F1 season opener

Singapore is second home for Indonesian F-1 driver Haryanto

Rio Haryanto, Indonesia's first Formula One driver, will make his debut in Melbourne. The Indonesian dismissed critics who attributed his F1 seat to heavy financial backing, saying hard work has led him to represent the Manor Racing team.
Rio Haryanto, Indonesia's first Formula One driver, will make his debut in Melbourne. The Indonesian dismissed critics who attributed his F1 seat to heavy financial backing, saying hard work has led him to represent the Manor Racing team.PHOTO: REUTERS

Indonesian Manor driver comes from a family of racers

The Formula One season kicks off with today's practice sessions for the Australian Grand Prix, but rookie Rio Haryanto is already looking forward to the Singapore race in September.

The Singapore GP will be the closest thing the Solo native will have to a home race, with the 23-year-old spending his teenage years in the Republic. He was a student at the International School of Singapore, later graduating with a business management degree at private school FTMSGlobal Singapore in 2014.

His father, Sinyo Haryanto, 57, who owns a stationery business, said of the youngest of his four sons: "Even though he is Indonesian, he can be considered a Singaporean too."

The family own an apartment in Marine Parade, where his 81-year-old grandmother lives. Haryanto Sr himself travels here at least twice a month.

The F1 debutant said in a phone interview from Melbourne: "(Singapore) is closest to my home. I've got family and friends there and I had a big part of my education there."

His journey to F1 started when he was introduced to karting at the age of six in Indonesia. After he moved to Singapore as a student, Haryanto recalled practising at the now-defunct Kart World in Taman Jurong.

He served notice of his talent when he was crowned junior champion at the Asian Karting Open Championship from 2005 to 2007.

On the Marina Bay street circuit in 2009, the Indonesian triumphed in the Singapore leg on his way to winning the Formula BMW Pacific championship.

Today, he has become Indonesia's first F1 driver and the only Asian on the grid this term.

His father referred to a photo of a six-year-old Rio with his idol Michael Schumacher taken at the 1999 Malaysian GP at Sepang, and he said: "He wanted to meet Schumacher and he was so happy he could meet him. He said one day he want to be a famous F1 driver too."

Roland Chong, a karting chief with Kartmaster Drakar, said Haryanto is a fine example of a young karter who is showing that fulfilling the F1 dream is not impossible and not a vain pursuit.

Chong said: "A lot of people would say that it is a ridiculous dream to make it to F1. But look at Rio Haryanto."

Racing is in the Haryantos' blood. Two of Rio's older brothers, Roy, 39, and Ryan, 28, have taken part in racing series including the Formula Atlantic.

The Manor driver joked: "The F1 announcement was long overdue."

The family will be flying to Melbourne to support him as the Manor driver makes his F1 bow.

Said Sinyo, who used to take Rio on hunting, fishing and diving trips: "I've always dreamed that my children could become F1 drivers. Finally Rio has made it. We're so excited for him."

The boyish-looking driver has generated a huge following back home since signing for Manor Racing last month. He has been hailed as a breakout star and has even been asked by fans for the brand of face wash he uses.

However, detractors are not convinced that he deserves his seat, which came on the back of significant sponsorship from Indonesia's state-owned oil and gas giant Pertamina. He dismissed the naysayers, saying: "I worked very hard to reach the F1."

After all, it is not as if he lacks a racing pedigree: He recorded three race victories and an eventual fourth-place finish in last year's GP2 feeder series.

But Haryanto is not about to get distracted by the debate surrounding his qualifications or his skyrocketing profile.

He said: "My main focus is to go as fast as I can on the track. So I need to make sure popularity will only help my performance."

He insisted he has nothing to apologise for, adding: "Getting financial backing gives (an) opportunity for drivers to race in F1. I'm not the only one who has it, other drivers also have strong financial backing."

His goal for now is to be a "solid midfield runner".

"Manor (Racing) are a small team. The best comparison that I can make is with my team-mate (Pascal Wehrlein )," he said.

"Many drivers start from small teams and then they move up to bigger ones. I got to show my abilities and hope I can continue racing in F1 in the future."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 18, 2016, with the headline 'Haryanto has racing in his blood'. Print Edition | Subscribe