Oliver Rowland – I personally prefer Formula E to Formula 1

by Nathan Hine
Oliver Rowland at 2019 Bern ePrix

British racing driver Oliver Rowland made his ABB FIA Formula E full-time debut with Nissan e. dams at the 2018 Ad Diriyah ePrix with Nissan e. dams despite not having had much testing before the start of the season.

Despite that, Rowland has been the best rookie this year by far, claiming his first points finish in Riyadh, where he finished seventh in his maiden race for the team.

Since then, the man from Yorkshire has claimed three poles and two podiums to be the lead Nissan driver for the majority of the 2018-19 ABB FIA Formula E Championship.

So ahead of the double-header season finale at the 2019 New York City ePrix, Rowland caught up with The Checkered Flag to talk about his experiences in his first season in the all-electric single-seater series and what this means for his future career.

The Checkered Flag: Are you surprised at how well you have adapted to life in Formula E? Are you enjoying being part of the championship?

Oliver Rowland: I think it has been a pleasant surprise at how well the first season has gone. I have enjoyed every race. The team, the atmosphere, all the drivers. It has been a breath of fresh air to be honest to what I was used to before. I’m pleasantly surprised, I was always hoping that I would do a good job and that I could be competitive. But I suppose some parts of the season have gone better and some worse. It is just about trying to gain a bit of consistency.

TCF: How does Formula E compare to the other racing series that you have been part of?

OR: I think the schedule itself is a lot different to anything I have been part of. You have Free Practice one and two, qualifying, Super Pole and the race all in one day. You know you don’t have much time to reflect and understand what is going on each time you finish a session and if you make some changes, you have to be pretty quick. I think that was one of the biggest differences. And the tracks are super hard and no room for error. It is easy to make a mistake and its easy to lose confidence in what you are doing because the walls are so close. So I think it is a real confidence-builder and something you have to understand very well with the car and the engineers about how you are going to extract the most time out of the car and on the other side, the battery management during the race and the temperatures and all of that sort of stuff. So that’s pretty interesting, and it’s been pretty enjoyable so far.

Oliver Rowland at start of Bern ePrix
Credit: Nissan NISMO Media Library

TCF: What differences are there between driving a Formula E car in qualifying compared to the race? Why do you think you were able to get up to speed in qualifying relatively quickly, but it took several races to master driving in a Formula E race?

OR: I think one of the biggest differences is you have to use regen and be aware of everything around you. You have your targets that you have to match, but you have to manage the race well and make sure you are gaining positions and not losing them. There are a lot of different things to manage, different settings to manage. I think that is the biggest difference between the race and qually. Qually is quite a normal procedure: you maximize your laptime with the car that you have. That is quite normal. Obviously, you only have one prep lap and one 250 [KW] lap.

Qualifying is one thing: you have to maximize the speed of the car. The race is something completely different – it is something I am having to learn. I think in terms of performance of the car, we seem to have a better package in qualifying than we do in the race. That has made things a bit harder. But in certain races like Monaco, I have shown that I can manage things pretty well, I was in a good place there so the racing side is coming. I am sure that I am going to be better next season. I am going to be working hard in the break to make myself better in these certain areas.

TCF: Are you looking forward to going to London next year for a home race? What do you make of the location for the event?

OR: Absolutely. I live in London, so it’s going to be really nice to see lots of friends and family and also to race in your home country. I am looking forward to it, but it is the same as any other race. You go out there and work hard and aim to win. In terms of location, I don’t know it very well. I know it is near the city airport.

Formula E cars in London for 2020 race at Excel arena
Credit: ABB FIA Formula E

TCF: How much has Sebastien Buemi helped you in your debut season of Formula E?

OR: Massively. Especially in the begining, things were tough. I didn’t get any testing but he was always there for me to guide me in the right way. If I was ever having a tough day, he even put his arm around me sometimes. So I have a lot I owe him especially in my first season. We have a really good working relationship. So that’s one of the most important things not just for me, but for the team. We really work hard and push each other to new levels. You have seen at certain times this year, I’ve been ahead and recently, he has upped his game, so now it’s down to me to up my game again. But it is enjoyable and that’s what being a team-mate is about and we have a nice age gap. He is pretty well-experienced and I’m pretty new to everything so it’s a nice environment we’ve got going on at the moment.

TCF: Where do you see your long-term racing future? Do you see Formula E as a stepping-stone to race in Formula 1, or do you plan to race in Formula E for the foreseeable future?

OR: Who knows? No-one really knows extactly what is going to happen in your career, but I’m very happy to be in Formula E. I love the direction it is going: the people, the events, the cars. Everything is growing year-on-year. I don’t really plan on being in Formula 1. There is not much that excites me too much at the moment apart from racing from one of the top teams. I think that is pretty unrealistic so I would like to say that I see myself racing in Formula E for many years to come.

TCF: What are your racing plans next season? Are you likely to stay with Nissan e. dams?

OR: Nothing is confirmed at the moment. I would love to stay with Nissan, we’ve had a very good first season and I would love to build on that next season . I would very much like to stay there and I very much hope that will happen.

TCF: What do you make of the new Formula E rules for next year, in particular to subtract a drivers’ available energy during caution periods of the race to put greater emphasis on energy management? Do you think that will work to your advantage or not?

OR: I haven’t thought about it too much. I saw that it came out. Obviously, we are still focusing on New York so it’s not something I have thought about too much. This year I would say it would be a disadvantage to us because in races, we have struggled a bit with energy management. But next year we plan to be much better on that side, so I think it is a good thing. I think the racing is more exciting when we have to manage energy so I think it is going to be a good thing for the fans and everybody is going to see how racing will be more interesting. I think when we finish flat-out on circuits, it is more difficult for us to race and overtake. So I’m all for the energy being reduced during Full-Course Yellow periods and stuff like that.

TCF: How do you evaluate your first season in Formula E to date? Is a win on the cards in the final two rounds of the season?

OR: I think I have to be happy. I set myself some targets at the start of the year, and at the time maybe they seemed a bit high: I wanted to be in Super Pole by the end of the season and regularly try to be in Super Pole and then try to get a podium. Obviously, that all happened very early on so the expectations keep going up. But it is about being realistic. Over the last two races, I have had a bit of a reality hit home – I wasn’t as strong as I was and I will have to go back to the drawing board and see what I was doing right and wrong and that will be important for me moving forward. In terms of a win, why not? You have to aim for the top: I’ve finished second, I’ve had three poles. So the only thing left is a win, so of course we’ll be aiming for that in New York. It is never easy with the level of drivers in this championship, so we’ll see. But of course, we’ll take that approach.

TCF: Which world city that is not on the calendar would you like Formula E to visit the most?

OR: I’m not sure to be honest. I would have said London this year, but we’re going there next year. We race in some of the best places in the world, so I’m not looking for more, so I’m not sure on that side, maybe Tokyo. It would be nice for Nissan to have a home race in Japan. So probably Tokyo if I was going to pick one.

TCF: Do you think Formula E could be bigger than Formula 1 in ten years’ time? Do you think Formula E is the future of motorsport considering how far it has come approaching the end of its fifth season?

OR: I’m not sure. Formula E and Formula 1 are very different. Who knows? I don’t think anybody saw Formula E being where it is five years ago. I personally prefer Formula E to Formula 1 to watch, to compete in and to be around as a championship. So hopefully we can interact with the fans and make races interesting and with all the manufacturers coming in, it is relevant to what they are doing on the road. Who knows? I would like to think so, but I think it is a very different concept and it just depends where the world and the economy goes in the next ten years.

The British driver will now be heading into his final round of the season in New York City with Nissan dreaming of a win to cap-off what has been a brilliant season from him. But the down to earth man to Yorkshire truly believes in the Formula E project. And if he, along with Nissan, can maintain their fabulous start in Formula E, it won’t be long before Rowland adds himself to the list of Formula E champions.  

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