Home Featured Oliver Rowland: The FE star behind F3’s latest race-winning debutant

Oliver Rowland: The FE star behind F3’s latest race-winning debutant

by Ida Wood

Photo: WSK / Mario Perrucca

Oliver Rowland is not only tasting success as a driver in FE, but also as a team boss in karting and by supporting rising talents such as race-winning F3 rookie Arvid Lindblad. How does he have time for it all?

One of the most exciting rookies in the FIA Formula 3 Championship this year is Arvid Lindblad, and many may think his immediate winning form is all down to racing for top team Prema and being a Red Bull junior. But the person truly responsible for turning the 16-year-old Londoner into such a hyped prospect on the Formula 1 support bill is Oliver Rowland.

The 31-year-old Yorkshireman’s name should be familiar, since he has been racing in Formula E for the past six seasons and has been on the podium three times this year. Rowland was runner up in Formula Renault 2.0’s Eurocup and UK championship, and after winning the FR3.5 title in 2015 [pictured below] he did not step up to F1 and instead made a sideways move to GP2 as a Renault junior. He came ninth in his rookie season, and third the year after (when GP2 rebranded to F2) with two wins.

But there were still no F1 seats available, and Williams signed Rowland as a junior for 2018. He spent almost all year on the sidelines until Alex Albon’s own F1 call-up opened the door for Rowland to join Nissan e.dams in FE, where he has since taken a win, eight poles and nine podiums.

Before even becoming a professional racing driver, Rowland was already busy devoting time to supporting drivers with the same dream and running his own karting team: Oliver Rowland Motorsport. So why did he take that responsibility on?

“Well, when I was younger, when I was doing like FRenault and things like that, I had to make a living for myself,” he explains to Formula Scout.

“So I was doing a bit of coaching with some guys, whether it be karting or even some people in single-seaters a little bit the older I got. So I always kind of had a foot in that kind of market, let’s say.

Photo: Florent Gooden / DPPI

“Then how we actually created the karting team in the UK, was I’d been advising and helping Arvid quite a lot, just from like I went to maybe three, four races a year when he was eight. I used to advise his dad a little bit on what to do. And then at the end of 2016, I think it was, he came to me and said he wasn’t too happy with the situation with the team he was in and the support Arvid had. So he came along and basically asked for my advice on what he should do, and I gave him three options.

“One was to go with the best team at the time, which he wasn’t so keen on because it was quite busy and he wanted more focus on the driver rather than the equipment. That was Fusion Motorsport. The second option was to stay with the team that he was with because things can always get better. You can change a few things.

“And the third option that I gave him was like a rough, wild option was that I could create a team based around him. And it didn’t take him long to come back and say that that was exactly what he wanted to do.

“So we quickly went and bought a van, bought a little pop-up tent, and we went racing. It was me and mechanic, and Arvid. Took a couple of months to get up to speed and understand everything with the karts and engines and stuff. And then by the end of the season, we actually finished second in the British championship when he was nine, which was a fantastic result.

“The year after, we got a few more drivers and Arvid basically won everything. And I knew I wouldn’t have proposed that option to someone that [had less potential]. I knew he had a lot of talent. And it was also easy to, let say easy, obviously with his talent and you’re starting up something new like that, he was able to give us good results. And from then on, we kind of went from strength to strength. We won a world championship.

“I tend to look after the drivers that come in and do a good job, and keep an eye on them and try to move them in the right direction. We see they’re all broadly different. Some have got budgets, some haven’t, some struggle to make ends meet. And it’s something that I just enjoy doing on the side of my own racing.”

Photo: Red Bull Content Pool

Lindblad’s first two years with Rowland were in cadet karts, then the highlight of his rookie year in junior karting (which was mostly spent abroad and with Forza Racing) was being WSK Champions Cup runner-up. In 2020 he was WSK Super Master Series champion, Champions of the Future champion and CIK-FIA European championship runner-up, and the step up to OK karts for 2021 brought even more success as he was WSK Euro Series champion, winner of the WSK Final Cup, CotF runner-up, third in the CIK-FIA World and European championships, the WSK SMS and Champions Cup.

“I first got involved with him when he was seven. I just used to go to the odd day and do a bit of coaching,” recalls Rowland.

“Brake a bit later, turn here, try and get him to understand the basics. I would say we probably did six to seven days when he was seven, probably the same when he was eight. And then we started full-time. I was doing F2 the year that we started the team, so it was pretty busy, and every other weekend that I wasn’t racing I was with them, with him, trying to do a good job.

“I struggled [to find time], to be honest. I probably compromised myself a bit when I was in F2. But it was something that I always wanted to do in the future after I stopped racing. But given the opportunity with Arvid, it seemed like the right time. You know when things add up. Because it’s hard enough to start a team when you don’t have the drivers already. But when you have one that clearly has a lot of talent and ability, it made a lot of sense to at least try. So we went with that. I didn’t have much time. I was very busy, pretty stressed, but it was good fun.”

Now Rowland is not with Lindblad “as often as I’d like” due to how busy both of their schedules are. Linblad made the step up to single-seaters with three Italian F4 rounds in 2022, then raced full-time in three F4 series in 2023. He had a return of 10 wins, two of which came in Macau, and Rowland said he did “a mega job” of what he had “to deal with in terms of pressure, learning, development” as a 15-year-old car racing rookie.

“The plan was to come to more at the end of [the 2023] season, once FE stopped. But I stopped early in FE, so I went to Monza, I’ve been to [Paul Ricard], I’ve been to quite a few tests. End of [2022] I came to most of the races, when he was getting up to speed.

Photo: Red Bull Content Pool

“I like to come as much as possible, but it’s juggling my racing, the karting team in the UK, coming here, other things that I’m doing in my life. I have a family at home. So it’s just about juggling all these things and trying to make them work.”

The “very mature” Lindblad began this year with three Formula Regional Middle East outings. It took just two races to become a winner in the category, and he went one better in F3 last month as he won on debut. A clearly delighted Rowland was in Bahrain to share in his protege’s joy, accepting Formula Scout’s praise for a job well done by both driver and mentor.

“I think he expects it of himself [delivering results at a top team], which is a good thing. He’s always seeking to be better, which is what we wanted from the beginning, I guess, when you try to create something like that. It’s a really good attitude, and I’m sure he can do great things.”

Since Lindblad is now at a team renowned for developing drivers, and has been a Red Bull junior since 2022, what form does Rowland’s support take when he’s trackside now?

“A bit of everything. I obviously know him pretty well. I kind of created it a little bit from when he was seven. I know a little bit how he works. I think Red Bull do a great job on the junior team side and my aim is to try and make sure that I can pass on my experience from my time going through the junior ranks. I made mistakes, maybe didn’t put myself in the best position sometimes. I learned a lot in my early years, and it’s just mainly to try and share that experience with him. Give him my experience, make sure he’s good in a mental way, and, basically just share my experience. The team do a great job, Red Bull do a great job, I’m there to kind of just oversee and see if there’s any way I can help.”

So who else has been under Rowland’s wing – either through direct coaching or his karting team?

In 2023 there were “eight drivers in my karting team” in the UK, and “then on the other side, I would say there’s probably three, four that I kind of help and oversee and advise a little bit”.

Photo: F4 UAE

The most prominent of those is Lindblad, but even higher up the single-seater ladder is F2 rookie Taylor Barnard who is a past protege of Rowland and rated “incredibly highly” by him.

“I helped him in his karting days. Helped him make the step to Formula 4. Then there’s Arvid, Harley Keeble, who’s now racing in America in karting, Nathan Tye, who was with the karting team in the UK and then went to race now in Europe [and will spend 2024 with Campos Racing in F4], and a kid called Henry Domain, who’s made the step from my team to Europe [in junior karting].”

PHM Racing is now heavily involved in Barnard’s career, having run him in F4 and Formula Regional then backing his FIA F3 season with Jenzer Motorsport before bringing him back into its own driver line-up this year by moving him up to F2.

“It’s a time thing. Trying to juggle all these things,” Rowland says of not having Barnard under his wing anymore. “But I’m just happy that he has the opportunity. When he was leaving Cadet, which is [aged] 12, there wasn’t much on the horizon in terms of opportunity. I managed to speak to Dino Chiesa at Kart Republic. He helped a lot with Taylor and was able to give him the platform to perform on the European stage.

“Then it’s kind of like when you’re in a situation where maybe you don’t always have the resources and the budget, you have to try to make ends meet and choose your opportunities wisely and be in the right place. So [I am] not as involved now, obviously still follow what he does and proud of what he’s able to achieve. And hopefully he can keep going.”

Barnard was actually originally a rival of ORM and its driver Lindblad.

“He didn’t race with my karting team. He won when Arvid was second, and I thought he did that much of a good job, I knew he was struggling to find something for the year after, I thought it would be a shame to let someone with this amount of talent and just fade. So he was really the first one that I kind of helped give a leg up into something else.

Photo: ORM

“But it’s almost an impossible job. Especially as I’m not really in a position to start paying for people myself, and it’s just about trying to find opportunities. And I think we did a good job at that.”

When 2016 F1 world champion Nico Rosberg created his own young driver academy in 2018, Barnard was signed up due to being in Kart Republic’s line-up. And he would not have been in such an enviable seat if not for the work of Rowland, particularly as Barnard “didn’t really always bring the money, let’s say” that is usually needed to join the top teams.

Not wanting to see talent go to waste is one of the motivating factors for Rowland to support young drivers, but what was and is the ambition with running his own racing team?

“Well, I do it for fun. It’s mainly a hobby, I would say. I enjoy winning, whatever I do. Whether it’s helping pass on my experience to them. Who knows [what ORM does next]. Right now, I’m not in a rush to expand it into anything else. I’m quite content with where it’s at at the moment, and who knows in a few years, maybe we can step up to the bigger categories and stuff like that. But that’s quite far from the radar at the moment.”

Rowland says the winning feeling as a team boss or coach is very “similar” to what he can feel as a driver as he enjoyed supporting his proteges.

“You can just get the buzz every week, right? And especially when you get to the level I’m at, you don’t win that often anymore. So it just gives you that opportunity. Even when I’m racing, I’m following them and seeing that they’re able to do well, there’s a sense of accomplishment.

“And also the people that we employ as a team, the mechanics and stuff like that, having that relationship, building that business and stuff like that is something that I’m kind of just experiencing and trying to enjoy.

Photo: Kartpix

He adds: “I think there needs to be a bit more support out there for the young guys. Even coming from karting. The costs of these paddocks now are becoming more and more and more, and the support is almost less and less and less. I do my bit, I try my best, it’s something that I’m quite passionate about. And I think things are starting to unfold in terms of FIA and F1 becoming probably more profitable and things like that.

“I would say that they’re starting to do things that are making change. But there’s so many kids that at grassroots, like the real grassroots, which is what my team does, that get lost – and it’s a big shame – because of budget. Even to do a season of karting now for the average person is impossible. So you already lose 50% of the talent from [age] eight to 12.”

To summarise: “I always say to the kids that come in to my team, if you do something special, you perform well, then I’ll do whatever I can to give you that next leg up the ladder.”

Interview by Roger Gascoigne