Rookie Rio’s debut a big day for him and Indonesia

Rio Haryanto says he feels “really well prepared” for his Formula One debut at Albert Park on March 20 in the 2016 season-opening Formula 1® Rolex Australian Grand Prix.

He may say that, of course, but the impact of his maiden race could go beyond all his best-laid plans – as he becomes Indonesia’s first F1® racing driver, one of three rookies making their bow in Melbourne.

Along with his Manor Racing team-mate German Pascal Wehrlein and Briton Jolyon Palmer, with the revived Renault team, the 23-year-old Haryanto makes the final step after a European winter spent waiting and testing for this day to arrive.

“Melbourne will be a huge moment for me, my country, my supporters and my fans,” he said. He may be relatively unknown to the general motor racing follower, but his story has the potential to make him a household name for Indonesia’s population of more than 250 million.

That, of course, is if his MRT05 car, powered by a Mercedes engine, stands up to the job in a team that has changed greatly since they turned up in Melbourne only to end up watching last year’s race from the pit lane.

As then, various technical problems have interfered with their progress in testing, but both Haryanto and Wehrlein, who is only 21, retain belief in the enthusiasm of a Manor outfit, now managed by New Zealander Dave Ryan, formerly of McLaren, which has also recruited ex-Ferrari men Pat Fry and Nikolas Tombazis.

Their arrival followed the upheaval at Manor at the end of last year when former team bosses John Booth and Graeme Lowdon departed.

"It has all been a bit of a whirlwind to be honest,” said Haryanto after completing his final day’s pre-season testing in Spain. “But I feel prepared after the many test items we have covered.

“I think the car has developed well, to a good place, and I am excited to see how it goes in Melbourne.” He was fifth last year in GP2.

His first on-track action at Barcelona confirmed the interest he has generated at home when, it was reported, an upload of an eight-second video generated 200,000 ‘viewings’ in nine minutes.

Given the pressure of expectation, it will be a cause of satisfaction to complete the race distance respectably and give Manor a base to build on.

Alongside him, Wehrlein is regarded widely as a ‘hot-shoe’ with a big future. At 21, he shone with Mercedes in winning the German Touring Car Championship last year.

"He has the ability to be in Formula One and to be one of the very successful ones," said Mercedes executive director Toto Wolff last year, when contemplating a next step for the protégé, whose mother is from Mauritius.

Wehrlein said: “It will be a tough challenge, but I think we should be able to challenge for points along the way…. It's going to be good fun.”

His confidence is shared by the third rookie, Palmer, 25, son of former F1 driver Jonathan Palmer, who has also gained much respect for his speed and potential en route to the top tier. He won the GP2 championship in 2014 and has been testing in preparation.

His debut with Renault follows the takeover by the French owners of the former Lotus team. His team-mate will be ex-McLaren man Dane Kevin Magnussen.

Though Palmer has not raced in F1 before, he has plenty of track experience from his work as a test and reserve driver. “It’s important to fall back on that,” he said. “Although we have had some pre-season problems in testing, I’m confident we can turn up and do ok in Melbourne.”

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