It’s been F1’s worst kept secret this winter. Rio Haryanto will make his debut in Melbourne, as he has scooped up the final seat on the 2016 grid, easing Will Stevens and Alexander Rossi out of their seats at Manor. The Indonesian brings significant sponsorship money to the table and therefore, faces a fight to hold off the pay driver tag. With three GP2 victories to his name, he certainly has potential.
Haryanto will join reigning DTM Champion Pascal Wehrlein at Manor. The Indonesian has been rubbing shoulders with the F1 fraternity for some time, as he made his GP3 debut driving for Manor in 2010. Exploding onto the scene, he claimed victory in only his fourth outing, yet struggled to retain momentum and went on to have a quiet year.
Another year in GP3 followed in 2011 before a switch to GP2 in 2012. That year, Haryanto enjoyed his first taste of F1, driving the Marussia at the Young Drivers Test at Silverstone. Three more years in GP2 followed, with last year marking somewhat of a breakthrough season. Three victories saw him finish an eventual fourth in the standings.
The Indonesian’s four year spell in GP2 was admittedly uninspiring for the most part. Prior to 2015, Haryanto had just one podium finish to his name. While his three series wins came last term, they all came courtesy of sprint races and therefore, reverse grids.
However, in Rio’s defense, these highlights were all excellent drives. As a spec-series, GP2 races are hugely competitive and pole position is certainly not nine-tenths of the law. Haryanto took his opportunities well – unflappable when it mattered – which is undoubtedly a useful trait.
It is reported that Haryanto brings a £10 million cheque along with his signature, courtesy of the Indonesian government. As such, Rio faces the stern test of shaking the pay driver tag and as such, must succeed where others – such as Pastor Maldonado – have failed previously.
This, plus the fact that his time in GP2 has been a little short of headline moments, means that Haryanto heads into 2016 as somewhat of an underdog at Manor. Beating Pascal Wehrlein, who is widely regarded as having world championship potential after comparing well against Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg in numerous tests for Mercedes, will be a huge challenge.
It will also be a golden opportunity for Haryanto to prove his worth. If he compares well against one of F1’s hottest properties, then his stock will rise significantly. However, start slow, and the his status as a pay driver will be cemented.