Carlin Buzz Racing’s Clement Novalak shone during his FIA Formula Three debut in Austria this weekend as the heavily delayed 2020 season finally got off to an exciting start at the Red Bull Ring. Novalak enjoyed fantastic pace from the start of the weekend, secured reverse grid pole position and raced well to third position on the podium on Sunday morning. Carlin teammates Cameron Das and Enaam Ahmed had challenging weekends with contact and DRS problems hindering their progress respectively. The trio look forward to doing it all again this weekend as the second of season-opening triple header takes place.
The weekend looked to get off to a strong start for the trio despite wet and tricky conditions to deal with on Friday morning. Novalak however was looking feisty as qualifying begun in his Carlin Buzz Racing car, the pace within the car looked solid and, had he not encountered traffic during the final sector, the 2019 BRDC British F3 Champion was looking set for a starting position higher than his eventual 14th. Rookie racer Das was also struggling with traffic around the short lap which saw 30 cars on track at once, as it was he finished the 30 minute shoot out in 21st. Qualifying however was a tough 30 minutes for Ahmed who suffered a DRS (drag reduction system) failure which, on a short lap with long fast DRS range sections, meant he found himself out of position, and with 30 cars in the field he was immediately on the back foot in 26th.
Race one got off to a relatively calm start despite months away from on track racing. Novalak quickly made progress through the field as everyone scrambled for position and was running nicely in a top ten position. Unfortunately for Das and Ahmed their challenging qualifying situations had left them in the busy part of the field, and with overtaking somewhat difficult at the Red Bull Ring, progress was hampered for the duo who soon fund themselves running in line with each other.
With Novalak sitting in tenth the race settled in to a good rhythm and as the flag fell the Carlin Buzz Racing driver held tenth to secure pole position in the reverse grid race (a change from previous seasons where eighth place had secured the pole). Das and Ahmed crossed the line in 22nd and 23rd respectively.
The perils of the mid field were once again felt for Das on Sunday morning during the second race when he was forced in to the pit lane during the formulative laps of the race with suspension damage. Novalak however led the field brilliantly as began to build a gap however he soon came under some pressure from cars behind. Holding well throughout and coping with safety car periods he finished the 24 lap race to take a podium position for third in his debut FIA Formula Three weekend – no mean feat for a rookie driver.
Novalak said of the weekend, “I’m extremely proud to be standing on the podium because obviously it is a first for me. I’m already looking ahead to next week. We clearly showed some good pace this weekend; it’s a little shame about qualifying but I think if we put it all together, we can definitely fight for the top 5 at least. Hopefully we can keep doing that next week and hopefully manage to do something good.”