Clément Novalak reckons he’ll start next season with an upper hand on his rookie rivals, with the Formula 3 frontrunner set for an earlier than expected debut with MP Motorsport in the final two rounds of the season at Jeddah and Abu Dhabi.
Last week, MP announced that Novalak would join them for the final two rounds of 2021 as well as all of 2022, making the Frenchman the first seat confirmation of the new season.
The Dutch team have a recent history of leading rookie drivers to victories, with Felipe Drugovich (2020) and Richard Verschoor (2021) both winning with the team in their first years of F2.
“We got into contact quite a while back regarding 2022, so when the option of a seat in the last two rounds arrived, we were obviously very interested in it,” said Novalak. “I am not the type of guy who just comes in and wants to take a seat from someone else though, so I wanted it to be something that everyone agreed on and was okay with.
“I am extremely happy to be able to work with the team early and to go and learn Jeddah and Abu Dhabi - two tracks I have never been to before. It is a great privilege, not many drivers have had the chance to race with the team that they will race with the following year in the last two rounds of the previous season in Formula 2.
“I think that it will come with an increased advantage because it will allow me to work with the team ahead of next season, get set up and start the working relationship a bit earlier. That means there will be less time next year where we are adapting to each other.”
It will allow me to work with the team ahead of next season, get set up and start the working relationship a bit earlier.
During two seasons of F3, Novalak scored five podiums, taking two with Carlin Buzz Racing in his rookie campaign, before developing into a title contender the following year at Trident.
Missing out on the Drivers’ Championship to Hauger, Novalak finished third behind his teammate Jack Doohan with three podiums and 147 points, but what set him apart from those below was his consistency. Novalak missed out on the points just four times and twice went on a run of six top 10 finishes in a row.
“As great as the first year in F3 was, I think that I learned more in the second year,” he continued. “The way we worked as a team, how open we were, how we worked with data, with the car and so on, it really taught me a lot about the technical side of the car and how to better the relationship with the engineers.
“I think that is increasingly important as you go up the ranks. In Formula 2, the cars are even more technical, especially the tyres. Trying to nail it becomes increasingly harder as you go up the ranks, especially when you reach Formula 1, where getting the tyres and the car in that tiny perfect window makes the biggest difference.”
Although he’ll be stepping into the unknown at Jeddah, the 20-year-old does have some F2 experience to count on, having taken part in post-season testing with UNI-Virtuosi last season.
There is also a pre-existing relationship with his new teammate, Richard Verschoor, who he first drove with at Josef Kaufmann Racing in the 2018 Formula Renault Eurocup campaign.
“Even though it has been a long time since the test in Bahrain, I still remember how the car drives and certain things that I learned, so hopefully I can carry that forward. If that test can turn into me being relatively on the pace straight away, at least with Richard (Verschoor), I would be quite happy with that.
“We have always been good friends because we raced together in 2018, so it will be nice to race for the same team as him again. He has got the experience in F2, six rounds or so, and I am extremely happy to be working with someone who I have always considered to be a very fast guy. Hopefully, I can learn a lot from him before going into the last two rounds.
“Ultimately, you can do as many race runs in testing and practice as you want, but it is never the same as when you have got two cars around you that you are fighting with, so for sure it will be cool.”