when the track went green again. Already claiming multiple positions before turn one, he was in P18 when the safety car reemerged before the lap was finished. After a brief stint under caution, green flags waved once again, seeing the Frenchman jump another competitor to P17 before another safety car emerged. When the track was clear, there was enough time for a final lap shoot-out. There was a big crash going into turn one, seeing Clément move into P14 – where he would ultimately finish the race.
The sun returned for Sunday morning’s feature race, baking the circuit to forty-three degrees. Starting from P19 after a driver was penalized for the accident at the end of Saturday’s race, Clément was eager to use the knowledge gained from the day before to try and climb the field to get into the points. Once the lights went out, the Frenchman narrowly avoided a stalled driver in front, and he continued to make progress through the field to claim P17. Two drivers behind collided before the end of the first lap, which brought out the safety car. When racing returned to green a few laps later, a technical fault hampered Clément’s ability to keep pace with the drivers in front. Not making progress, his engineers directed him to pit to solve the issue and make his mandatory tire change at the same time. After exiting the pits, it was obvious the fault wasn’t fixed, seeing Clément limp through the 6 KM circuit back to the pits, where he would ultimately retire his car.
Looking to bounce back in Baku, Clément’s weekend was hampered by a shortened free practice and a technical fault during the feature race, seeing bad luck continue to follow the Frenchman. Points were possible Sunday, however he was unable to take advantage of the chaotic feature race due to his race-ending technical fault. Clément is hungry for points in Silverstone, and will be putting the time in to regroup and prepare for Round 7 in the United Kingdom next month, from July 01-03.
“Unfortunately, my shortened free practice put me on the back foot for qualifying. Being my first time in Baku, I needed as many laps as possible to dial-in my car. I wasn’t able to find the pace in quali, which ruined any chance of points for the races. The hectic feature race presented opportunity for points, however my race ended early when the team couldn’t solve the technical issues with my car. Definitely disappointed with the weekend, but we’ll regroup before Silverstone next month.”
Friday 10 June: Free Practice – 22nd, 1:59.823, 7 Laps | Qualifying – 20th, 1:55.456, 13 Laps
Saturday 11 June: Sprint Race – 14th, 0 Points, 21 Laps
Sunday 12 June: Feature Race – DNF, 0 Points, 8 Laps
ROUND SIX TOTALS: 0 POINTS, 49 LAPS, 294 KM DRIVEN