RED BULL RING | 2023 FIA FORMULA 2 ROUND EIGHT
Spielberg, Austria, 02 July 2023 – Clément Novalak Stripped of Podium in Austria
The FIA Formula 2 Championship returned to the heart of the Austrian Styrian hills this weekend, seeing the Red Bull Ring in Spielberg play host to Round 8 of the 2023 season. Heading into the second half of the season, Clément Novalak was eager to get his sophomore campaign back on course after showing strong pace at Barcelona. A change in weather during the weekend brought an additional challenge to the Frenchman, proving qualifying and tire strategy an integral role in his pursuit of points.
Sunny skies and cool temperatures graced the circuit Friday morning for free practice to open the race weekend, seeing Clément head out on red-walled soft Pirelli tires with hopes to dial in his car for qualifying later in the evening. Track position proved to be key at Red Bull Ring, with its short length & incredibly fast straights seeing drivers jockey for prime position. After the Frenchman’s first few laps, he was fourteenth quickest and decided to return to the pits for slight suspension tweaks. Returning to a clear track with twenty-three minutes remaining in the session, he would continue to try and find the correct balance by setting the tenth-quickest time and needing to find just over half-a-second to the leader. A brief red flag would halt the Sophomore’s progress, sending him back to the pits for further set up changes. As the session would go green again, another driver would spin to bring out the second red flag, and a premature end to the session, seeing Clément’s time of 1:15.862 hold for P10.
As dark clouds rolled in later Friday evening with a slight chance of rain, there was a rush to set a banker lap in once qualifying got underway. On Pirelli super-soft tires for the first time of the weekend, Clément would set the fourteenth quickest time on his first flying lap. Traffic would hinder the Frenchman’s next attempt, seeing him dive to the pits with just over half the session remaining. With the threat of rain dissipating and aiming for prime track position, Clément hurried to get back on track in front of the other drivers with enough time for two push laps. On his first attempt he would not improve his time, with traffic continuing to stall his progress on his final flyer, seeing him cross the finish line with a disappointing twentieth-quickest time of 1:15.702.
The sun retreated for Saturday evening’s sprint race, seeing a damp track after rain overnight and earlier in the day. Utilizing the knowledge gained after a similar scenario at last year’s feature race at the Red Bull Ring, Clément urged his team to start on soft compound slick tires as the track was rapidly drying even though most drivers were on wet-weather rubber. The strategy paid dividends as the lights went out, seeing Clément surge up the field during the opening lap where he would be sitting in P16, when a safety car was deployed. Under yellow, nine of the wet tire runners went for changes, seeing the Frenchman jump to P7 once racing resumed on lap seven. Clément continued to surge up the field, seeing him in P5 by the next lap where he would begin hunting down the podium positions. The Sophomore would make an amazing overtake on lap fourteen to move to P4, and an even braver pass on lap eighteen to see him claim P3. He would valiantly hold off an attack from behind for the next nine laps, seeing him cross the finish line in third for the best result of his season. Post-race inspection would find a technical error made by his team, however, seeing him disqualified and stripping him of his second podium result in FIA Formula 2.
Sunday’s feature race brought sunny skies and warmer track temperatures, seeing Clément start on the Pirelli super soft compound. Enjoying his usual lightning-fast start, he would pick up three positions on the opening lap, but would get tangled behind two drivers fighting in front of him on the following lap, eventually losing a position during the second lap. The Frenchman would settle in to the DRS train for the next several laps to focus on conserving his rapidly deteriorating tires, finally making his mandatory pit stop on lap nine. Clément would charge out of the pits in P22, making consecutive overtakes on lap ten to P20. After picking up a further two positions to move into P18, lap twenty-seven saw the soft runners being to pit seeing him climb to P15 when a driver’s wheel came loose on track bringing out the safety car. In a bold move, Clément would pit for super soft tires in hopes to surge through the field in the final laps of the race. Racing would resume with eight laps remaining, seeing the Frenchman move climb through the pack from P18. In just 2 short laps, Clément had already moved to P15 and was fighting for P14 when a VSC slowed his attack. With just four laps remaining the VSC ended, seeing him claim fourteenth immediately. After making a fantastic overtake for P13 on the following lap, Clément would run out of time to ultimately finish just outside the points in thirteenth after a hectic final laps of the feature race.
Clément used previous race experience to expertly select the correct tires for both races this weekend. Elation from scoring the second podium of his FIA Formula 2 career was short lived after a post-race disqualification due to an error by his team, however the Frenchman continues to impress with incredible race craft and tire management. Racing returns immediately this week where F2 heads to the United Kingdom for Round 9 of the 2023 championship at Silverstone from 07-09 JUL. Clément sends his thoughts & deepest condolences to the family of Dutch driver Dilano van ‘t Hoff.
“Last year we took the wrong decision to go on the wet tires, so before the sprint I was adamant we needed to be on the slicks and it turned out to be the right choice. Unfortunately, we were handed a post-race technical penalty which stripped me of my podium, but the car continues to show great pace during the races. I’m looking forward to racing at Silverstone next weekend.”
Friday 30 June: Free Practice – 10th, 1:15.862, 17 Laps | Qualifying – 20th, 1:15.702, 15 Laps
Saturday 01 July: Sprint Race – N/A, 0 Points, 27 Laps
Sunday 02 July: Feature Race – 13th, 0 Points, 40 Laps
ROUND EIGHT TOTALS: 0 POINTS, 99 LAPS, 428 KM DRIVEN