It’s that time of year again: Formula 1 fever is about to sweep across Asia with the thrilling screech of tires on asphalt, the deafening roar of engines competing for supremacy and the fervor of flag-waving, foot-stomping spectators. Singapore, Malaysia and Japan are coming up on a racing calendar that began in Australia in March and ends in Abu Dhabi in November.
Any avid F1 fan knows all this already, but for many Indonesians motor sports just don’t strike a chord. One man is hoping to change this: Rio Haryanto—Indonesia’s first-ever Formula 1 driver.
Brought up in Sulo, Central Java, Haryanto showed himself to be a whiz behind a go-kart wheel at the tender age of six. He started racing professionally in Asia in 2008 before moving up to the GP3 in Europe two years later. Since then the 23-year-old has won races from Bahrain to Austria and entered the record books earlier this when he was signed by F1 team Manor Racing.
Over the past few months Haryanto has attracted attention by clocking faster times than veteran drivers Lewis Hamilton and Sebastian Vettel in both the Austrian and British GP qualifiers. ‘What I love [about] driving a Formula 1 car is the speed and its technological aspect,’ he says.
Despite strong practice circuits and qualifiers, Haryanto hasn’t yet managed to make his mark on an F1 race. He was in good form at the start of the British GP at Silverstone in July: in 19th position after qualifiers, just two behind Briton Jenson Button, who went on to win. But slick conditions saw the Indonesian finish the day early in the barriers. Both Haryanto and his team insist everything is moving in the right direction. ‘It’s all about step-by-step improvement and I’m happy that this is beginning to shine through,’ he says.
Haryanto’s success is surprising—especially considering the sport’s low profile in his home country. His first F1 campaign nearly ended before it even started due to a lack of funding, and his financial future is far from secure. Sponsorship has been hard to come by, so much so that the Indonesian government rolled out a crowdfunding campaign in April to try and cover his racing fees. That certainly got Indonesians talking, something investors will want more of before reaching into their pockets. But Haryanto does have a burgeoning fan base (500,000 Instagram followers and counting), thanks in part to Indonesia’s national TV station beginning to broadcast his races live.
— Global TV Indonesia (@Globaltvseru) July 6, 2016
‘[This is] really good for the popularity of F1,’ Haryanto posted on Twitter. ‘I am very proud and happy to become the first Indonesian driver in Formula 1 and I would like to keep making Indonesia proud.’
The rookie’s future is still far from certain. It’s unclear whether he has the funding to remain in the big leagues beyond this season, but what is clear is that with each new circuit he’s not just racing for himself; he’s racing for Indonesia. Let’s hope his country gets behind him when F1 returns to Asia later this year.
— Rio Haryanto (@RHaryantoracing) June 17, 2016
Show your support for Haryanto with #RacingforIndonesia and #momentumtravel.
Main photo: Alamy