All twenty drivers for the 2016 Formula One season have now been announced. Manor Racing, who last week announced GP2 winner and former Mercedes and Force India test driver Pascal Wehrlein would be their primary driver, have now announced Indonesia’s Rio Haryanto as the occupant of the second seat.
Haryanto has been in Formula One before, albeit in the role of a test driver – with the erstwhile Marussia Virgin Racing, which became Manor-Marussia and is now Manor after the latter withdrew sponsorship in the wake of Jules Bianchi’s passing.
This will be the Indonesian’s Formula One racing debut, and makes him the first ever Indonesian racer in Formula One history.
The 23-year-old began his professional racing career at 15, and like the majority of European F1 drivers raced in intra-continental Formula series to move up the racing ladder.
Competing for a series of teams across Formula series, Haryanto was most successful in Formula Asia 2.0, finishing on the podium at the end of his first season, with 7 podium finishes at races through the year.
He made his GP3 debut two years later in 2010, the same year he began his first close association with Manor. Haryanto finished that year in 5th, with now-Haas F1 driver Esteban Gutierrez taking top spot. Incidentally, the Indonesian also finished behind 4th-placed Alexander Rossi, who was one of Manor F1’s three drivers last year and posted better results than teammates Will Stevens and Roberto Merhi; the latter finished just behind Haryanto in the GP3 standings for that year.
Haryanto’s GP3 results declined the following year, with one standout star of that season making his breakthrough – a Finnish driver named Valtteri Bottas.
Staying in GP3, he shifted to Carlin Motorsport with another eventual (and now former) Formula One driver, Max Chilton, with the team carrying Marussia branding for that year. Briton Chilton outclassed his teammate significantly, and the following year was called up to make his Formula One debut.
That same year, both Chilton and Haryanto earned points at the young drivers’ test in Silverstone, thereby earning enough points for their respective super licenses – a necessity to race in Formula One – under the old system.
Haryanto moved from Addax to Caterham in the years to come, and each time with patently unsuccessful results, bringing up the back of the grid with both teams. He moved to Campos Racing – owned by former F1 driver Adrian Campos – in 2015, and with them managed a 4th place finish, with former McLaren reserve driver Stoffel Vandoorne winning top honours, and 2015 Manor driver Rossi in second behind him.
In fact, many argued it was Vandoorne who deserved a Formula One seat over Haryanto, given the Belgian’s stellar results in his two years in GP2 – both on the podium, with one a win – and consistently strong performances across racing categories.
New Formula One market
Indonesia has long been a hub for motorsports enthusiasts, although a significant part of the country follows MotoGP, rather than single seater racing. It would appear that there now lies a new market to be analysed and eventually tapped in the country, which will also host the 500cc motorcycle racing event in 2017.
Several MotoGP riders – among them multiple world-championship-winning riders Marc Marquez of Repsol Honda and Movistar Yamaha MotoGP legend Valentino Rossi – have in fact launched their teams’ new bikes in the capital, Jakarta in 2016.
In light of this, it might perhaps be a combination of talent, sponsorship and a prudent business decision to appoint Haryanto to the final Formula One seat for 2016.
The 23-year-old is said to bring in around $14million in sponsorships from the Indonesian government, much as former Lotus driver Pastor Maldonado did in his time with that team.
Should Rossi have got the seat?
Arguably, it was Rossi who had the stronger results throughout his junior racing career, with the American even finishing the 2015 GP2 series in 2nd - but did not bring enough sponsorship to a backmarker team that has had significant struggles in remaining in the sport.
Given that, it is understandable from the perspective of the team why they chose to put Haryanto, who is a fairly talented driver, in the second seat over Rossi and Stevens, who failed to fire in the 2015 season.
Haryanto will use the number 88.
The 2016 Formula One season will begin with the Australian Grand Prix on the 20th of March.