F2’s Chaotic Zandvoort Start: The Feature Race Top 3 Tell You How It Happened

F2’s Chaotic Zandvoort Start: The Feature Race Top 3 Tell You How It Happened

NovalakClement Novalak takes maiden F2 win as title challengers falter

The top three drivers in the FIA Formula 2 Feature Race at Zandvoort on Sunday morning had little advance notice about the rolling start procedure that kicked the race off, nor did they know the levels of grip on a circuit that had seen intermittent rainfall in the 30 minutes preceding the race’s commencement.

Faced with the unknown at the start, though, they did what several of the championship’s foremost drivers failed to do: keep it on the track surface without hitting anyone or anything else.

Pole-sitter Jak Crawford of Hitech GP reached Zandvoort’s banked Turn 1 for the first time at speed while on cold slick tyres after just one formation lap.

Crawford had led the field away on the opening lap for a rolling start, a procedure normally used in wet races when the standing water and spray on the track would make a standing start dangerous.

The Feature Race, however, was not declared a wet race, with a mandatory pit stop still required and all but four drivers electing to start on slick tyres.

Notably, a rule change implemented for 2023 allows F2 races to begin after “one or more” formation laps behind the safety car. Previous years’ sporting regulations stipulated that that there be “several” formation laps behind the safety car before a rolling start.

It is also thought that uneven amounts of water between the odd-numbered and even-numbered starting spots may have contributed to race control’s decision to pursue a rolling start.

At the rolling start, Jack Doohan, who started fifth, was the first to drop out, spinning in Turn 14 as the field got going and stalling the car at the bottom of the steeply banked corner.

Then Frederik Vesti, starting third, lost control of his car and spun around in Turn 1. Behind him, Ollie Bearman and Juan Manuel Correa, who were fighting over fifth, came together at the same spot, forcing Victor Martins to take avoiding action and drive through the gravel trap.

Rodin Carlin’s Zane Maloney was the only driver in the top seven not to have trouble in Turn 1, with both Crawford and second-placed Dennis Hauger locking up.

Doohan’s beached car brought out the safety car and triggered another restart, which saw Kush Maini and Ayumu Iwasa tangle directly in front of Clément Novalak, who was thus promoted to seventh.

Further trouble for the cars ahead, including an accident for championship leader Théo Pourchaire, and a well-timed pit stop right before the safety car deployment for Pourchaire’s incident helped Novalak to the front of the field.

The Trident driver controlled the restart at the end of Lap 16 perfectly to lead the field away. He never look back en route to his first F2 victory, with Maloney and Crawford completing the rostrum after 38 of the originally scheduled 40 laps.

In the post-race press conference, InsideF2 asked the top three drivers about how they experienced the unconventional start procedure as well as the decisive pre-race strategy calls they made – or nearly made.

InsideF2: We saw at the beginning that several drivers had spins and incidents. How were the track conditions at the start, and did you find that they improved a lot as the race wore on?

Clément Novalak: “I managed on both safety car restarts to have quite a good gap to the cars behind, so I didn’t really push into Turn 1 or the first sector, really. Just expecting it to still be quite wet from the reconnaissance laps.

“Obviously a few guys went off, and then towards the end of the race, it was bone dry, pretty much, from lap 3, 4 onwards. Then it was just a case of pushing as hard as you can.”

Zane Maloney: “To be honest, I had Jak, Dennis and Fred ahead of me, so I was just doing what they were doing. Watching them, there was zero grip out there initially, of course.

“Towards the end of the race, it was bone dry and [there was] a lot of grip, but those first few laps were very difficult. I’m sure Jak was all over the place, and we were just watching what he was doing.”

Jak Crawford: “I was one of the only guys to put on slicks, actually, on the reconnaissance laps to the grid on the first time around, so I had a bit more temperature.

“And obviously being the first one was a bit scary, but the car’s been really good. We’ve had a lot of these mixed conditions this year, actually, and I feel like we’ve sort of thrived in those conditions and done really well.

“And I had all the confidence going into the safety car restart. I had a good restart and I had a good gap, so I was able to take it easy in Turn 1.

“Where it was actually the wettest was the braking of Turn 1, so after that, you just build the confidence, and it was quite easy after that.”

InsideF2: Jak, you mentioned that you were one of the few drivers to use slicks on the reconnaissance lap. Ahead of the race, did you or your teams at any point consider starting the race on wets, and if so, what ultimately swayed you to stick with the slick tyres?

Jak Crawford: “We initially put wets when we got to the pit lane because it was a bit unknown. It was starting to rain again, and … we decided that it would be best if I just went on slicks and braved it out because honestly, the wets are quite easy to get in in those conditions.

And if we had to switch back to wets for some reason, then we would’ve, but we just had to be brave and not crash the car, basically, just to put some temperature into the tyres.

Clément Novalak: “From my end, I actually did the same as Jak, to be honest. I was probably one of the few that were on the slicks. It was a last-minute decision as well due to the big ol’ radar and it was saying that there was a massive cloud and a big storm coming.

“It must have missed the track by about three or four [kilometres] because up until about three minutes to go for the reconnaissance lap, we were planning on going on wets.

“Even the race start, to be honest, we were a little bit unsure because it wasn’t raining but there was a big chance that it might do in the first 10-15 minutes.

“But obviously we picked the right way because I think a few guys went on the wets and it didn’t work out for them.

Zane Maloney: “I started on the wets out of the pit lane. Of course, the better option was the slicks looking back at it, but we just tried to play it safe [with] what everyone around us was doing, and most of the drivers were on wets.

“We knew that we were still going to have one lap on slicks, which we did. We boxed, and then the lap to the grid was on slicks.

“Of course, when you look back at it, those couple of degrees of temperature really help on the first few laps, so that would have been great, but we played it safe.

“Imagine if one of them went out as it was raining a bit and put it in the wall, and you don’t make the race! We just played it safe.

“Looking back, we could have done something different, but in the end, it didn’t really make a big difference to the race.”

InsideF2: We had a rolling start for today’s race. When did you find out that it would be this start procedure, and do you wish that you could have had a starting start instead?

Clément Novalak: “I looked at the panels on … the formation lap, and that’s when we figured out that it was a rolling start. To be honest, [with] the conditions that were there, I wouldn’t have minded either.

“Obviously with a standing start, you get a lot more chaos and you can make possibly a lot more positions, but you sort of still got that with Turn 1 and so on, so it’s a difficult thing to say whether I’d choose one or the other.”

Zane Maloney: “I think we found out before the engineers just [by] looking at the panels! I’m quite happy with the rolling start, being a bit further [up] the grid.

“I think if it was a standing start, at least 10 drivers are going straight in Turn 1, so it was the safest thing to do.

“Of course, we want to race, but you could have a disaster if everyone just goes straight in Turn 1, so I think it was the right thing.”

Jak Crawford: “I also found out literally at halfway through Sector 2. I saw the boards, and honestly, I was quite surprised we were going straight away because we didn’t even get a proper sighter [lap].

“But at the end of the day, we’re going the higher speed at the restart, but it’s less bunched together, less battling into Turn 1, which creates a bit less chaos.

“And obviously, from the front, that was exactly a dream scenario, what I wanted.”

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NovalakClement Novalak takes maiden F2 win as title challengers falter