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Meet Bianca Bustamante, the young phenom paving the way for Pinay racers

By Kitty Elicay-Carpena Published Mar 30, 2024 10:13 am Updated Mar 30, 2024 10:18 am

She may have made history as the first Filipina to ever win a Formula One Academy race, but beyond the track, Bianca Bustamante is just trying to win over adulting.

“There’s a bit of a transition phase,” Bianca, or “Racer Bia” as she is known on social media, tells PhilSTAR L!fe. “I have to deal with being a professional athlete, but at the same time, I’m also dealing with being a young adult. I’m moving into my apartment, dealing with the bank, worrying about the dishes. As much as I love living in the fast lane, it’s quite exciting to experience normal life.”

It’s a well-deserved breather for the 19-year-old. After all, she had a busy start to the year. She made the big move to the United Kingdom in January after she was named the first female racer of the McLaren Driver Development Program with her new team ART Grand Prix. Then, she finished her first round of F1 Academy racing in Jeddah this month, where she landed fourth in the drivers standings. 

Bianca moved to the UK early this year. McLaren's home base is located in Woking.

Things will get even busier with the next rounds of the season coming up. But despite the immense pressure on her shoulders, Bianca is more confident than ever about her chances in this latest F1 Academy season. After all, she’s getting all the support she needs from her new team. 

“To have a great and solidified team behind me [means] the sky’s the limit. I’ve gotten a lot of track time, races, mental support. I have a doctor, a driving coach—it’s a total package,” Bianca says. “Everything towards one goal, and it’s to win a championship this year.”

She adds, “My confidence has gotten a lot better. I am learning from everyone around me. So I’m just going to use that opportunity to progress and make sure that I better myself each time.”

Truly, great things are unfolding for this young woman. While it may seem as if her journey to the top was a swift ride, it’s actually the result of hard work, immense sacrifice, and unconditional love from her parents. To think that at one point, she even thought of giving up on her dream.

Bianca is the first female driver to become part of the McLaren Racing Driver Development Programme.

Racing in her blood

Bianca has always said that motorsports is one of the toughest sports to get into. Apart from being a male-dominated space, racing in the Philippines can get expensive. And growing up middle-class, their family’s financial situation planted doubt in her head that she might never make it big in the scene.

She had these thoughts despite being a natural at karting. Bianca got into the world of racing at the age of three, thanks to her dad, Raymund, a former go-kart driver. She lived and breathed motorsports and would go on to win several competitions at the national level and even becoming the Asian karting champion for two years in a row.

Still, seeing her dad struggle to care for their family and fund her races, plus their growing debt made Bianca think hard about continuing the sport. “I think it was at the age of 12 when I realized that I might never make it to Formula One. It was a crucial point where I could either focus on my studies or I could commit myself to motorsports and risk it all,” Bianca recalls.

She says, “It was a conversation I had with my parents because obviously, it wasn’t just a decision for me to make. They are my pillars and they’ve made the most sacrifices just for me to be able to live my dreams. I asked them, ‘Is it even worth it?’”

Realizing how far I would go for motorsports made me think that yes, I have what it takes because I’m willing to bleed for this sport. I’m willing to sacrifice everything for it.

For her dad, the answer was a resounding yes. As a former racer who had to give up his own career because of how expensive it was to compete, he would do everything—including working in the US as an overseas Filipino worker—just so his daughter could live out her dream. 

“In the end, we realized that we didn’t go this far just to come this far, you know?” Bianca says.

While Bianca and her family decided to move to the United States to further her karting career, the pandemic put a halt to their plans. “But we just kept pursuing even when all hope was lost,” Bianca shares. That was when the opportunity to race formula cars came to her.

Bianca and her family in the UK

In 2022, Bianca took part in a shootout for the W Series, an all-female single-seater racing championship. Despite having no experience driving a single-seater formula car and taking a break from racing for almost two years, she still managed to finish in 15th place. After that, she raced under the Italian team Prema Powerteam for the 2023 Formula 4 UAE championship. 

In 2023, at 18 years old, she made headlines as the first Filipina driver to compete in the F1 Academy series. Then, Bianca made history with a P2 podium finish in her F1 Academy debut in Spielberg, Austria, before gaining her first win in Valencia, Spain and another in Monza, Italy.

“Every race I drove as if it was my last, because it really could have been,” Bianca shares, adding that her confidence also grew with each win. “Realizing how far I would go for motorsports made me think that yes, I have what it takes because I’m willing to bleed for this sport. I’m willing to sacrifice everything for it.”

Just a girl, dominating

There’s no doubt Bianca is breaking barriers, not only as the sole Filipina in the international racing circuit but also as a woman making it big in a traditionally male-dominated sport. While she knows and feels the pressure, she takes pride in what she has achieved.

“When I got into the world of Formula One, I was in my little bubble because I was so scared. I didn’t know where I belonged and I didn’t fit in. And my insecure self really tried her hardest to mold into what everyone else looked like,” Bianca recalls.

“But in the end, I [realized I] was just an inexperienced 17-year-old girl. And it’s honestly amazing to see how much I’ve grown, how I gained confidence with the way I spoke or how I presented myself. And the support from the Philippines kept me going. I love representing our colors and our flag.”

Bianca hits the track in her #16 McLaren car.

Bianca still has a long road ahead of her, but she has already become an inspiration for raising the bar for her fellow Pinays. If there’s one thing she’s learned on her path to success, it’s that there’s beauty in being different.

“These days it’s so easy to just follow what’s trendy and what you see online. But me, I decided to make my own path and that allowed me to grow and become more confident,” she said. “The minute you set yourself apart from everyone else, then you start seeing what’s in front of you and the clear path ahead. You can keep your eyes focused on what matters.”