Indonesia’s first and, so far, only Grand Prix racing driver Rio Haryanto has been replaced at Manor Racing by French youngster Esteban Ocon. He will partner Pascal Wehrlein for the rest of the season.
In a move that gives the improving back-of-the-grid outfit two highly-rated Mercedes protégés in their cars, Haryanto was forced to step down due to lack of funding from his Indonesian backers.
He will, however, remain with the team as their official reserve driver, a role that ensures continuity and maintains his presence in Formula One – giving both him and Manor ongoing opportunities to support mutual marketing and media campaigns.
“Rio will be available to deputise, should either race driver be unable to take part in an event,” said the team in an official statement. “He will also be immersed in engineering meetings and PR activities as the team continues its support for his racing ambitions.”
Haryanto used social media to confirm that it was a budget issue that saw him dropped by the team. “So, I'm no longer a race driver in 2016, due to lack of funds,” he said. “Thank you all for your kind messages. Looking forward for the next challenge.”
Haryanto's deal with Manor was for the first 11 Grands Prix of 2016. The team extended that arrangement for one further race to give him an extended opportunity to find the funding needed to continue, in vain.
As a result, his seat has gone to one of motor racing’s most highly rated young drivers in teenager Ocon, who will not be 20 until September 17.
Ocon is the European F3 and GP3 champion and has been rivals Renault’s reserve driver. He is part of Mercedes' driver development programme and has the seat for the nine remaining races this year, starting with the Belgian Grand Prix later this month (August).
Manor Racing boss Dave Ryan said: “Our team has made significant strides in 2016, including finishing in the points for the first time in Austria last month.
“We need to maintain our pace of development in order to achieve our ambitions, not only for this season, but also for the longer-term, so the calibre of a replacement is key.
"We’re confident that when Esteban makes his Grand Prix debut in Spa, we will have a very potent line-up with which to take the fight to our immediate competitors for the rest of the season.”
Ocon began his season with Mercedes in the DTM (German Touring Car Championship), replacing outgoing series champion German Wehrlein – who is his new team-mate at Manor.
"I’m thrilled that I’ll be making my Grand Prix debut with Manor Racing later this month, and at Spa, of all circuits, which is the next best thing to my home race," said Ocon, who is from Evreux in Normandy in northern France.
"I’m ready for this exciting step up, thanks to the experience I’ve gained as a Formula 1 Reserve Driver this season. I’d like to thank Renault Sport F1 Team and Mercedes-Benz for working together to make this happen, and to Manor Racing for the opportunity, which I’m going to grab with both hands."
Ryan added: “Rio has been a much-valued member of our team since January, when we signed a contract with him for this season.
"Some time ago, his management indicated that they were experiencing difficulties honouring the obligations of that contract beyond the Hungarian Grand Prix.
"Rio’s team have worked tirelessly to try to resolve that situation with his Indonesian backers and we have supported those efforts as much as possible, including allowing Rio to race in Germany.
"Unfortunately we reached a point where, in the best interests of the team, we were forced to explore other options for the remainder of the season."