Weekend Interview: Yorkshire’s Oliver Rowland aiming to join Lewis Hamilton on F1 grid

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PLENTY of British drivers have come to the Formula One party in recent years.

The trouble is, not many of them tend to stick around for too long.

Oliver Rowland from Yorkshire with Williams F1 Mercedes FW41 during the Spanish Formula One in-season young drivers tests at Circuit de Barcelona  (Picture: Xavier Bonilla/NurPhoto via Getty Images)

Oliver Rowland from Yorkshire with Williams F1 Mercedes FW41 during the Spanish Formula One in-season young drivers tests at Circuit de Barcelona (Picture: Xavier Bonilla/NurPhoto via Getty Images)

For all his success and superstar status, four-time world champion Lewis Hamilton is very much the exception to the rule.

Fellow Brit Jolyon Palmer stayed for two seasons with Renault while Will Stevens lasted the pace with Manor for just 19 races.

It can be an unforgiving sport and one which chews you up and spits you out in seemingly no time at all.

Despite this, Penistone’s Oliver Rowland is resolute in his ambition to break onto the sport’s main roster.

There’s situations each year where it opens up and you don’t know where certain people will go. This is something I’ve dreamed of for a long time so I’m still pushing.

Oliver Rowland

Rowland is on the cusp of F1, having risen through the ranks to ‘junior driver’ at British team Williams.

Williams have not had a Brit behind the wheel since Jenson Button in the 2000 season but that failed to deter Rowland when he was offered the chance to move there from Renault at the start of this year.

He has caught the eye with an impressive stint during in-season testing.

The event offers a rare but crucial audition for those chosen to participate and Rowland did his reputation no harm whatsoever with a solid showing during the Barcelona event earlier this year.

Oliver Rowland from Great Britain with Williams F1 Mercedes FW41 during the Spanish Formula One in-season young drivers Tests at Circuit de Barcelona in March 2018  (Picture: Xavier Bonilla/NurPhoto via Getty Images)

Oliver Rowland from Great Britain with Williams F1 Mercedes FW41 during the Spanish Formula One in-season young drivers Tests at Circuit de Barcelona in March 2018 (Picture: Xavier Bonilla/NurPhoto via Getty Images)

He rattled off 121 laps during the first in-season event in Spain and earned plenty of plaudits from team chiefs.

Williams performance projects principal engineer Dave Robson praised Rowland for doing “an absolutely superb job”.

He has again been chosen to undertake the second of the events, when he will fulfil another day of duties at the two-day test following July’s Hungarian Grand Prix.

Rowland told The Yorkshire Post: “So far, everything is positive and is looking good. Testing in Hungary will be another step in the right direction of achieving my goal of being in F1.

“Everything went very well at the test in Barcelona and it’s nice to know they’re giving me another chance and have trust in me. I’m looking forward to, hopefully, putting myself into a position for a seat in 2019.”

Testing is when Rowland gets to show his current employers, and potential future ones, his skills behind the wheel on the circuit.

It offers a welcome variation to the often tedious day-to-day dealings of simulator work and he is adamant his decision to join the Oxford-based team was the correct one.

“The opportunity to go to Williams offered me a better future than staying at Renault,” he added. “I do a lot of simulator days, and in there we can change bits and it’s pretty advanced.

“At Williams, I’m much more involved in the day-to-day Formula One development and feel more a part of the team. I get to drive on the track and I’m more involved than I was before at Renault.”

As well as his day-to-day life in F1, Rowland is a true motor-sport enthusiast as shown by his participation in the FIA World Endurance Championship and more recently the world famous Le Mans 24-hour race.

Despite not finishing the epic race as part of the Manor Motorsport team, he took the positives from the event.

“Any experience is a good experience,” he said. “It’s a different type of racing. It’s endurance racing in a prototype car. It’s not really what I’m used to but it’s the biggest race in the world.

“It’s realistic that you might not get to Formula One so you always have to keep other doors open as well.”

Despite sensibly formulating a back-up plan, Rowland is single-minded in his pursuit of his F1 dream.

It stems from his time as a youngster when he would go karting with his father and admire the likes of Michael Schumacher and Mika Hakkinen from afar on TV.

When quizzed on Hamilton, the sport’s biggest attraction, Rowland says he probably knows more about his father than the poster boy of the sport.

Rowland, 25, was part of the McLaren young driver programme from 2007 to 2010 and credits Hamilton senior with making a big impression on his career.

“His dad helped me quite a lot when I was younger,” he explained.

“He got me my first deal with McLaren when I was 13 so he was a big help.

“He used to go and watch Lewis, so had a few dealings with him but obviously not so much nowadays.”

The world of Formula One, and top-level motor racing in general, is one that requires the utmost in dedication.

To that end, travelling the globe is commonplace and time spent at home is minimal especially during the hustle and bustle of the season.

As a teen prodigy in the karting fraternity, Rowland is acutely aware of what life is like living out of a suitcase.

It is an enjoyable but testing time on the road.

“I’ve been travelling since I was about 15,” he said. “My karting schedule was really intense when I was younger, because I had around 20 races a year. I was going to all sorts of different countries around the world.

“Thankfully, it’s quietened down a bit as the years have gone on but it can be tough, mentally and physically, to stay fresh and fit.”

Home for Rowland nowadays is Dodworth, Barnsley.

He gets back when he can – “I do like spending time there when I can and try to relax” – but if he has his wish, then he will soon be rubbing shoulders with the likes of Hamilton and Seb Vettel on the prestigious main F1 grid.

Rowland is fully focused on making the breakthrough and readily admits he wants to win a seat for the 2019 season.

With Hamilton the only current Brit on the circuit, Rowland is keen to provide him with some home company in the paddock next year.

“He’s probably getting on a little bit now!” Rowland says, tongue-in-cheek, of a man only eight years his senior.

“He is the only British guy in F1 at the moment. So someone has to be there to do it for the British people. I’m on the doorstep now and as close as it gets to getting a seat.

“There’s situations each year where it opens up and you don’t know where certain people will go. This is something I’ve dreamed of for a long time so I’m still pushing. I’m as close as I can get to F1.

“I’m aware that you don’t get many opportunities to show your talent in this sport. I just have to do a good job and prove to people that I’m doing what I should be doing in order to prepare myself to be in F1.”