For Season 10, Oliver Rowland will be making his return to the Nissan Formula E Team after two years away at Mahindra Racing. In this exclusive interview, Oliver discusses how the move came about, his hopes for the new season, his relationship with teammate Sacha Fenestraz, and how he has seen Formula E grow over his five seasons in the series.
How did the move back to Nissan materialise?
Ever since I left Nissan in Season 7, I’d always stayed in contact and in good communication with Tomas, Dorian and most of the members within the team. I’d always kept a good relationship and clearly things had been a little bit tough for me since I’d left. I think in the beginning, you almost joke a little bit about it you know, like “it would be nice to come back” and then talks start to happen. It was just clear for me, I needed a reset at the point I was in my career. I think on the trajectory that Nissan was on, it was obviously a good place to be. They had a great season last year and I needed that reset for me and also a bit of a homecoming as well.
What did you learn from your time at Mahindra?
I learned a lot; it was the first time that I’d been in a team where I was the lead driver. Of course, it was difficult in terms of results. It doesn’t do the best for your motivation, but I think it also makes you appreciate what you had before. Obviously on track, it wasn’t the best two years. There’s no hiding away from that. But I learned a lot and it’s put me in a good place for the future.
How have things been since you returned to Nissan and what’s your relationship with Sacha like?
No, I don’t really like him actually (laughs). My first days here were just before the Rome E-Prix so I met a few of the guys there. The month after the last race, a lot of people go on holiday and do other things, but then since that, we’ve been doing some sessions here, spending a bit of time together, having fun.
How do you prepare for a Formula E season?
It depends on the situation. I think as a second year with a team, you might look at what you could have done better the year before and what way you need to improve from a global perspective. When you’re new or coming back to a team with some new things to pick up, the first thing to do is to be comfortable around the people, understand the systems, the car and the software and all that sort of stuff and then start to get into your pre-season preparation.
You give items towards the end of the season where you need to improve and they start coming now and we start trying them, analysing them, feeding back on them and then hopefully there is an improvement for the start of the season. But it’s just about constant development, right? Understanding where you’re weak and trying to improve on that.
Has much changed at Nissan from when you left a couple of seasons ago?
I came in in season five and things were a bit complicated, but I wouldn’t want to be someone completely brand new coming in to understand all these names of different systems and trying to understand how the steering wheel works. Of course, things have moved on since I was here in terms of new elements to do with Gen 3 or new ideas in terms of performance.
It was actually quite surprising. I picked up the steering wheel quite quickly, for example, where all the rotary switches are, a lot of the names are similar to before, so that was pretty easy. But mainly, it’s just the new people that are here. There are a handful of people that were here when I was before, but there are lots of new people as well and it’s getting to know them, building relationships and also trying to push them in a good direction as well.
Can you give us a bit of an idea of just how much you have to consider being behind the wheel of a Formula E car?
I think what’s different is you sort of grow up during your junior career, just trying to optimize every thousandth and be the fastest you possibly can at all times. When you get into F3 and F2, you have the management side of things on the tires and a little bit of strategy in F2. But when you arrive in Formula E, the driving has to come like a second nature almost. Your speed and your rhythm come without thinking. And then, especially in the races, you have everything else to think about, where you are, what’s going on with the strategy of the race, the tires, the regeneration, the battery temperature, there’s the way to manage the race in terms of energy. There are so many different things that you almost need as much capacity inside your brain as possible to optimize your race and your performance.
How big was the adjustment to Gen3?
In the beginning, I thought it was relatively easy. In theory, the race optimization of energy management became a bit easier with having front and rear regen and not having to mix breaks and paddles and all this sort of stuff like we were doing in Gen2, but it then became apparent that the races became a lot more complex in terms of strategy, and it pretty much changed every race. I think it was dictated by people who were strongest in the races; they could pick and choose which strategy they took. For me, it took a bit of time to get used to the tires. In certain ways, I couldn’t drive maybe as I wanted to drive more with Gen 2. It took a few races to get into the rhythm with that side of things.
How have you changed as a driver during your time in Formula E?
A lot. I mean, there’s nothing better than time and experience, right? That automatically just improves and helps you deal with all the things that I was talking about a minute ago. When I arrived, I had speed; I think I did four or five pole positions in the first season. That was never a problem. The race management was okay sometimes. But my way to develop and push the team and stuff like that, I had no idea about. And I learned quite a lot from Seb (Buemi), how he was doing that, how he was sort of motivating the team, pushing, pushing, pushing all the time. And that was something that I probably needed to improve also.
In my first season, I would quite often have a really good week or a really bad one, never in the middle. Then you learn over your first seasons that sometimes you need to almost build the confidence without trying to break it straight away, if that makes sense? There are a lot of small details. On the racing, it’s understanding that sometimes you have to be patient and just the experience that you learn throughout the years.
Considering you’ve been in the series for five years, what’s your assessment of Sasha as a driver and how well do you think you two are going to work together this year?
He obviously came into the championship and demonstrated straight away the speed, which is the probably the most important thing of the whole attributes. His season was very much like a rookie season for anybody, where some races were very good, some races, maybe not. And then, areas to improve, particularly in the race management and stuff like that. He’s aware of that, it’s something he’s been working on. But as for his speed, that was very impressive, and all the other things will come throughout the following years of his Formula E career. I think he’s in a good place, he just needs to build on those steps and anything that I or we can do as a team to help that, because we need two cars at the front, is what we’ll do to get him up there.
What are your goals for next season, both individually and as a team?
You would have to ask Nissan on that in terms of what their targets are. I think for me, it’s to get up to speed as quickly as possible, to perform at a high level as soon as possible throughout the season. I don’t really want to pin too much hope on positions, but based on where they were in the second half of last season, if we can maintain the end of the season performances, I think that would be good. If we can steal a win and some podiums, I think that’s also a positive, but from my side, operationally, if we can optimize every small detail and then make a step on hardware and homologation for Season 11, that has to be the global target.
If we can make everything perfect with something that’s maybe not quite perfect underneath us when we get that package, hopefully we’ll be unstoppable.
How have you seen Formula E grow during your time in the series?’
Well, when I joined, it was actually probably at the peak. It had just increased significantly. The new car looked good, there was quite a lot of interest given its rates of improvement and COVID kind of stunted that quite a lot. It was noticeable after COVID that the events weren’t as busy and Gen3 was going to be very important for us. Gen3 was a year delayed, so that was the lull that we were in.
From my personal perspective last season, the events, the crowds, the interest in the actual events was pretty good. There was always lots of people, lots of energy, lots of buzz. I think we could probably improve the TV side a little bit and where to watch it. Clearly it’s taken a big step over the last 12 months. I would describe season five as a mountain where we went up and then down and then levelled off for a bit. And now we’ve taken a new rise, which is good. It’s exactly what we needed to be honest. Hopefully we can maintain that, keep putting on a good show and increasing that fan base.