Q: Rio, it’s not necessarily your performances on track that have kept you in the media, but the fact that you’re involved in one of the most surprising fundraising concepts in F1 history - attempting to use crowd-sourcing to secure your Manor seat going forwards. How was the idea born - and what is the status right now?
Rio Haryanto: Being the first Indonesian driver in F1, that in itself is big news. Formula One was not really the biggest sport watched in Indonesia - but ever since an Indonesian driver has been racing in F1 the numbers have soared. And based on that the idea was born: Indonesians have embraced F1 so why not use that enthusiasm? Indonesia is the fourth largest country in terms of population in the world - so that makes it somehow logical. Indonesians are very nationalistic, so they would want to see me achieve something - and that is why they support me. To be honest, I didn’t expect that massive support.
Q: The idea has certainly made huge waves…
RH: Well, it was the government’s idea. The government helped me a lot to get into F1 - and hopefully to help me stay. But actually they have supported me since I started my international racing career.
Q: You come from Indonesia - a country not particularly known for its Formula One ties. Breaking into F1 racing is not an easy task, but for you it must have been extra difficult. Can you tell us about your journey to the Manor cockpit?
RH: Well, indeed it is a far cry for an agricultural country like Indonesia to make it to the top category of motorsport! (laughs) My journey started when I was six years old. My dad and my older brother love motor racing so my dad bought me a go-kart when I was six years old, and from that moment on - as I had seen F1 races on TV - I knew that I wanted to make this my destiny. That’s how it started. I went to all kinds of competitions - and if you consider all the years since I was six you can imagine that it was a long journey.
Q: Starting karting in Indonesia is one thing, but then Europe became your destination. That must have been quite a culture shock…
RH: No, no not a culture shock, but a steep learning curve! (laughs) The climate, the mentality, how the people work here - that took quite some time to adapt to. And hey: now I am here in Formula One.
Q: You just said that you’ve watched F1 racing on TV when you were growing up. Who was your hero?
RH: Michael Schumacher - it was the Schumacher era. He really dragged me into F1.
Q: You won three GP2 races last year - was it then that you thought F1 was possible?
RH: Since I watched Schumacher my goal was F1 - and suddenly last year it seemed to be the right moment. Yes, I won three GP2 races - and to be on the podium definitely asked for more. Podiums have that kind of magic. And of course I wanted to make my country proud. It was fantastic to hear the national anthem of Indonesia, for example when I won in Austria. Incredible! Then you get more and more hungry - and Indonesia wanted to make the next step, and that inevitably is Formula One. By all accounts, we are making history.
Q: So you are aware that you are making history…
RH: …probably not on race weekends, but sometimes I feel like I am living in a dream and I ask myself: is this really happening? But yes it is. It is a reality that I am here.
Q: When you say it is a dream come true, is the dream what you expected it to be - or is reality biting?
RH: It is pretty much what I expected. But to be honest, the paddock is more than [I could imagine]! (laughs) Not many people have the chance to be a Formula One driver. I’m doing it right now - and I will do everything to stay here. So right now I would say that dream and reality are pretty close - at the moment! Of course I want more - want to perform better, be faster.
Q: You are teamed alongside Pascal Wehrlein at Manor, who already has something of a ‘star of the future’ tag - not to mention strong backing from Mercedes. But you’ve given him quite a good run for his money so far - outperforming him on several occasions. Where do you see yourself compared to him?
RH: Ha - to be honest, we work very well together. Yes he is fast - and that pushes me. Outside the car we always share ideas, as we both want the best for the team. He is a cool team mate. He is a future Mercedes driver, and when I am not far off his time - wow - that’s always fantastic for me. That is a good reference for me - not being slower than him.
Q: Given his pedigree and reputation, some have been surprised how you’ve kept up with Pascal. In qualifying in Barcelona there were less than two-tenths between you…
RH: Really, that is nice to hear. But the times that we have are not really satisfying me. We try to improve at every race.
Q: What has been the steepest learning curve?
RH: Clearly the tyres. They are completely different than those in GP2. Then of course how an F1 team works, and what obligations you have with the media. Hardly any media find their way to the GP2 paddock. Actually I go home from every race having experienced something new - having inhaled things that I have not experienced before.
Q: Obviously you hope to finish the season with Manor - when will that be decided? Will it depend on the outcome on your fundraising?
RH: I have no answer for that right now. I will give my best and of course the funds are an issue - but this is handled by my management so that I can fully concentrate on racing. Actually the question with the funds is not within my hands - I just want to deliver on track to make me a good candidate. No question, I would like to stay and finish the season here.
Q: Should you stay - what hopes are there? And is there a ‘Plan B’?
RH: Points would be magical - of course. I think the car has improved a lot compared to last year, so that on one or other occasion - when things go wrong for others - we should have a chance. Scoring points… that would just be like winning! And Plan B… no, if you are in F1 you enjoy it, do the best you can - and have a plan later!
Q: If you were to be granted one wish, what would that be?
RH: Being world champion one day.