Meet the British drivers chasing GP2 glory

Motor Racing - GP2 Series - Sunday - Silverstone, England

Oliver Rowland

Born: Sheffield
Age: 24
GP2 starts: 21
GP2 wins: 0
Current team: MP Motorsport
2016 championship position: 5th
F1 affiliate: Renault

Sum up your career so far in no more than a minute…

“I think so far so good. I think I kind of went under the radar a little bit in Formula Renault in terms of Formula 1 teams and stuff like that but already I finished second to [Alex] Lynn in my first year of Renault, then third then second in Eurocup which were also pretty good results if you look at the drivers that were ahead of me - the first year was Stoffel [Vandoorne] and [Daniil] Kvyat, then the second year was [Pierre] Gasly - and then I moved to 3.5 which was a good year. I was unlucky not to finish second, Carlos [Sainz] was slightly better than us but he’d been there the year before so again that was a really good season. Gasly and [Roberto] Merhi were in front so again top drivers, and then obviously last year I think I found my stride a little bit and really did a good job in world series. Then this year, so far so good. We’re lacking a bit of pace in qualifying but I think I’ve shown that consistently I’m there and I can manage everything well and that I can do a job. At the end of the day that’s what they look for over there, consistency and if you can score points every weekend and if you can do a good, solid job every time you’re driving. So far I’ve done that. Both me and the team need to find a bit more pace, so far it’s been promising but it’s difficult these days.”

What’s been the toughest challenge getting to the point you have so far?

“I don’t know really, just finding the right way for me to work probably in my head more than anything. Just working out what works for me over the course of a race weekend, preparation away from the track, all that sort of stuff. Just being happy really. There was a lot of pressure on me in my first two years of the Racing Steps Foundation, I’d been with McLaren and they didn't quite know how to understand me. But I think in the last two years I kind of do a little bit more and I’m a bit more freely spoken. I’m my own adult now and not a child. I think in the past I was treated a little bit like a child but now I have respect and that has sort of given me the freedom to do what I want and become the person that I am.”

Do you think that’s partly from the fact we have so many younger drivers in F1 now too? So people are having to give younger drivers more freedom and more responsibility at a younger age?

“Yeah I think it’s important to do that. But to be honest that’s only in the last couple of years isn’t it? I think I was set in my way because I was let out of karting so late by McLaren that you’ve got no choice. You’ve got to learn your trade. [Max] Verstappen is a very big exception and he’s obviously good. To be honest, I think the best of the best like Stoffel, Carlos and hopefully I’d like to include myself in that, could have done the same as well given the opportunity. He just had everything happen so perfectly for him and of course he did a fantastic job.

"I remember Ron Dennis saying to me ‘we don’t want anybody below 23 just because you’re not matured as an adult and a person, we’d never accept anybody under that age’. So that was always in my mind that I had to arrive there at 23. Now Red Bull have come along and a couple of other teams, it seems to be the thing to do and to be honest the guys are doing a good job. But I also think that’s partly down to a lot of people over there that could be retired and could hang their boots up and then the young, young ones wouldn’t look quite as good against them. I think if you look at like [Valtteri] Bottas versus [Felipe] Massa and things like that I think it shows that sometimes it’s time to hang up your boots.”

What’s been the best racing win of your career so far?

“That’s a good question… Probably Silverstone last year in World Series, or my first win in World Series, but I had to fight so hard for the one at Silverstone. We weren’t really fast and [Matthieu] Vaxiviere had a lot more pace than us. We managed to do a perfect pit stop, perfect strategy, everything just went perfectly and we managed to win the race in front of the BRDC and family and stuff like that. That was probably the best one.”

Motor Racing - GP2 Series - Sunday - Budapest, Hungary

How important for you is it to get a win in GP2? Because you've yet to do it, does it nag at you or is the title the bigger picture?

“Nobody cares really who wins races at the end of the championship. I could have won two reverse grid races right now but it’s not really winning the race. If you want to win the proper race, you win the first race, and there’s only been seven of them so far. So I think when you look at the level in this championship, even when you finish second or third in a feature race, in previous seasons you would have probably won a race by now. There’s such a wide variety of drivers out there, I’m quite happy to be doing what I’m doing and win the championship, but at the same time I want to go out there and win races, obviously. But it’s not paramount, I’m not going to risk everything to win a race.”

You’re driving for a slightly unfashionable team in terms of challenging for the GP2 title, but was that always the aim since the start of the season or was there a question mark?

“There was a question mark, it was all a bit of a mess over the winter. Renault took a long time to decide to go back to F1 and then we were sort of second fiddle to that. By then most of the seats had gone at the top teams as the RSF didn’t really want to commit to doing a full program with me again which was understandable because they’ve already done a lot for me.

"Obviously I did the races at Silverstone and Spa last year and that was really, really good. I looked at previous results and had seen they had probably been slightly better at those tracks than other tracks, but coming into this season I wasn’t really sure what to expect. I knew that we would be good at Silverstone, I know we will be good at Spa, but I think slightly what the more difficult thing is this year is you had Stoffel last year who absolutely dominated in an ART car which in my eyes seemed quite a lot better. Now instead of two of them you’ve got four of them because the head engineer went to Prema.

"So instead of qualifying second and being able to win the race from second, sometimes you have to start fifth because it’s just not possible to compete, like we saw in Budapest with Gasly who was on a little bit of a different planet. But I think in GP2 there’s such a fine margin between getting the set-up absolutely perfect and that’s what we need to do a little bit better. It shows in Silverstone and Spa last year I was 0.2s off Stoffel and I’d driven in the car once before. If we really put our minds to it and we think about what we need to do better we can match them and beat them, as we showed in Silverstone and Spa.”

Is there an added pressure being affiliated with an F1 team as well? Are Renault watching you more closely?

“No. To be honest I’m not really sure what they expect from the whole… because it was a little bit difficult, the decision we made, to be in the team that we’re in. I’m not sure if they thought ‘oh, we might have let him down a little bit so we really don’t know what to expect’. But there’s no pressure from them, I just do my best. Obviously after Silverstone when I was leading the championship I looked a bit of a hero, and now it’s like we need to really improve. But I don’t feel anything from them.

"Fred [Vasseur, Renault team principal] is a really good guy, he understands and knows, I don’t really have to explain myself to him. I just tell him how we’re getting on and how we can improve and he seems really relaxed about it. I have both [Nicholas] Latifi and [Sergey] Sirotkin as well in Renault, I’ve beaten both of them. So, so far it’s quite good. It’s quite clear that Sirotkin has had better pace just not done the job he should have done, so I don’t feel any extra pressure. If anything I feel a bit like I’m the underdog and I’ve got nothing to lose.”

Rowland Manor story

Is the goal racing in F1 next year? Or do you look at what Jolyon Palmer did and would take a Friday role before stepping up?

“You’ve got to have momentum haven’t you? If I was to back-to-back win World Series then jump into a car that is not the most favoured - I’m not saying it’s not the best but it’s not the most favoured - then I think you’ve got to keep that momentum and you’ve got to take your opportunity when you get it. If I get it then I definitely want to take it. If I had to do Fridays to do another year I would but obviously that’s not the preferred option. I think already Renault has got a decent program for next year. It’s going to take time, but I think with the regulations for next year nobody really knows where anybody’s going to be. I’ve done quite a lot of preparation work for next year with them, I don’t know where the others are at but the seem to be working hard and doing a good job.”

You mentioned the other guys in the Renault program, but from a British perspective is there an internal competition between you all in GP2 because you’re all fighting for coverage, attention and backers?

“No, not for me. If one of them was leading the championship then yeah, but neither of them are. I’m friends with both of them, we get on, I was team-mates with Alex in Formula Renault 2.0 but quite honestly they’re not the first people I look at when I finish. I want to beat the best so I look at the guys at the top. If they were at the top then they would be that sort of competition but right now, no. I’m quite surprised at Alex this year if I’m honest, I thought he’d been a bit better or I thought as a team they would be - it’s obvious he’s had some problems. I thought he would be one of the ones I would be looking at but it seems at the moment that they’re a little bit lost. Jordan is obviously doing quite a good job, he's a couple of points behind me in the championship. I think he has been slightly fortunate with some of those reverse grid pole positions but that’s what it is and he’s done the job. Other people have been unfortunate as well but I don’t feel any competition for backers or anything like that because I have my deal with Renault and none of them are on that. My plan is to be in Formula 1 with Renault, they don’t come into that.”

I’m sure you will have had idols as a child but do you have any inspirations or anyone you look up to from the F1 grid now?

“I think in terms of an actual driver like out and out driving, if you take away personalities, I think Lewis has got to be the one that you look up to. To be honest I used to support him a lot when I was karting, I used to go and watch his Formula Renault races and his dad and my dad had quite a close relationship and that was how we first got the link with McLaren. So I've always supported him. He’s venturing out there and doing a lot of different stuff now, that’s not something that I’d ever be interested in but I think as a driver on performance and pure fight it’s definitely him. But of course you’ve got Sebastian [Vettel] as well who is a super-nice guy, [Daniel] Ricciardo, I like that they’re on a similar level to us and if you see them they’ll say hello and just be nice guys. So I like the personality side of them.”