For a trio of drivers, Australia marks the first stop on what they hope will be lengthy F1 careers.
THIS STORY ORIGINALLY APPEARED ON REDBULL.COM.AU
As host of the season-opening race in 18 of its 20 years on the Formula One calendar, the Australian Grand Prix is where most of the 2016 grid took their first tentative steps on motorsport’s biggest stage – and where some marked themselves as men to watch for the future.
Of the five world champions on this year’s grid, just one – Sebastian Vettel (USA 2007) – didn’t take their bow in Melbourne, and while this year’s trio of rookies don’t look to immediately have world champion potential, they’ll always remember next week’s Albert Park outing as what could be the start of something big.
With eight of the 11 teams electing to retain their 2015 driver line-ups this season, change up and down the pit lane is minimal – but the three new boys in the traditional F1 school photo on Sunday afternoon in Australia will be looking to muscle in on the established order before too long.
So who, then, are Jolyon Palmer, Pascal Wehrlein and Rio Haryanto? Read on.
Age/nationality: 25, British
Last raced: GP2 2014, won title
Racing number: 30
Fast fact: Lists his favourite food as gazpacho
It’s all change at Renault this year, both in ownership behind the scenes and with the team’s drivers. Out go Romain Grosjean (to new team Haas) and the often-derided Pastor Maldonado; in come ex-McLaren racer Kevin Magnussen and Palmer, who becomes an F1 debutant at 25. The dramatic arrival of Max Verstappen at 17 last season at Toro Rosso makes any rookie older than 20 seem relatively ancient, but Palmer has always been a gradual bloomer – he didn’t begin karting until age 13, and won the 2014 GP2 title in his fourth year in the category. The intra-team intrigue at a reset Renault will make for compelling viewing – the all-action reflexive style of Magnussen contrasts sharply with the cerebral, calm approach of F1’s newest Brit. The son of ex-racer Jonathan Palmer (who had 83 F1 starts in the 1980s) appeared in 13 free practice sessions for Lotus last year; Australia, where he’ll start his journey next week, wasn’t one of those outings. Renault’s pre-season testing campaign has been beset with reliability gremlins, but Palmer feels last year holds him in good stead. “It’s important I have the experience to fall back on given the lack of running,” he said after the final test in Barcelona. “I don’t feel too far behind. I’m quite confident I can turn up at Melbourne and everything will be OK.” We’re about to find out if he’s right.
Palmer in his own words: “I’m looking forward to going toe-to-toe with the best drivers in the world. My strength has always been going wheel-to-wheel. That’s what I missed in the test driving last year.”
Age/nationality: 21, German
Last raced: DTM 2015, won title
Racing number: 94
Fast fact: Races under the German flag, but mother is from Mauritius
Of the three newbies on this year’s F1 grid, Wehrlein projects as the best of the bunch. But don’t just take our word for it. “He definitely has the ability to be in Formula One – to be one of the very successful ones,” said Mercedes executive director Toto Wolff last year, and with the three-pointed star supplying engines to the backmarker Manor team from this season, there was always a strong possibility that the 21-year-old would make his F1 debut in Melbourne. For someone so young, Wehrlein’s CV is overflowing with achievements – he’s won at least one race per year since making his car racing debut back in 2010, and took out last year’s DTM championship for Mercedes against a host of former F1 racers and test drivers. He’s been a simulator and then test/reserve driver for the best team in F1 for the past two years, and his can-do attitude – he routinely made the best of a good car in the DTM while maximising his results on the rare down days – makes him a good fit at the Manor outfit. “It’s a small and totally focused team and I soon hope to know everyone,” he said when announced as Manor’s first driver for 2016 in February. Results may be slow to come by this season for Wehrlein, but expect that to change as he starts the first steps of what should be a lengthy F1 tenure.
Wehrlein in his own words: “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.”
Age/nationality: 23, Indonesian
Last raced: GP2 2015, fourth overall
Racing number: 88
Fast fact: Began his single-seater career in 2008 at the age of just 15
If you avert your gaze towards the rear of the Melbourne grid on Sunday week, you’ll be watching a man who’ll have more eyes on him than most. Haryanto is Indonesia’s first Formula One driver, and the extent of the interest in the 23-year-old from a nation of over 250 million people hit home with veteran F1 journalist Peter Windsor in pre-season testing. Working for the official F1 website, Windsor was staggered at the response to a seemingly innocuous clip. “We put out an eight-second video of Rio just driving out of the garage at testing with no commentary or nothing, and it did 200,000 hits in nine minutes,” Windsor marvelled. “So there’s going to be a lot of pressure.” Haryanto has been around the periphery of F1 from as far back as 2010, when he tested for the then Virgin (now Manor) team in Abu Dhabi. Last year was his coming of age, taking three GP2 sprint race wins, securing two other podiums and finishing fourth overall in the championship. Yes, money has helped Haryanto make his way to the F1 grid – the Indonesian government has provided tax breaks for local companies to get behind him – but he’s shown an admirable appetite to learn from a few early mistakes in pre-season testing in Spain. With the four-hour time deficit between Indonesia and the east coast of Australia, expect plenty of televisions to be showing Haryanto’s every move early on a Sunday afternoon when the lights go out on F1 2016 at Albert Park.
Haryanto in his own words: “Melbourne will be a huge moment for me, my country, supporters and fans.”