At 17 years of age, Bianca Bustamante has amassed an illustrious karting portfolio and secured one of two coveted W Series Academy seats. F1 Feeder Series spoke with the young driver about her rookie season in a formula car, managing budget issues, and navigating a largely male-dominated sport as a female, Asian F1 hopeful.
By Aisha Sembhi
She took four wins in China’s Grand Prix Karting Scholarship Series and secured back-to-back titles in 2018 and 2019 in the junior division of the Asian Karting Open Championship.
Her next challenge is mastering the formula car in W Series. Here, Bustamante races within the W Series Academy. She scored points on her début at the Miami International Autodrome and currently sits 14th in the driver’s championship.
Despite driving a formula car for only eight races so far across W Series and USF Juniors, Bustamante has high expectations of herself. Her long-term goal is to replicate the success of her motorsport idol, Niki Lauda.
“I look up to him a lot, not just as a driver but also as someone who knew how to manage his career. I want to be someone like that. He was dependable and reliable, someone that you can entrust winning the championship with,” Bustamante tells F1 Feeder Series.
In her motorsport career, Bustamante followed in the footsteps of her father, a former karter.
“The minute I was born, he got me this race suit, and I wore it every single day!” she explains. “I’ve been exposed to the whole community from a young age, which has been really amazing. I eventually just fell in love with the sport independently. I just knew I wanted to pursue it, and it’s been my whole life ever since.”
Her earliest motorsport memories remain among her most proud. In 2014, Bustamante won the Macau Kart Grand Prix, where she also made her national début a few years before. She took top honours in her class in the 2018 and 2019 editions of the race as well.
“My very first national race was the Macau Kart Grand Prix, when I was aged six. Winning was the moment that I realised that this is something I could excel in if I put in enough work, passion, and focus. And I did! That was the pivot point in my career.
Winning was the moment that I realised that this is something I could excel in if I put in enough work, passion, and focusBianca Bustamante on her maiden victory in the Macau Kart Grand Prix
“Ever since then, I’ve been working tremendously hard. In my junior year [of karts], I was junior karter of the year as well as Asian karter of the year. I won numerous awards all over Asia, and I was dominant in the region.”
Bustamante was dubbed the future of Philippine motorsport, but her early successes were somewhat stunted due to budget issues. “Unfortunately, because of budget and lack of funding, we couldn’t expand on my experience straight away. I couldn’t race abroad because it was so expensive.”
Getting a W Series seat
The 2022 season marks Bustamante’s first year in W Series and her first experience outside of karting. Unlike her counterparts, she had minimal experience. She drove a formula car for the first time at the shoot-out that took place from 31 January to 4 February at Inde Motorsports Ranch in Arizona.
“They picked 15 girls from all over the world, and they got us driving. For me, that was my first time driving an F4 car!
“Most of the girls had experience in F4 or F3, and I had zero clue in comparison. I didn’t even know how to put the car in reverse. I guess talent is something you can’t teach.”
Bustamante proved her ability in Arizona and earned an invitation to the Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya for W Series pre-season testing a month later. It was there that she received the news that changed her racing career.
“That’s when I knew that I was getting a seat for the season – let alone another next season! That’s massive for me. Coming from a middle-class family in the Philippines, I never thought I’d be able to experience this.”
Bustamante refers to her position within the W Series Academy team. Along with teammate Juju Noda, Bustamante is guaranteed one of the eighteen places available on the 2023 W Series grid.
“But that doesn’t come easy. They also told me I needed to be race-ready in one month. By this point, I’d only been driving a formula car for about three days,” Bustamante explains. “I was put in the spotlight. I was stuck in a ’make it or break it’ situation where I really had to push myself. I had to keep proving myself every single day because if I didn’t, I wouldn’t be able to achieve my dreams.”
Points on début
On her first race in the W Series’ Tatuus F3 T-318 car, Bustamante faced a steep learning curve not only because of the adjustment to the new car but because of the nature of the Miami circuit.
“Miami was really tough. It was a street race, and a lot of people crashed and stalled. There was a lot of damage. My goal for the weekend was just to finish.”
Despite this uphill battle, Bustamante secured her first W Series points on her début.
“I didn’t know that finishing in the points was possible. There are a lot of very experienced drivers even within the rookies,” she explains. “Most of them – Noda, [Chloe] Chambers – have done a season in F4. I just went in there and winged everything. But eventually, it was a success! I’m pretty happy with the results, but I have to keep on pushing.”
Aims for the season
As a first-time formula car driver and W Series rookie, Bustamante has realistic expectations of herself.
“It’s definitely a learning year. We can’t just go in and say we’re going to win the championship. The truth is, a lot of the girls I race with have got 10 years of experience, and I had about 10 days in the car. It’s a massive difference.
“That’s why I was given a guaranteed 2023 seat. W Series saw the potential and wanted to invest more. They see that I can possibly be contending for wins next year. Having that faith entrusted to me is a huge responsibility, and I don’t want to let anyone down. And I don’t want to let myself down! I want to be up there next year.”
Having that faith entrusted to me is a huge responsibility, and I don’t want to let anyone down. And I don’t want to let myself downBianca Bustamante on her position in the W Series Academy Team
Despite this pressure, the Filipina driver has confidence in herself to continue progressing.
“I’m a racing driver. Even now, knowing that I’ve got so much to learn, I want to aim for that win,” Bustamante says. “But next year, once I’ve got used to the rhythm of being a professional racing driver – including the environment and the community – once everything’s in a better situation, I really believe I can be pushing for wins.”
This optimism isn’t limited to W Series. In 2023, Bustamante also aims to compete in Formula 3 or one of the Formula Regional championships.
“I also want to progress outside of W Series as well. I think W Series is a great platform, giving opportunities to young female drivers like myself. I could never afford to be racing in formula cars. W Series gave me that break and the exposure I needed to get future opportunities. Next year, I aim to be racing in FIA [F3] or even Formula Regional.”
Often, drivers shy away from discussing issues related to budgets, but not Bustamante. The young driver is candid about her financial struggles throughout her motorsport journey.
“I love talking about budget issues. I’ve heard a lot of people say, ‘You’re racing because you’re rich, you’ve got so much money, [you’re] using your parent’s money, you don’t have the talent.’ I love telling people that it’s the exact opposite of what I’m experiencing. I come from a very middle-class family. My dad had to work three jobs to get me my first experience in karting,” Bustamante explains.
“I’ve done so many meetings just to get a sponsored seat in karting. Knocking on people’s doors, asking for support. There’ve been a lot of people who have helped me out and sponsored me, and a lot of teams in Asia that have given me a free seat. If I didn’t have that, I wouldn’t be here now.
“One of the struggles that we deal with is that for me to keep on improving, I need the funding to practice, to do testing, even to eat right as an athlete,” she continues. “It’s hard for a rookie to move forward and excel without all those variants.”
Bustamante’s financial situation is also different to that of many of her W Series counterparts, including two-time champion and current season leader Jamie Chadwick. As a newcomer to cars with a relatively smaller budget, Bustamante lacks the experience of her rivals and, crucially, the means to obtain it.
“I’m not like Jamie, who has years of experience to the point where she can teach herself. That’s the only way for someone to progress: to have all that training. W Series doesn’t cover things like that, so we have to fund ourselves.
“It’s a bit tough. All the other rookies have a fairly good budget, so they can race other series or do tests. Unfortunately for me, I can’t do that, but we’re still working hard to find the budget.”
Regardless, Bustamante is optimistic about her future even if she admits her situation gives her more pressure. “I’m really thankful. Even though we didn’t have the money, it allowed me to depend on my driving skills even more. There are a lot of drivers that buy their way in. As someone who can’t afford to make a mistake, every single time I’m given an opportunity, I have to maximise it. I might never have another chance like this again. I’m tough on myself because of that.
As someone who can’t afford to make a mistake, every single time I’m given an opportunity, I have to maximise it. I might never have another chance like this again.Bianca Bustamante
Coming from the Philippines, Bustamante joins a small but growing group of Asian motorsport athletes. Earlier this year, Guanyu Zhou became the first Chinese driver to race in Formula 1.
The Philippines has never sent a driver to F1, but several, including Bustamante, have progressed on the ladder. Filipino-Swiss driver Marlon Stöckinger came the closest, winning a race in the GP3 Series in 2012 and making it to GP2, then the final step below F1, in 2015. More recently, Eduardo Coseteng has been competing in the British F4 Championship and currently sits ninth in the standings in his second season.
“The Philippines is not known for having a lot of racing drivers. It’s a third-world country, and it’s hard to be accepted because of that. Most racing drivers come from Europe, and racing is more acknowledged there, or in the US,” Bustamante explains.
The young driver has experienced unique struggles and discriminatory behaviour in the motorsport world because of her ethnic background.
“Coming from Asia, it was hard to get opportunities and sponsors because of the way I look and where I’m from. There are a lot of situations where I felt like I didn’t get something not because I drove badly but because of who I am.”
“But that made me tougher. It made me fierce and made me fight more for what I wanted. So I’m glad.”
Bustamante describes similar instances of discrimination that are unique to young women in motorsport.
“There have been times that I’ve been taken out on purpose because drivers don’t want to lose to a girl. A lot of times that’s happened. Ego comes in the way. It gets a bit sad sometimes.
“This is a male-dominated sport, and most racing teams are owned by men. It’s tough to be in a community that’s controlled by the opposite gender. For example, it was hard for me to get sponsors because teams just didn’t think they could depend on me because of my gender.”
Discipline and future hopes
Like other feeder series drivers, Bustamante has had to make sacrifices in her life. One of those, she tells F1 Feeder Series, was having a normal childhood with lots of spare time.
“Being a racing driver requires so much of your time. This isn’t just a hobby. I want to be a pro, and so it takes your whole life. Because of that, I never got to experience childhood,” Bustamante explains. “But it was a personal choice. I knew that I was sacrificing it for something that I truly love, and I’ll never regret it. It’s led me to my dream.”
Bustamante suggests that this rigorous athletic programme forced her to experience adult life at an earlier age than most, starting with her moving into her own accommodation independently as a teenager.
“I’m actually in Indianapolis, and I live on my own at the age of 17! I’m really trying and doing my best. Most people don’t realise there are a lot of struggles being a young athlete, like doing laundry, cooking my own food. It’s hard! There are a lot of external pressures that go alongside being a driver.”
On her future competitive hopes, Bustamante has her eyes on ascending the feeder series ladder as soon as possible. Besides W Series, she’s flexible as to what exactly her programme will entail and where she’d be racing.
“I hope that I get to do F3 next year, but I’ll still be doing W Series alongside that. I’m always open to other things. I’m based in Indianapolis, the home of IndyCar, so I’m also open to that.”
Bustamante has already dipped her toes in the IndyCar ladder, competing in four races in the new-for-2022 USF Juniors Series, the first rung on the Road to Indy, with IGY6 Motorsports. This opportunity gave her valuable seat time and experience in the weeks before her W Series début at Miami in May.
Much like other young drivers, however, Bustamante has one primary long-term goal in mind: “I’m going to be real to myself: F1 will forever be my goal. That’s why I do this, and it’s the reason I wake up in the morning and train hard. It’s why I’m risking my future. That’s the ultimate goal.”
F1 will forever be my goal. That’s why I do this, and it’s the reason I wake up in the morning and train hard. It’s why I’m risking my future.Bianca Bustamante
Header photo credit: W Series
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