In our latest exclusive driver interview, Clement Novalak spoke candidly about his rise up the motorsport ladder and is looking forward to the “great challenge” of F2 after signing for MP Motorsport.
Coming from a racing background, Novalak enjoyed a successful karting career despite enduring a tough 2014 season before graduating into single-seater racing, where he has gone on to enjoy further success and consistency as he recently finished third in the 2021 F3 season.
Novalak has since recently signed a deal with MP Motorsport which will see the French driver graduate into F2 for the final two rounds of this season, ahead of a full rookie campaign in 2022 with the Dutch constructor.
Now as he prepares to make his move up to the the second-tier category and chases his dreams of a F1 seat, Novalak has candidly discussed his rise up the motorsport ladder and looks ahead to the “great challenge” of racing in F2.
Who inspired you to become a racing driver?
Novalak: “I think my greatest influence on my decision to begin was my father. He himself raced a long time ago.
“He knew the challenges of such a tough sport so he didn’t push me into it but watching Formula 1 races since being very young alongside him essentially created my love towards this sport, and pushed me to where I am today.”
You enjoyed a strong karting career with three titles but 2014 proved tough with no top ten championship finishes in six competitions. Looking back now, how beneficial was it to endure that difficult season in terms of your development in following years?
Novalak: “It was a tough year, being my first year in international karting, and was a massive learning curve.
“But I wouldn’t have had it any other way, as it prepared me for the years ahead and taught me the importance of work ethic and how it influences the outcome of what you aim towards.”
2018 saw you move up to single-seater racing with solid success across British F3 and Toyota Racing Series despite your struggles in Formula Renault Eurocup. Compared to karting, how tough was it to make that step up to single-seater racing with contrasting form across former two series to FR Eurocup?
Novalak: “It was definitely a difficult step up. I think at the time I wasn’t completely prepared for Formula Renault. But obviously I worked through it and I think it was definitely something that makes me stronger today.”
You focused solely on British F3 in 2019 where you enjoyed strong consistency en route to the title with no race retirements. How different did you find that season compared to 2018 and your karting stint in terms of focusing solely on just one series which paid off with your first single-seater title?
Novalak: “I actually think it was great to focus solely on a single series, because firstly I didn’t have to swap between cars, and secondly it made the calendar a little less busy, which is nice as time off is also extremely important to recharge the batteries and reflect on your performance and the areas in which you want to improve.”
2020 saw you step up to F3 with Carlin of whom you raced for in British F3 and went on to enjoy a 12th placed championship finish. As a rookie last season, what was it like to make that step up onto international level and enjoy two sprint podiums whilst producing 45 of Carlin’s 46 points last season?
Novalak: “It was daunting at first being on an F1 weekend, especially the first weekend, starting on pole in Race 2 in Austria.
“But overall the experience was extremely positive. I think I got the most I could put of the car that year, and it allowed me to gain the attention I needed to sign for a strong team such as Trident.”
This season saw you switch to Trident where you enjoyed further success with a third-placed finish under the new three-race weekend format. Despite failing to win any races, how beneficial did you find your time at Trident because you certainly found a large level of consistency?
Novalak: “It was extremely beneficial. I actually believe I learnt more my second year than I did my first, especially on the car and tyre side.
“My engineer was a huge influence on that and we had a really good relationship alongside my driver coach. So yes it was a very positive year.”
Following a controversial season finale in Sochi in which you battled teammate – Jack Doohan hard for the win, what are your thoughts on that particular battle especially with Trident trying to use team orders despite successfully winning the teams title with a double podium finish?
Novalak: “It’s a hard one to discuss as obviously I felt like I had the pace to win that day but I would’ve had to put myself and the team at risk of losing that championship in trying to fight too hard with Jack. But it was still an enjoyable battle.
“I’m just extremely happy for the team to have won as we get to drive the cars but most of the hard graft comes from the team members’ late evenings and early mornings to make sure we get to go and do what we love.”
You are now preparing to join MP Motorsport for the final two rounds of 2021 F2 season ahead of a full rookie campaign in 2022. How excited are you to make that step up early from F3 and how crucial will that early experience be as you prepare for next season?
Novalak: “I’m obviously very happy. The last two rounds will be a great challenge but I’m not one to turn them down, and plus it will indeed give me great experience alongside the team to prepare for the following year. I’m super pumped for it and looking forwards to it.”
Finally, how much would it mean to reach F1 under your French license and get to race at the French Grand Prix after having enjoyed the F3 home race experience of a British GP under British license in 2020 and likewise this season in France under French license?
Novalak: “Well having the opportunity this year in F3 to race in Paul Ricard was amazing. The support for the French drivers was tremendous.
“I was so happy as well because I was only born 30 minutes away so it really felt like a home race. And hopefully one day I’ll get the opportunity to race there in F1.”