British driver Oliver Rowland has stepped up to the Formula Renault 3.5 Series in 2014 with the Fortec Motorsport team, having come close to winning the supporting Eurocup Formula Renault 2.0 series in 2013, taking the fight for the title down to the final race in Spain where ultimately he lost out to Pierre Gasly.
On the back of finishing runner-up in the 2011 Formula Renault UK Championship, he made his debut in the Eurocup Formula Renault 2.0 Series in 2012 and finished third behind series returnees Stoffel Vandoorne and Daniil Kvyat, both of whom are now associated with F1 teams; Vandoorne as reserve driver for McLaren and Kvyat as a full-time Toro Rosso driver.
”When you look back, finishing third to those two looks pretty good!” said Rowland. ”At the time, it wasn’t considered this way. Coming back for a second season was the right choice, because the new Formula Renault 2.0 represented a step forward. This category is extremely competitive and if I want to be the best, I have to prove myself against the best.”
The 2013 season ended in disappointment for the Brit, but he says he has no regrets about the move he attempted on Eurocup Formula Renault 2.0 Series Championship rival Gasly in Barcelona that saw the Brit end in the gravel trap and saw the Frenchman won the title.
”I have no regrets, it was my only chance, I had to take it. To be honest, it would have been superb had it worked! At least, no one can say that I left the championship without giving it my best shot.”
He moved up to Formula Renault 3.5 in 2014 with Fortec Motorsport, and took his maiden win in just his fourth outing with the team at Motorland Aragon in Spain. He was delighted to have joined a team such as Fortec who in the past two seasons have seen Dutchman Robin Frijns win the championship in 2012 and Belgian Vandoorne finish second in 2013.
”To come to the Formula Renault 3.5 Series with a top team like Fortec is a fantastic opportunity. I have everything what it takes for wins. I can’t thank Racing Steps Foundation enough for their continuing support and their role. Right from the tests everything started very well. In coming from the Eurocup Formula Renault 2.0, my driving style suited with the car. I could learn and build confidence on every lap.
”At Monza, despite starting 15th, the podium was possible. I had excellent race pace, but I stalled on the formation lap. As for Motorland, I was probably a little too cautious on the two first laps of my final Saturday qualifying run. I then made a few errors that cost me the pole on my final attempt. After the incident at Monza, my start was a little difficult and it is hard to overtake here.
”In qualifying [on Sunday in Aragon], the first corner posed a problem for me, and I just nailed it on my last lap. I thought that the performance peak of the tyres had passed, but I gave it my all. To take the pole is marvellous, but you have to concentrate on the race.
“I quickly pulled out a lead before taking control of everything: the DRS, tyre, and wind…I was just a bit nervous before the pit stop, as it was the first of my career. The team and I are getting stronger and stronger at each race. We are counting on building on this to continue to win. That is the plan.”
The win in Aragon has put Rowland firmly amongst the favourites for the Formula Renault 3.5 Series title, but the Brit acknowledges that it will be a far from simple job to achieve.
“Clearly, it won’t be easy, but the team won the title with Robin Frijns and came close with Stoffel Vandoorne, both of whom were rookies. This shows that it is quite possible.”