Rio Haryanto becomes first Formula One driver from Indonesia

Rio Haryanto becomes first Indonesian Formula One driver at age 23

Photo by: Reuters
Photo by: Reuters

Rio Haryanto, Indonesia's first Formula One driver, holds an Indonesian flag at an event announcing his signing with Manor Racing at Pertamina headquarters in Jakarta, Indonesia February 18, 2016.

Rio Haryanto will become Indonesia's first Formula One driver after signing a one-year contract with Manor, the British motor racing team announced on Thursday.

The 23-year-old will make his grand prix debut in Australia in March alongside German driver Pascal Wehrlein, a fellow young star who secured the other vacant seat at Manor earlier this month.

The rookie driver will shortly depart for Barcelona to test drive the new MRT05 race car for the team, who have recently entered an engine partnership with Mercedes.

"I still can't believe this is happening," Haryanto told reporters at the announcement in Jakarta.

"It's great news, and I will give the best I can to be an F1 driver."

In a statement, Manor said Haryanto impressed during his F1 trials and the 2015 GP2 series, where he finished fourth overall and topped the podium on three occasions.

"He's a great talent," said Dave Ryan, who was last year appointed Manor's new racing director as the team sought to turn around its fortunes.

Rio Haryanto (R), Indonesia's first Formula One driver, sits with Dwi Soetjipto (L), CEO of Indonesia's state energy company Pertamina and sponsor at an event announcing his signing with Manor Racing at Pertamina headquarters in Jakarta, Indonesia.

Haryanto and his team had been locked in lengthy negotiations with Manor for months as they struggled to drum up the financial support needed to secure an F1 berth.

His campaign got across the line when funding was secured from the Indonesian government and the country's state-owned oil company, as well as his major sponsor, Pertamina.

Haryanto's manager Piers Hunnisett said it had been a "stressful" wait for his young protege, who now faced a steep learning curve as he joined the 21 other drivers in the world's most prestigious car race.

"To see Rio alongside Sebastian Vettel and Lewis Hamilton is a great achievement," he said, referring to the German and British F1 champions.

"He has the potential to be a world champion one day."

He was confident Haryanto would attract further sponsorship from Indonesian companies throughout his F1 debut year, where the young driver will compete in every race of the season.

Haryanto's selection ends the 2016 grand prix ambitions of Alexander Rossi and Will Stevens, who had raced for Manor in the past and were both edging for the last vacant seat.

The 2016 season gets underway in Melbourne on March 20.