LONDON • Rio Haryanto will become Indonesia's first Formula One driver after signing a deal with Manor Racing, the back-of-the-grid team announced yesterday.
The 23-year-old will make his race debut in Australia when the season starts on March 20.
"Melbourne will be a huge moment for me, my country, supporters and fans and I want to thank everyone who's been with me since I started in single-seaters; 2016 is my chance to reward that faith and represent Asia in F1," Haryanto said.
The last Asian driver was Japan's Kamui Kobayashi , who last drove for Caterham in 2014. He is regarded as the most successful F1 driver from the continent, with 125 points in 75 starts.
Haryanto, who finished fourth in the GP2 feeder series last season with three race wins, will be the third South-east Asian driver to compete in Formula One since the championship started in 1950.
The other two were Malaysian Alex Yoong, with Minardi in 2001-2002, and Thailand's Prince Bira (Birabongse Bhanudej) in the 1950s.
Haryanto was already the first Indonesian to drive a Formula One car, having tested with Manor's predecessors Virgin Racing in 2010.
His signing as team-mate to German rookie Pascal Wehrlein completes the grid for the 2016 season.
That leaves Britain's Will Stevens, American Alexander Rossi and Spaniard Roberto Merhi, who all raced for Manor last season when the team was known as Marussia, facing disappointment.
"Rio's huge following in Indonesia is great for the team and for F1. They are keen to see him on the grid and we're confident that we'll see him enjoying some exciting battles in the year ahead," Manor owner Stephen Fitzpatrick said.
Manor failed to score a point in 2015 but have rung the changes since then, with new management and drivers as well as Mercedes engines in place of ageing Ferrari ones.
Haryanto's place in the team had depended on raising funds in Indonesia, with Manor seeking €15 million (S$23.3 million) according to local media.
The driver has been backed by state-owned Indonesian oil and gas company Pertamina but it was not immediately known how much they had contributed towards securing the drive.