As a junior driver, you can spend long periods away from home in various regions of Europe, racing in different countries each month. One week you’re in Jerez, Spain, the next you could be in Monza, Italy. Suddenly, the divide between countries seems less small and Europe can begin to blur into one.
This is exaggerated if you come from differing heritages, such as Clément Novalak, whose father is French, and his mother Swiss. It’s exaggerated further when you’re born in France, grow up in Switzerland, and then move to England age 14.
Perhaps, that would explain, in part, why the 19-year-old has opted to race under a British license. “I would probably consider myself European nowadays,” he laughs when questioned about the subject.
To understand the heritage of Novalak, you would of course need to trace back to his childhood. Born in Avignon, in the Provence region, in the South of France, his family moved to a town called Montreux, around an hour away from Geneva, in Switzerland when Clément was still very young.
“Switzerland was very chilled out, with really positive vibes,” he continued. “You have got great scenery in Switzerland with mountains and the ability to go Skiing. Just in general it was possibly the best environment that I could have grown up in, with the friends that I had there.”
And yet, despite his upbringing, there’s a real British twang to his accent, and his English is perfectly fluent. You can almost imagine him sat there dunking a custard cream biscuit into a freshly brewed cup of English Breakfast Tea.
That’s down to the influence of his parents, who, even before their move to England, were keen for him to learn a second language.
He explained: “I think that it was a key advantage that my parents always wanted me to speak English from a very young age. Because of that, ever since I was eight, I went to a British school in Switzerland.
“It has helped me a lot with the racing, and everything else to be honest, to speak another language - we were speaking primarily French at home.”
Despite living in Switzerland, Novalak enjoyed most of his early kart racing in France, due to the stronger, broader and more vibrant scene on offer in his country of birth. The now 19-year-old made the move thanks to a contact of his father in Lyon, and it’s from this point onwards he started to properly compete and win races.
From there, the junior driver’s contact list grew, and he was introduced to another person who would go on to play an important role in his career, Oliver Oakes, of Hitech Grand Prix. The British team’s manager was an integral part of Novalak’s move to England in 2014.
“At the time he Oliver Oakes had a karting team and was managing drivers like Callum Ilott and Nikita Mazepin. Essentially, I was taken under his umbrella and the move to England was sort of down to him as well.
“I had the ability to practice on better tracks and meet better contacts. When you are karting in juniors you are already looking ahead to the future, which is formulas and a lot of the teams were based here in the UK. I think it was just a move that was initiated by me and obviously the whole family followed me here.
“I think it helped me to develop as a driver to come to England though and see how much more competitive the sport is here than it is in a lot of other countries around the world. Just the increase in level has helped me to develop.”
"it is great to represent the country where you are from, but I have spent so many years in the UK and I have been in British schools since I was eight - It sounds bad, but I almost dream in English nowadays..."
Novalak fully embraced life in England. He joined a boarding school based in Hertfordshire, called Haileybury. His parents originally settled in central London, before moving to Hertfordshire themselves when Novalak’s younger brother joined Haileybury as well.
The 19-year-old is now entering his sixth year of living in Britain. His fifth entailed his first ever Championship winning campaign, taking the BRDC British Formula 3 title, racing at historic English tracks such as Snetterton, Silverstone, and Brands Hatch.
Joining British based FIA F3 outfit Carlin Buzz ahead of his debut season in the Championship, he now races under a British licence, which may sound slightly odd to some, considering his French/Swiss heritage, but not to Novalak.
“I have lived in the UK since 2014 so that is probably why I have taken the British licence,” he explained. “I was racing under a Swiss licence before, coming from the amount of years that I lived in Switzerland, but unfortunately, when you don't live in Switzerland anymore, they don't allow you to have the licence anymore and as a result of that, I moved to the British licence.”
This means that should Novalak win in F3 next season, the British flag would be displayed above him. But, what does he actually think about that?
“I guess for me, as a racing driver, it is great to represent the country where you are from, but I have spent so many years in the UK and I have been in British schools since I was eight. It sounds bad, but I almost dream in English nowadays... So I guess it doesn't make a huge amount of difference to me? I have incorporated the English language and the English ways quite far in my body, I guess.”
When the 2020 campaign begins, Novalak will hope to have the British flag raised above him on the podium sooner rather than later.