Going 240kph at 18

Bianca Bustamante triumphs in F1 academy, inspiring women in motorsport

At a glance

  • Bianca Bustamante, at the age of 18, secured her first-place finish in the F1 Academy, marking a significant milestone in her racing career.

  • Bianca's journey in motorsport started in the W Series, a championship aimed at providing equal opportunities for women in racing and breaking financial barriers.

  • She currently competes for Prema Racing in the F1 Academy, a single-seater all-female racing championship supported directly by Formula 1.

  • Bianca, like the author of this article, Kim Lato, faced financial hurdles and the challenges of working in high-pressure, male-dominated fields.

  • Bianca's success as a young Filipina driver and her passion for motorsports is inspiring more women to enter the sport and pursue their dreams.

Written by Kim Lato

Bianca Bustamante stands on top of the race podium and she begins to wipe tears off her eyes. You could tell part of her wanted to hold back the waterworks. Although I’m just watching a video on my phone, I could feel the emotions swell. At the age of 18, young Ms. Bustamante won her first race in the F1 Academy.

I first learned of Bianca in 2022 when she started her rookie year in the W Series. She already made the news rounds back then. The W Series was a single-seater racing championship composed of an all-female lineup of drivers with the intention of providing equal opportunities for women in motorsport as well as bringing down the financial barrier. 

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Bianca Bustamante (photo by CBR Media)

Bianca is far from a rookie these days. She now competes for Prema Racing in the F1 Academy, again a single-seater all-female racing championship, but now directly supported by Formula 1. 

I relate to Bianca a lot. We are both women who started their careers young and both in high-pressure, male-dominated fields. We had to get over financial hurdles just to be at a competitive level. 

I talked with her a couple of weeks after her maiden win and found out what's going on with this young woman making her mark at 240 kilometers per hour.

KIM: Hello Bianca and thank you for granting us an interview. First off, congratulations! You had a great result in Spain, how did it feel to finally get that first place finish?

BIANCA: It was an amazing feeling and I can still feel the energy of that win. When I was in karts, they didn’t play the winner’s national anthem at that level so hearing it now got me crying. But we still have a long season ahead and I’m lucky to be driving for a competitive team. I’m just thankful for all the support that got me here. I have always been so proud to represent the Philippines, especially in motorsport where we’re not that known for. I’m also thankful for F1 Academy for opening up opportunities for women. We had that with W Series last year but now it's directly supported by Formula 1. 

KIM: I started Kimstore at 16 which meant I had a very different teenage experience. You started at karts early and now I would think being a professional race car driver traveling around the world, you also don’t have a particularly normal childhood. How are you handling that? Do you feel like you're missing out? 

BIANCA: I know I’m not getting the “normal” Filipino childhood BUT I am very grateful because I'm living my dream right now. I am extremely lucky to have found my calling early on. When I started at karts, my dad taught me that if I wanted to take this racing seriously, this was what it takes. Racing has never been a realistic dream for someone with my background so I never take anything for granted. So these days, one weekend I’ll be racing in one country then right after the race I’ll be flying somewhere else. I think on my 18th birthday, I was in the paddock or at a racetrack somewhere. It’s definitely a different experience but I wouldn’t change it for anything else.

KIM: Racing is always described as a pressure cooker situation. We’re not too different there, as an e-commerce business, we also have ups and downs. How do you handle bad days? How do you stay motivated and how do you get your groove back?

BIANCA: Definitely there are days when things don’t exactly go your way but we say that it's only a bad day if you leave it without learning anything. For me, I’m just making sure I'm in the best shape and that I put myself in a position to get a good result. I do my work at the gym to cope up with the g-forces from the acceleration and braking. Racing is a very physical sport and it's also a mental sport. So I also do mental training because that’s a big part of a race, staying focused, staying optimistic, and fighting fatigue. You’re also high on adrenaline so you have to learn working with that and even with the crash after. It definitely comes with physical and mental pressure. 

KIM: I know you’ve previously said that you enjoy winning against the boys. Aside from the drivers, more women are entering motorsport as engineers, mechanics, strategists. How different is motorsport now from when you started racing?

BIANCA: It's so different! When I was a kid, it wasn’t unusual for me to be the only girl and only Filipino competing. I got used to getting looks from everyone at the track. Drivers are already naturally extremely motivated, but I think guys drive a bit more aggressively because they don’t want to lose to a girl. Now we have an all-female series and there are also women working in different roles. I’m glad that’s changing and I hope more women continue to become drivers and engineers.

KIM: You have also shown interest in the engineering and technical side of motorsports and cars. How would you encourage more Filipina students to enter STEM related fields?

BIANCA: I get asked this a lot and I had the opportunity to have a talk about this at UST Angelicum. If I wasn’t driving I would hope to be an engineer so that’s why I also took engineering. But again you get a lot of eyes when you enter a STEM-related classroom and you’re the only girl there. We just have to continue fighting for it because we can do it too.

KIM: Formula 1 has been hyping that the next full-time female driver in F1 is just a matter of time. It’s also been your dream since you were a kid. What are you improving to get closer to that goal?  

BIANCA: Of course getting to F1 is still my dream, it has been since I was a kid. That’s still my Everest and I’m taking every step I can to get closer to my dream. I do my best to work harder than anyone else, be the first in the track and be the last to leave. I try to learn from everyone, from fellow drivers to the engineers. 

KIM: A lot of our local athletes talk about the challenges they face with a lack of support and facilities. Can you talk about the challenges you encountered? What can audiences do?

BIANCA: Yes, it’s even harder in motorsport because not a lot of people are aware of it, so we have a lack of facilities and support. I’m a Laguna girl and we pretty much rotated between Carmona, Batangas and Clark. The Philippines is such a basketball and volleyball nation that we have to do more to promote the sport. But I believe that the sport is growing in the country. I’m so thankful for the sponsors and the supporters in the Philippines. When I meet Filipinos now, they say they are now watching Formula 1 because of me, and that they’re also waiting for my next races. I’m just so happy that I’m also bringing more fans to the sport I love and that the sport is growing.

KIM: You’ve been very vocal about being a fan of Lewis Hamilton as well as his impact as a role model. You were even able to meet him last year. How does it affect your approach to being considered a role model yourself now?

BIANCA: Yes, Lewis has been a hero of mine since I was a kid up to now. Motorsport is famously a sport for people with money. We’re a middle-class Filipino family, hindi kami mayaman, and that’s why Lewis’ story resonated with me. My dad is an OFW and he also had to work multiple jobs. Now, despite all those setbacks, he has done so much to change the sport and be the champion he is. Even now he continues to use his influence and his platform to be a positive change to motorsport. 

KIM: Lastly Bianca, any encouraging words for young Filipina women looking to pursue their dreams in the world of motorsports?

BIANCA: There’s this saying I find so beautiful which goes ‘malayo pa, pero malayo na. We have come so far and have so far yet to go. Find your Everest and go climb it. 

Bianca speaks with so much truth, wisdom, and maturity at such a young age. At her age, she has realized so much about grabbing opportunities. She’s living her dream but remains grateful.