The 2019/20 ABB FIA Formula E Championship saw some fresh faces get their hands on the winners' Moet & Chandon champagne and make their way onto the top step of the podium. Next up, Formula E's 16th race winner: Nissan e.dams' Oliver Rowland.
Rowland made his Formula E debut all the way back in December 2015 at Punta del Este, filling in at Mahindra Racing as a replacement for the injured Nick Heidfeld after the German injured a ligament in his wrist during the Putrajaya E-Prix.
Team principal Dilbagh Gill earmarked the Brit as "a driver of proven, record-breaking skill and has exactly the drive and attitude we appreciate at Mahindra," with Rowland firing to prominence as the reigning Formula Renault 3.5 champion earlier that year. He finished 21st on debut and followed up that initial outing with a stint in GP2 Series - the feeder series to Formula 1 - and as an F1 test driver with Renault and Williams.
From there, a full-time drive with Nissan e.dams came his way for the 2018/19 season as the Japanese marque made its debut in the championship, partnering the winner of his first E-Prix in Uruguay, and one of Formula E's most successful drivers, Sebastien Buemi.
A pair of podiums, at Sanya and Monaco, in his first full campaign laid down a marker of his ability and he would eventually wind up 10th in the Drivers' Championship - the best of the rookies by a margin.
Roll on Season 6, and the Yorkshireman had his sights set on going better still, and reaching the top step. Nissan, however, were hampered early on with the news that its unique twin-MGU (Motor Generator Unit) solution would be outlawed in Formula E from the 2019/20 season. The outfit's innovation had taken significant time and resource to bring to fruition and going back to a conventional single-motor setup would require a fundamental rethink.
"We had difficulties in getting it working and making it reliable but now we've reached the level of reliability and performance, after the season, we will have to go back, in a short period of time, to one engine," said team principal Jean-Paul Droit at the time.
Despite the setback, Rowland didn't hang around and managed two top five finishes at the double-header in Diriyah to open is 2019/20 account. Ultimate podium and race-winning pace did prove harder to come by for the team, however, with a best of seventh over the next three races from Santiago, Mexico City and Marrakesh.
From that race weekend in Chile, Rowland admitted he'd felt the effects of a huge shunt in qualifying that knocked his rhythm, but he and the team began to make up for lost time at the Berlin finale, though as it began to show signs of getting the better of the competition at Tempelhof.
The enforced mid-season break was put to good use in the simulator and the bedding in of the mandated single MGU setup that the rest of the field had planned to run from the outset of Season 6. Rowland headed to Berlin shading Buemi in the standings by two positions and three points but the Swiss hit the ground running with three podiums with a best of second in Round 7.
Rowland managed two top-six finishes prior to securing Julius Baer Pole Position ahead of Round 10, in front of new champion Antonio Felix da Costa and DS Techeetah team-mate Jean-Eric Vergne.
Come the race, the 28-year-old took it all in his stride, starting well to lead lights-to-flag in the penultimate round of the season, heading home Envision Virgin Racing’s Robin Frijns and Audi Sport ABT Schaeffler’s Rene Rast, who pinched a first Formula E podium with an aggressive last-lap move on Andre Lotterer (TAG Heuer Porsche).
Rowland was cool and calm out front – keeping Frijns, Lotterer and Rast honest without much trouble in a Nissan IM02 that had become increasingly attuned to the demands of Tempelhof.
The win saw the team, and Rowland, take second in the standings with just a round to go, and proved to be key as Nissan e.dams finished runner-up ahead of Mercedes-Benz EQ, and, on form, the team could be considered DS Techeetah's principal challengers for Season 7.
“I can’t thank the team enough," he said post-race. "It's the biggest win of my career so far, especially when you look at the quality of the other drivers in the field. To win a race against all these top drivers was amazing, and hopefully we can build on this strong end of season performance and enter next season with good momentum."
As the final chequered flag fell on the campaign, and having secured his team's only victory in 2019/20, the British driver wound up just a point back from his ultra-experienced team-mate Buemi. No mean feat, and something he'll undoubtedly look to push on from in 2021.
Published on 28th September 2020