In the end, Manor's choice for their second 2016 race seat wasn't all that surprising. After months of speculation, the team announced this week that Rio Haryanto will partner Pascal Wehrlein in what promises to be the team's most competitive car yet, thanks to their new Mercedes engines.
Haryanto was battling for the final Manor seat with Will Stevens, who drove all of last year for Manor, and Alexander Rossi, who was impressive in a five-race stint with the team at the end of last season. In the end, Haryanto's €15 million from the Indonesian Ministry of Youth and Sports carried the day.
So, who is Rio Haryanto, and how has he ended up in a Formula One race seat?
Haryanto, who just turned 23 on January 22, was born in the Indonesian city of Surakarta, about 500 kilometres east of the capital, Jakarta, on the island of Java.
Last October, he told the 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 2008, he began racing single-seater cars and was a winner from the start. That first year, he finished third in the Formula Asia 2.0 series, and the next year he won the Formula BMW Pacific title (although Felipe Nasr, now driving for Sauber, did beat him twice when he made a cameo appearance for the Singapore rounds).
Haryanto began his association with Manor in 2010, making the move to Europe to race in GP3. He finished fifth in the championship, 11 points behind Rossi, scoring a victory in Turkey. With additional podium finishes at Silverstone and Monza, Autosport's Mark Glendenning wrote that he, "Surprised a lot of people—probably starting with his team-mates—by finishing as the highest-placed Manor driver, earning himself a Virgin F1 test."
The following season, despite scoring four more points, Haryanto fell to seventh in the drivers' standings. However, the young Indonesian did win two more races—both in wet conditions—holding off Valtteri Bottas (and others) at both the Nurburgring and the Hungaroring.
In 2012, he made the jump to GP2, finishing 14th in the championship but taking his first pole at Spa—again in the wet. However, Haryanto finished 131 points behind his more experienced team-mate, Max Chilton, who was fourth in the drivers' standings.
For the next two years, Haryanto did not show great progress, finishing 19th in 2013 and 15th in 2014, although he did score his first GP2 podiums: second at the Silverstone sprint race in 2013 and third the next year in Monaco.
Haryanto raced for Caterham in the 2014 GP2 season and was partnered with Rossi for the first five rounds (10 races). In the seven races they both finished, Haryanto beat his American team-mate four times.
Then, last year, racing for Campos, Haryanto finally had a breakout season, winning three races and finishing fourth in the drivers' championship.
McLaren protege Stoffel Vandoorne ran away with the title, and Rossi was second, 43.5 points ahead of Haryanto. Still, Haryanto won three races, and those results, along with the sponsorship money he brings to Manor, won him the battle for the last seat on the 2016 F1 grid.
F1 journalist Joe Saward predicted as much earlier this week on his blog, writing:
The sad truth is that money will probably decide the story and the Manor drive will go to Rio Haryanto, who has a lot of cash from Indonesia, government and private. Haryanto is not a bad driver, but he has not done much to convince that he is special. If he gets an F1 drive right now, it will clearly be because of money rather than talent.
While Rossi would have helped Manor make inroads in the American market, Haryanto will do the same in Asia. Last year, there were no Asian drivers on the grid, after Kamui Kobayashi raced with Caterham in 2014.
Haryanto will also become just the third driver from Southeast Asia to start an F1 grand prix, despite the fact that there are now two races in the region, in Malaysia and Singapore.
Thailand's Prince Bira raced in the early years of the world championship, achieving career-best fourth-place finishes at the 1950 Swiss Grand Prix and 1954 French Grand Prix. More recently, Malaysia's Alex Yoong bought his way into F1 after four winless seasons in Formula Three, Formula 3000 and Formula Nippon.
Although Haryanto's money also tipped the scales in his favour, he is a much more accomplished and talented driver than Yoong.
Now, with Manor poised for a significant performance jump in 2016, Haryanto has a chance to make a splash at the highest level of motorsport. And he will need to, if he wants an extended career in F1.
As we recently saw with both Pastor Maldonado and the United States Grand Prix, government support for F1 can be fickle. But if Haryanto can establish himself as a legitimate F1 driver, he may be able to diversify his sponsorship base.
For now, though, Haryanto just needs to focus on racing. In his spare time, he told Tempo, he is taking university courses in management, but when asked what he would do if he couldn't race in F1, he responded, "I don't know what I will do yet. Maybe sell books?"
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