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Rowland "second favourite" for Renault seat

Photo of Oliver courtesy of Renault Sport F1 Team
By Sarah Holt,
C4F1 digital editor

The young drivers who took part in the two-day test after the Hungarian Grand Prix aren’t the only next generation stars aiming to test their mettle in Formula One. 

Oliver Rowland is also chasing his childhood dream of racing in the top tier of motorsport and the F2 star gets another chance to show his skills behind the wheel of a Renault F1 car this summer. 

The 24-year-old heads to the Gamma Race Day in the Netherlands on 5th August and he tells C4F1 it’s another opportunity to stake his claim for the hotly-contested Renault seat in 2018.

Q: Tell us about the event you’re going to be doing in Assen?

It’s a weekend where there are loads of different types of races and Renault support it with an F1 test drive, where we do five to six laps two or three times a day in the 2012 E20 car. 

We drive the car pretty quickly – well I’ll be pushing when I drive it – and then at the end we do some demo stuff like donuts. I’ll be driving on Saturday and then Nico Hulkenberg takes over on Sunday. 

It’s good to just get some mileage in a F1 car. Even though it’s limited on laps, it’s important to understand the speed, the brakes, the process you have to go through to get in the car and operate it. It’s a good opportunity to learn that side of things. 

Q: This isn’t the first time you’ve driven an F1 car but what are you expecting when you get back in the cockpit?

I’ve driven a McLaren and a Red Bull before in similar test days at Silverstone. 

From a young age I knew what I wanted to do and that was to be a Formula One driver and further down the road to become a world champion. So any opportunity you get to drive an F1 car you’re realising that dream from being a young kid. 

There’s not much that comes close to driving an F1 car, the downforce, the power, the engine noise are pretty impressive. It’s a special thing to be able to do. So every time I get in the car I want take it to its limit and I want to have fun. 

But at the same times it’s important that I do a professional job for Renault because that’s what they’ll be looking for from me. 

I’m a Renault development driver so I do a lot of things back at the factory but I want to get there, be professional, do my media bits and do a good job in the car.

Q: How much can you show in a demo run?

It’s difficult.  The things I just mentioned about being professional and doing your job is a big side of what I’m doing at the weekend. 

Nico will be driving the car and I’ll be keen to know what sort of lap times I did and what he did and where I can learn from that.

Whether I’ll get that information I’m not sure but I’ll be doing what I can to take the most from the event. 

It’s a massive event and a big day in Holland. I was there the year Max Verstappen drove a Red Bull car. I’ll be looking to please the fans, put on a good show and maybe gain some fans when I’m there!

Q: Have you kept an eye on what’s been happening in the Hungary test?

Yes. Obviously I’m trying to get the seat for next year and I’ve seen that Robert Kubica has been testing so I’m keeping my eye on that. 

My F2 teammate, Nicholas Latifi, was testing the day before so I got a bit of information back from him.  We get on and share a lot of information within F2. I spoke to him last night and he said he had a good day. 

It’s good for me as well as he’s a decent reference for them (Renault) to compare me to him and compare him to Robert. 

But you never really know with these tests, the teams run a lot of fuel and you never really know what setting their on with the engines so from the outside it’s difficult to gauge exactly what’s going on. 

Q: A lot of your F2 peers took part in the test. Will you be pushing for the end of season test in Abu Dhabi?

Definitely. I want to be in the car next year so I need some time at some point. 

A lot of F2 drivers bring budget to the teams and that’s a source of income for some of them. Unfortunately, I can’t bring that so I don’t get the opportunity to drive the car as often as I’d like.

It is what it is and I need to earn my chance fairly from within the team, that’s why it’s important that I keep doing the best job that I can do, and hopefully put myself in contention for the seat. 

Q: It’s so tricky, I remember speaking to a driver five or so years ago and he was saying you need at least a million pounds to get into F1.

It’s probably a bit more than that now!  

Q: And presumably you don’t have pots of cash to bring to a team?

Yes, exactly, I’ve got to where I am so far through the support of the Racing Steps Foundation and this year through the support of DAMS and Renault. I’ve got this far without family backing or big backing. I don’t come with that.

We’ll push to get some form of sponsorship to help us get over the line but as of this moment we don’t have that. It’s down to me to get there on merit which is still entirely possible. 

Q: You’re in an interesting situation at Renault, there is Robert Kubica, Sergey Sirotkin and Nicolas Latifi in the mix if a seat becomes vacant. There’s a lot of attention on that Renault seat.

I don’t need to focus on that too much. 

Obviously Robert was an incredible driver back in his day, he’s been injured, he’s come back, he’s got some restrictions with his arm, we just have to see how that affects him and what performance he brings with that. 

Robert comes with a lot of support and everybody would like to see him back in Formula One which is why it’s a little bit difficult for me pushing that seat as well when he’s in the frame.

As for the other two, Nicholas is my teammate in F2 so there is a direct comparison there. If he was to beat me then he should get a seat in F1 and if it’s the other way round you’d like to think that I would. 

Sirotkin did GP2 last year and finished third but I’d like to think that I’m doing a slightly better job. We were also teammates in 2014 in World Series by Renault and I beat him then.

I see myself as not coming with the most backing in the world but second favourite behind Robert from that side of things. I respect him from what he did before and it would be nice to see him there if I wasn’t fighting for the seat!

Q: Congratulations on your victory and second place at the last F2 round in Hungary. How much confidence has that given you?

A lot. Throughout the year Charles (Leclerc) has been extremely strong in qualifying but we’ve been getting closer and closer, and that had previously been our downfall. 

I’ve qualified second twice in a row now and I inherited pole because they had an issue with their car.

The performance in the races has been strong all year but Hungary was the first time that everything came together and I really got a chance to show how strong we are as a team, what I learned, how I’m developing.

I’m really pleased and confident moving into the next four races that we can mount a serious challenge to Charles. 

Q: There are four race weekends to go in the F2 Championship, is Charles catchable?

Yes, If you win the feature race it’s 31 points with fastest lap. 

We already cut his lead back from 72 to 50 points so we’re a lot closer than we were and we will be if we have another weekend like we did last time out. 

We’re hoping that his performance drops and we’ve still got some things to improve as well so hopefully we can get closer to him, 

All it takes is for us to start taking poles and winning feature races and making life a little more difficult for him. 

Then there’s absolutely no reason why we can’t challenge him and I wouldn’t be going to the next race if I didn’t think I could.