F1 racer Bianca Bustamante chats dream cars, driving playlists, & next steps

F1 racer Bianca Bustamante chats dream cars, driving playlists, & next steps

by Robyn Pullen
8 min

Speeding from the plastic seat of her go-kart in the Philippines at age three, to the interior of high-speed motorsports vehicles as part of McLaren’s F1 Academy at only nineteen, Bianca Bustamante has spent her life in the fast lane. She calls her driving style, “fierce, smart, and tough” and honestly we have to agree. Racking up trophies, chasing down victories, and completing tracks at 220 miles per hour, Bianca’s flair behind the wheel has made her one to be watched within the racing world. We sat down with Bianca last week to talk about driving playlists, her biggest inspirations, and what it’s like competing as a woman on male dominated tracks.

Hi Bianca! Let’s kick things off with what made you first want to get into driving competitively?

B: Motorsports isn’t a very common sport where I come from in the Philippines, so it’s quite a daunting path to pursue. There weren’t a lot of opportunities in motorsport [back home] – we didn’t have our own race tracks, we didn’t have formula cars – so that itself was already a challenge. But I love the fact that I get to break boundaries, and do something that has never been done before [by someone] from where I come from. I’m constantly just thinking to myself that it’s worth the challenge.

Sylwia Szyplik©

You’ve travelled all over since leaving the Philippines, but where’s your favourite place to drive in the world?

B: I’d definitely have to say Monza [in Italy]; Monza’s my favourite circuit in the world. It holds a lot of really good memories. The Italians have so much passion and love for everything, and definitely for motorsport.

Since joining McLaren’s all-female F1 Academy for its inaugural season in 2023, what’s the main thing you’ve taken away from being part of the Driver Development programme?

B: Honestly, it’s such a family. They’ve done so much for me; more than I could ever imagine. They skyrocketed my career, and have given me so many opportunities, and because of that [they’ve] allowed me to become a better driver, a better athlete, and overall be the best version of myself. 

At the same time, there is a lot of pressure. There’s a lot of difficult moments, [although] in those moments, that’s when you learn the most. As Andrea Stella would say, [that’s] our team principal. It’s the highs and lows of motorsports that makes the best of you, and y’know, you can’t win it all. I’m just trying to enjoy every single moment I’m on track, every opportunity, and make sure that I make the most of it. Obviously with the help of my family. 

@racerbia ©

Speaking of family, who would you say is your biggest inspiration, on and off the track?

B: Off the track, my mum is my pillar. Growing up she kind of had to be both a mother and father to me; she had to bring me to the race track but at the same time she had to be there when I was crying. She saw all the tears, blood, and sweat that I put into this. 

But on the track, I’d say Niki Lauda. He’s my hero, an amazing driver. To me, I see him as a champion. He was smart, he was courageous, and he knew how to take risks, or how to maximise every opportunity. I think that’s what you have to be – not just as a driver but as an athlete overall. It’s never a sprint, it’s a marathon, and he’s made me realise the value of being consistent. 

If you could take any car for a spin, which would it be?

B: I feel like I have to say McLaren, and I’d love to take a McLaren Senna for a spin. But, if it wasn’t a McLaren Senna, my dream car has always been a Supra. 

@racerbia ©

Even the fact that you’re currently part of McLaren’s female-only F1 Academy shows the unbalanced playing field gender creates in racing. But do you feel that being a woman in a male dominated field has ever posed an issue?

B: I wouldn’t say so! Obviously, there are differences [between men and women], and in every sport in the world you can never be equal because of the physicality of it all. Biology says that men are stronger, but in other ways women are better, and that kind of evens out the playing field. Growing up, the things I lacked just fueled me to go further … and to excel in other aspects of sport. I think that’s just the point of view you have to have: you can never be perfect; you can never be the best; there’s always going to be someone better than you. 

So, with that mindset in place, especially in a sport like motor racing that is very male dominated, you just have to think of yourself as equal, and it’s that that puts you further up in the field. You know, once you have that helmet on, the car is your equaliser. It doesn’t really matter who you are, where you come from, what’s your name: you’re just a driver, and you’re just racing, and you’re always in pursuit of that perfect lap. 

Sylwia Szyplik©

Earlier you mentioned motorsports icon Niki Lauda: his career is evidence enough that racing is notoriously dangerous. How do you physically and emotionally prepare for that?

B: I think this is why I’ve always looked up to Niki, because no one knew the risks better than him. He faced a lot of dangerous circumstances in his life, but it’s always about managing that risk and making sure it’s as low as possible. Motor racing has become a lot safer nowadays; safety is [now] the main priority, even more than being number one. It gives you that peace of mind as a driver, knowing that the car is safe, [and] we’ve got all these initiatives now: we’ve got Halos, we’ve got tyre pressure management that will allow us to just drive safely around the track. 

Obviously, racing incidents will happen – circumstances where you could have a mechanical failure or something else go wrong – but at the same time, you can’t really live in fear. I think the main things in life that push people are either fear or failure, but you can’t really let those rule you on track, because if you do it can lead to other dangerous things. It’s just about keeping an open mind, and knowing that all your training will keep you safe while you’re racing.

On a more fun note, what’s the number one song on your ultimate driving playlist?

B: Oh, that’s tough, [because] I have really good playlists! I love my music, I’m very passionate about it. If there’s a song I’ve always listened to throughout the years it’s probably “Glorious” by Macklemore. 

@racerbia Sylwia ©

What advice would you give to other young people interested in getting into motorsports?

B: I know it can be very daunting. There’s a lot of people that will put you down for trying to pursue a different path; I’ve faced that, I’ve gone through that myself. There’s been a lot of times where even I thought I couldn’t do it. But then I realised that if no one else believed in me, I owed it to myself to believe… I think that’s the only advice I could ever give. Having that point of view in life will change everything. 

If you manage to work hard, to believe [in yourself], and to put in everything that you’ve got, like I… – oh, I don’t wanna say “like I did,” but [to be fair] I definitely did! I gave it everything that I had, I risked everything, I put everything in my life on hold just for this – and it will eventually blossom into something beautiful. I think that’s very important. Time is the biggest investment so, invest your time wisely. You’ve only got one life, make sure you live it well. 

Sylwia Szyplik©

Finally, can you share with us anything upcoming in 2024 that has you excited? 

There are a lot of things that I’m super excited about… I’ve been really busy! I’m losing my voice [from] doing [so many] interviews because there’s so much coming up even just this month – especially in Miami – and I can’t wait to show everyone else! I’m back on the track next week for the second race of the F1 Academy season and obviously I can’t wait. I just want to thank everyone for their support! We’ve come a long way but… it’s only the beginning.

Featured image via @racerbia ©

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