'Outside Formula 1, there is no harder championship than Formula E'

Mediabank Formule E


oliver rowland Formula e hardest championship outside Formula 1
12 April at 19:00
  • Ludo van Denderen

None of the previews for the Formula E season mentioned his name as one of the championship contenders. In the electric motorsport class, a battle between Jaguar, Andretti and Porsche drivers was predicted. Yet after five E-Prix', Oliver Rowland (31) has surprisingly and deservedly nestled himself in third place in the standings with Nissan. "Hopefully, this is my time. I think next year and the year after, we can really be championship contenders."

Rowland has been on the podium in each of the last three races; in Saudi Arabia, he ended the weekend with third place, the same position he held in Sao Paulo, and a fortnight ago in Tokyo, the Briton finished second. Starting from pole in the Japanese capital and leading for a long time might have turned into a win. "Yeah, it’s a tricky one," he said when GPBlog asked if he was disappointed with that second place in Tokyo.

"Going into the season, we had the expectation to build and get a few podiums. To be disappointed I didn’t win a race in the 5th race is kind of a good thing. It was was slightly disappointing not to take the win when starting on pole, particularly on that track where it is difficult to overtake. But quickly, in hindsight, I understood that we did a good weekend to perform like we did, with the pressure of having everybody from Nissan there, quite a busy schedule during the week, the jet lag and all that sort of stuff."

Rowland returned to his old camp

Nissan and Rowland have a close relationship. The Brit competed for the Japanese manufacturer between 2018 and 2021 before moving to Mahindra. Since this season, Rowland has been back with his old team. "Coming back to Nissan, I was hopeful they had a good package. Everything I saw last year pointed towards a rebuild, and they had a pretty good car."

"So, yes, I was hopeful, but I’m surprised it’s been as good as it has. Because we know with our hardware that we have some deficiencies. The plan is that next year we have a pretty significant upgrade. And if we can already fight now [for the wins], then that bodes very, very well for next year. So I'm kind of surprised, but it's a nice surprise, and I'll definitely take it."

Is the title with Nissan possible in Formula E?

With five different winners in five races, it once again becomes clear that the differences in Formula E are marginal. The championship in this class is often won by the most consistent driver, not necessarily the driver with the most wins. Rowland is consistent. "At the moment, yes. We're only five races in. But I fully agree [regarding consistency]."

Still, Rowland says: "I don’t see us as title contenders because coming to tracks like Misano, Shanghai, and Portland, we know we lack efficiency in the races, and they will be super energy-sensitive races. It's going to be a little bit more difficult for us at those races, but I think if we can be again top five or six this weekend [in Misano], then I think we can start to consider that there might be a chance that we can become consistent and still be close at the end of the season."

Rowland ready for championship battle

Rowland is now in his seventh season in Formula E, with the previous two seasons at the uncompetitive Mahindra being difficult to say the least. "The last couple of years were very tough, but they taught me a lot in terms of driving and how to manage some team-perspective stuff. I think I've got the experience under my belt now. I’m still clearly fast, which is a good thing. I was a bit worried about that at the beginning of the year."

"Hopefully, this is my time. Like I said, it’s not so much this year, but I think next year and the year after, we can really put together a strong championship contender year. Then, I think that has to be the target. We still must remain with our feet on the ground because this year is still a long season. There's plenty of competitive people there. So we just have to keep working and improving the small areas that we can," Rowland said.

Formula E growing again

Meanwhile, Formula E is growing as a class, after - according to Rowland - sitting on a plateau in terms of popularity for several years. "The Gen3 car came, which probably didn’t look as nice as it could’ve done. Tyres weren’t quite as good as they could’ve been. Perhaps a lack of push, let's say. But I think this year I've certainly noticed that there's been this kind of like re-emphasis, a lot more interested people," argues Rowland, who saw the grandstands packed in Mexico and Japan and organisers queuing up again to host an E-Prix.

"Formula One is on another planet in terms of visibility and the amount of interest. WEC is obviously on a quite steep curvature as well with all the new manufacturers going and this new LMPH. But I think what you see in Formula E is like an ultra-competitive grid where it's partly machine but also drivers can go up against each other and I don't think there's a harder, outside of Formula One, championship for a driver. There's certainly WEC and IndyCar and stuff like that but I really think the challenges that we have in terms of circuits, street circuits; it's hard, hard work. I think they're all doing strong at the moment, WEC, F1 and Formula E. I’m just glad to see that Formula E seems to be back on an upward trajectory."

From street circuits to Silverstone?

The next stage in Formula E's growth is to race more often on 'traditional' circuits. Misano is the next example. Silverstone is also said to be in the picture to replace London's street circuit. "I think we need to improve our performance to go on those tracks and it be a good spectacle. I’m on the fence. Silverstone is a great place. I’m not sure our cars are ready to go on a circuit like that in it’s full capacity," Rowland responded.

"From my pure driving perspective, I really enjoy street circuits and that's part of Formula E’s DNA so I want that to stay. But I think for Gen4 the specification of car is huge. The performance gain can be massive, then we can start to look at being on those types of circuits and seeing how the cars can fare over a longer lap."