When the lights go out in Melbourne on March 20, Rio Haryanto will make history as the first Indonesian driver to race in Formula 1. The 23-year-old will line-up alongside Pascal Wehrlein for Manor in a move that is sure to provide a huge boost to F1 in Southeast Asia.
Haryanto will be just the third driver from the region to turn out in motor racing’s premier class, following in the footsteps of Malaysia’s Alex Yoong who raced for Minardi in 2001 and 2002, and Prince Bira of Thailand who raced in the 1950’s.
— Formula 1 (@F1) February 19, 2016
The Surakarta-born Haryanto has been racing since he was a young boy and has always had his eyes set on F1. He told Indonesian magazine Tempo: “I first entered the racing world at the age of six, starting with Go Karts. I may have inherited it from my father, who loved to race Go Karts, motorcycles and cars. My older brothers was a Go Kart and a Formula Asia racer. I was the youngest and my family wanted me to enter the F1 race. I preferred watching F1 races on television to going to the mall. My idol was Michael Schumacher.”
In order to make his dream a reality, Haryanto has raced in a number of Formula Asian-based series events on his way to the top. After racing in a handful of divisions in the Asia-Pacific region, Haryanto switched to Europe to turn out in the GP3 Series in 2010 where he first teamed up with Manor and finished fifth in his debut season.
A step up to GP2 in 2012 saw Haryanto struggle to initially make his mark, but he would shine for Campos Racing in 2015, coming fourth in the Championship, a performance which earned him a berth with Manor for the upcoming F1 season.
Haryanto brings significant sponsorship to Manor, and is backed by the Indonesian Ministry of Youth and Sports who are believed to have put forward €15 million to help secure his drive.
— KEMENPORA RI (@KEMENPORA_RI) December 11, 2015
The Indonesian government’s decision to back Haryanto has not been without its criticism, while it has been suggested that Manor should have selected Alexander Rossi as their second driver, with the American boasting a better racing record. However, Haryanto’s arrival makes sense for all parties involved. Indonesia has a strong motorsport following, with MotoGP and WSBK races held in the country, while F1 can be seen in the nearby Malaysia and Singapore. So popular is MotoGP in Indonesia, that the Movistar Yamaha and Repsol Honda teams both launched their 2016 bikes there. With an Indonesian now driving in F1, it is likely that following will only increase, and this provides financial incentives for both the Indonesian government and for Manor.
It’s still early days for Haryanto in F1, but the 23-year-old has had a difficult time in pre-season testing. However, it would have been naive to think that there would be no teething problems.
Regardless of how Haryanto does in 2016, it is a history-making campaign and one that can only be good for F1 in Asia.