Rowland targets F2 title to further F1 bid

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SAKHIR, Bahrain (AP) Second chances for unproven drivers are scarce in Formula One.

That's why Oliver Rowland is in now-or-never mode. He's been part of the Renault setup for seven years, and finally graduated to the F1 team this year as a development driver.

But for all the simulator and track work he'll do for the Renault F1 team, the British driver knows there's a catch: To become a racer in Formula One, he will have to win Formula Two.

This year.

''If I don't, I expect I probably won't get there,'' he says. ''You have to do something special, and second or third wouldn't be good enough.''

In previous eras, Rowland would have been considered an aspiring talent with time on his side to break into F1. Not now. By F1 standards, he's old at 24.

Red Bull driver Max Verstappen is 19 and already has eight F1 podiums, including a victory last year. Lance Stroll is 18 and driving alongside Felipe Massa at Williams.

Carlos Sainz Jr. and Daniil Kvyat are 22 and driving for Toro Rosso. Stoffel Vandoorne, the 2015 GP2 champion by a huge margin, is 24, and has a seat at McLaren alongside Fernando Alonso. There's also Esteban Ocon, 20, at Force India, and Antonio Giovinazzi, 23, has been filling in for Pascal Wehrlein, 22, at Sauber.

There's nothing wrong with Rowland's credentials.

He started out in karting, and followed in the footsteps of Kimi Raikkonen and Lewis Hamilton in the old Formula Renault 2.0 winter series in 2010. Rowland won the Renault 3.5 series in 2015 and earned a spot in the Renault academy last year.

His bid to win the F2 championship - known previously as the GP2 Series - got off to a good start in Bahrain on Friday as he topped the first practice. He drank four liters of water to endure track temperatures of 45 degrees (113 F).

He is driving for the DAMS team, giving him a quicker car than last season with MC Motorsport, for whom he began well with four podiums in the first 10 races before other teams caught up.

He can't afford to let anyone catch him this year. He's ready for F1, he says.

''I feel at 18 or 19 I was ready speed-wise but mentally I was not. Maturity-wise I'd be fully ready to do it.''