Speculation continues to build as to which lucky two men will be deemed fortunate enough to drive the next Banbury Bullet. Rio Haryanto has been the driver most linked with the team over the winter. Having previously held a reserve driver role, Rio also participated in the end of season test held at Abu Dhabi for the team.
Haryanto has previously raced in GP2 for four years with 2015 being his most successful campaign, linking up with Campos to take three wins and a fourth place overall which resulted in him being named the prestigious Indonesian Sports Personality of the year. Now before you scoff, did Lewis Hamilton win his nations Sports Personality of the year last year? I don’t think so!
It has also been reported that Rio Haryanto will be backed not only by personal sponsors but the Indonesian Government is also willing to offer him backing if he lands the prestigious race seat at Manor for 2016. According to a Governments spokesperson, a decision on Haryanto’s future will be known within the next week. It seems that Haryanto’s fate is now resting in the hands of the almighty bosses at Manor HQ who are also considering Will Stevens, Alexander Rossi and Mercedes Pascal Wehrlein. Now that Pastor Maldonado is officially ruled out, we at MRTFB HQ promise to unconditionally love and cherish whomever the team employs. We can see how this is going to be a tough decision for the team.
All four drivers coming with financial backing of some sorts. Whilst Stevens and Rossi are familiar to the team having raced for them in 2015, Wehrlein is the current DTM World Champion and is highly thought of by Mercedes. A close relationship with the German manufacturer maybe the teams best option for short term success. On paper at least, it seems the odds are stacked against Rio Haryato.
However, none of the other contenders carry much weight in terms of PR. Germany and England already have household name drivers, whilst the American public cares very little for F1. If indeed Haryanto does arrive in F1 for 2016, he would be the first Indonesian driver in F1 and potentially a massive coup in terms of emerging markets. Indonesia has a population of over 250 million and Haryanto is already a huge star there. His elevation to a race seat in F1 could prove to be very lucrative for team in terms of PR and as as bonus maybe even a few extra hits for this blog too!
Given the longstanding popularity of the sport in Asia and the fact that F1 has four races in Asia it would be a real boost for the sport to have at least one Asian driver on the grid.