CIRCUIT DE SPA-FRANCORCHAMPS | 2023 FIA FORMULA 2 ROUND ELEVEN
Spa, Belgium, 30 July 2023 – Clément Novalak Looking Forward to Summer Break After Difficult Belgian GP
FIA Formula 2 returned to action this weekend, seeing historic Spa-Francorchamps host the eleventh round of the 2023 campaign. Clément Novalak arrived to the rolling hills of the Ardennes feeling eager to bounce back from a catastrophic Hungarian GP just a week ago, where technical problems with his #21 Trident Motorsports machine sidelined him for the feature race. Tricky weather conditions and further technical issues would set the stage for the Frenchman in Belgium.
Free practice opened up Round 11 Friday morning under cold and rainy skies, seeing Clément elect to stay in the pits for the first fifteen minutes of the session. With the rain not dissipating and looking to dial in his car for qualifying, the Frenchman would be one of the first drivers to enter the soaked circuit. During his first push lap, the technical gremlins from last weekend in Budapest would reappear just as he exited Eau Rouge. His team would tell him to pull over to the side of the track, bringing a difficult start to the weekend as his #21 Trident Motorsports car would retire at the end of the Kemmel Straight.
Later Friday would bring a dry track and threatening clouds as qualifying got underway. With no meaningful laps put in during free practice, Clément rushed out on track to set a lap before the rain would come. After setting a quick sector one on his first push lap, the rain appeared with a vengeance. His soft Pirelli tires would manage the rain through sector two, but by the final sector the Frenchman was struggling to stay on track. Eventually crossing the line with a time of 2:12.797, he would be an agonizing seven seconds behind the leader as others were able to complete their lap before the heavy rain soaked the circuit. After changing to rain tires, Clément would see if he could set a better time, but decided it would be a fruitless effort in the conditions. The Frenchman would spend the rest of the session in pitlane, ultimately qualifying with the seventeenth fastest time.
Saturday evening’s sprint race saw clear, sunny skies for the first time of the weekend. After touring Circuit de Spa-Francorchamps only five total times, with just one timed lap, Clément had a hill to climb from P17 on the grid. As the lights went out, the Frenchman had his usual lightning start, seeing him dart through the field before turn one. As he continued gaining positions through a frantic first lap, he would pick up front wing damage and returned to the pits. After rejoining in P19, he would put his head down and drive his own race, seeing him make an overtake to P18 at the final chicane on lap five. On lap eight, he was told to pit to serve a penalty due to members of his team being present on the grid within fifteen seconds of race start. After serving the team’s ten-second stop-and-go penalty, the Frenchman returned to the track. By lap eleven he would reclaim P18 and was a full thirty-four seconds behind the pack in front. Even though he had no hope for a point finishing result, Clément would push incredibly hard for the final six laps, seeing him finish P17 after gaining over ten seconds on the drivers in front.
Overcast skies would return for Sunday’s feature race, bringing a slightly damp track after rain overnight. Starting on the alternate strategy, Clément had nothing to lose. Picking up multiple positions after another mega start, the young ace would expertly avoid a spinning car immediately in front through sector two, which brought out the safety car and halted the Frenchman’s impressive attack. After a brief few laps under caution, racing would resume at the end of lap three, with the sun starting to shine as Clément moved into P12 through Eau Rouge. Just a few laps later the Frenchman moved into P11 and one position outside of the points. After a great multi-lap battle for P10, Clément dove into the pits for fresh soft Pirelli tires. Needing to manage the softer compound for fifteen laps would prove a challenge, showcased by the Frenchman as he exited the pits with no grip and crossed the solid exit white line. Given a five-second penalty for the mistake, Clément would throw everything he had at the circuit. Returning to the track in P15 the Frenchman was on a mission – seeing him pick up four positions over the next two laps. By lap sixteen, he was in P8 and was able to stretch the gap behind him to over five seconds, seeing him comfortably in the points, when a safety car brought the field back together. Racing would resume with just five laps remaining, but Clément’s tires were fading fast. After a valiant effort to hold off the attack from behind, lap twenty-three would see him quickly fall to P11, where he would ultimately finish as the checkered flag waved. After his five-second penalty was added, he would drop to P14, brining further disappointment after a well-driven race for the Frenchman.
Clément hoped one of his favorite circuits would change his luck before a long summer break, but just five laps on Friday (only one of which was timed) would ruin any chance of points for the Frenchman in Belgium. A team mistake would set him back during the sprint race, while a promising charge in the feature race was halted by a late safety car. Clément is looking forward to the long summer break, where he will recharge his batteries before FIA Formula 2 racing returns for Round 12 at Zandvoort 25-27 August.
“To say I’m looking forward to summer break is an understatement. While I’ve showed strong pace in the races, poor Friday results continue to hold me back. I’m going to spend these next few weeks reflecting while I recharge my batteries before going into Zandvoort – a circuit I really enjoyed last year where I had a decent qualifying and my only podium in F2.”
Friday 28 July: Free Practice – N/A, No Time, 1 Lap | Qualifying – 17th, 2:12.797, 4 Laps
Saturday 29 July: Sprint Race – 17th, 0 Points, 17 Laps
Sunday 30 July: Feature Race – 14th, 0 Points, 25 Laps
ROUND ELEVEN TOTALS: 0 POINTS, 68 LAPS, 329 KM DRIVEN