Endurance racing may not be Oliver Rowland’s specialty but patience is a quality that has, at last, taken the Englishman to a world-class championship.
Rowland has been waiting 20 years to shine and Formula E has finally given him the chance to light the touch paper on his racing career.
“It’s been 20 years of sacrifices to finally end up in a place where I can show my ability and really excel,” the Nissan e.dams driver tells CNN Sport ahead of this weekend’s Swiss round in Bern.”
“My family have always supported me and put a lot of effort in so it’s nice to repay them and show them it was all worth it.”
“Everybody is happy and I’m in a good place — I’m just happy with life at the moment.”
Naturally laidback and optimistic, Rowland has spent enough time on the fringes of motorsport to know how frustrating it can be to watch from the sidelines. Before his last minute signing by Nissan e.dams for Season Five of Formula E, he was waiting in the wings of Formula 1, first as a development driver with Renault and then as a junior driver for the Williams team.
“I spent a long time chasing the Formula 1 dream and I got very close,” reflects the 26-year-old Rowland.”
“I saw a lot into Formula 1; it’s extremely political and it’s not always the most talented guys that get there; there are various different factors and I ended up a little bit tired of it to be honest.”
“I’ve come into Formula E and it seems like such a breath of fresh air. I’m just so happy to be here.”
“Formula 1 is not on my radar whatsoever. I think with the direction that Formula E is going in the future is here. If I can really make a name for myself in Formula E then there’s no reason for me to be looking elsewhere.”
Rowland’s route to the electric championship came when his old friend Alexander Albon was offered a chance to race in Formula 1 with Toro Rosso, leaving Nissan e.dams needing to find a fast replacement — and quickly.
“The team signed Alex back in August to do Formula E and I was a little bit disappointed at the time,” Rowland explains. “But things progressed with him and he moved off to do Formula 1 and I suppose I was top of the list to call.”
“I got out at the very last minute to testing in Valencia, I managed to complete one day in the wet, and that is pretty much how it started.”
When he was a young go-karter growing up in Yorkshire, Rowland used to spend weekends away racing with Albon and his family. “I knew him very well,” he adds. So, did he speak to his old friend when they effectively swapped racing paddocks?
“Yeah of course,” he says with a laugh. “Just to say good luck for the season and thank you!”
Parachuting into Nissan e.dams — winners of three out of four team championship titles — meant Rowland also eased into his first full season with the team.
“Nissan were very clear that I had to learn in this first year and there was absolutely no pressure to get any results,” Rowland explains. I suppose that makes things easier as there’s really no pressure on my shoulders to go out there and perform — and in the end I’ve been able to.”
Rowland has been a bit of a surprise package in Season Five. While there have been “rookie” mistakes, Rowland has also been unlucky to miss out on race wins and his potential has been underlined by two podiums and three pole positions. The Briton has also eclipsed Felipe Massa and Stoffel Vandoorne who, fresh from the rigors of Formula 1, are also competing in their rookie Formula E season.
“It’s extremely satisfying,” says Rowland, who is ninth in the drivers’ standings with three races to go. You always like to believe in your own abilities as a racing driver but you also have to prove yourself. So to come in, not only against the rookies, but also against ex-Formula E champions … it’s just been nice to really base my performance alongside a lot of the others.”
“I think I’ve cemented my place within the drivers and earned that respect. Formula E is extremely competitive and all the drivers are extremely friendly, we’re all very good friends. But I have to keep pushing because when you’re at this level against these type of guys, they’re always looking for that extra small advantage.”
Alongside his Nissan e.dams teammate Sebastian Buemi, the immediate task in hand is to take the team’s first win of the season.
“I genuinely think we’ve been extremely unlucky not to win a race so far,” adds Rowland. “We’ll keep pushing.”
Beyond that Rowland is continuing to run his go-karting team, Oliver Rowland Motorsport, for junior racers in the UK who are hoping to follow in his tire tracks.
“When they’re racing and I’m racing they all sit inside the truck and watch on the big screen,” Rowland explains. “So they’re massively into Formula E and they’re all very keen to do what I do. Everything I can do to help the younger guys coming through I will always do that. It’s extremely important to give something back to where I once was.”