F1 will be 'massive step up' for Rio: Yoong

Alex Yoong, the last South-east Asian F1 driver, says Manor Racing's Indonesian driver Rio Haryanto will experience a steep learning curve this season.
Alex Yoong, the last South-east Asian F1 driver, says Manor Racing's Indonesian driver Rio Haryanto will experience a steep learning curve this season.

While Rio Haryanto is the first South-east Asian driver to put on Formula One overalls in 14 years, he should not be too consumed with the aim of collecting points in his rookie year.

Alex Yoong, the last - and only the second after Thailand's Prince Bira - South-east Asian driver to feature on the F1 starting grid in 2002, felt that results should not define the Indonesian's first F1 season. Instead, the debutant should relish the experience of racing on motor sports' grandest stage along with the best drivers.

"Hopefully he'll be given time to settle down," said Yoong, a Malaysian who is now a Fox Sports Asia presenter. "It'll be a steep learning curve for him. But whatever happens, he should focus on his performance and try to match up with his team-mate (Pascal Wehrlein).

"People are going to look at results, but results are not going to be too easy to come by. Manor Racing is a team that mostly starts from the back of the grid, they probably have the slowest car."

Indeed, known as Manor Marussia last year, Will Stevens and Alexander Rossi were the only drivers who failed to pick up a single point in the season.

Even though Haryanto has a decent track record and experience in the lower-level GP2 and GP3 feeder circuits - he finished fourth in the GP2 Series last year with three race victories, F1 is unquestionably a big leap forward.

Yoong, 39, noted: "It's a massive step up for him. But the biggest difference is not in the race cars and the tyres, which are similar to those he's used to.

"Previously, you would interact with only a few engineers, but now you have to work with about 30 engineers around you. There are more factors outside of the track, and it's a more tricky and complicated drive."

When asked about making the transition to F1, Haryanto was excited but clearly not intimidated. He said: "I've raced on most of the F1 circuits before, but for sure this year will be a whole different experience. In F1, I have to work with a bigger team and it's very important to build the car throughout the season. In terms of driving, I have to learn more about strategy now because there are more variables, from energy recovery to fuel saving."

While the Indonesian has set the region abuzz as Asia's only representative in the F1 driver line-up this season, Yoong remained skeptical about more Asian drivers following suit. He said: "It's not as simple, it's an expensive sport that requires a lot of funding and backing."

Alvin Chia

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 18, 2016, with the headline 'F1 will be 'massive step up' for Rio: Yoong'. Print Edition | Subscribe