BIANCA Bustamante’s racing journey had always been crazy.

Her father, Raymund Bustamante, a former karter, introduced her to motorsport when she was just 3 and began planting the seeds of her professional career at 6.

“I knew [motorsport] was something I really wanted to do,” Bustamante told the Varsitarian. “All my passions, all the things I loved, things I didn’t like – it was all related to motorsport. So I kinda just built my life around it. Everything I did, I lived and breathed racing.”

Bustamante’s father moved to San Jose in California, United States, and worked three jobs, one of which was in construction, just to build that career. Her parents also took loans from every source they knew.

Filipinos do not craze about motorsport as much as they do in basketball or boxing, creating hurdles for aspiring racers like Bustamante, who, despite winning an international title at 9, was still financially struggling.

“The lack of representation for racing drivers was the main cause as to why we didn’t get any support, and so I knew that was gonna be a tough journey, and so did my parents,” she said.

But a decade’s worth of hard work landed Bustamante her most prestigious accolade yet.

She broke the glass ceiling of motorsports in May when she snagged victory in Valencia, Spain, at the second round of the inaugural season of Formula 1 (F1) Academy, an all-female single-seater racing championship just established this year by former racing driver Susie Wolff.

Bustamante’s victory makes her the first Filipino ever to win a Fédération Internationale de l’Automobile (FIA)-sanctioned race.

Bustamante, 18, a graduate this year of the Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) strand in Senior High School at the UST Angelicum College, went into that race with zero expectations.

Joining the Italian junior formula racing team Prema, Bustamante placed second in the first race of the season in Spielberg, Austria. The next week, she was standing on the podium in Spain.

“I knew I had the best car. I knew I had really good teammates with me with really good references. But I didn’t know it would ever amount to a podium, and it was really crazy,” she said.

Shock and juggle

In 2022, Bustamante competed in the W Series, another all-female single-seater racing championship, but her performance is only subpar compared to her current standing in F1 Academy (The British racer Jamie Chadwick is the reigning champion, winning all of its three seasons.).

“Last year was my first time coming into Europe. I guess I had that culture shock, which affected my performance a lot,” she said.

The Thomasian racer didn’t have enough time to test her automobile, hindering her from unlocking her full potential. So, when she got the opportunity to race for Prema, she pressured herself to be much better.

“I always say this: Motorsport gives you the highs and lows of everything,” she said. 

To prepare for F1 Academy, Bustamante was placed in one of Perma’s cars used in a competition in the United Arab Emirates. The four-decade-old team sharpened her skills and got a better grip on her craft. She also underwent rigorous and consistent strength training in Prema’s official training facility in Barcelona, Spain. 

Going back and forth between continents made it impossible for Bustamante to study in a traditional classroom. So, she and her family constantly looked for ways to get her the education she needed while pursuing a career in motorsports.

“I knew back then that it was quite difficult. I bounced from a lot of different schools, never really finding a good rhythm,” she said.

Around 2020 – the year the world knew about the dreaded Covid-19 virus – they learned about UST Angelicum College’s homeschooling system, which offers a workable class schedule for student-athletes and celebrities.

“I was actually really able to still progress with my learning and keep up with all my classes through the very flexible schedule they’ve given me,” she said.

More representation

Aside from the goal of competing in F1, Bustamante has dedicated her career to being a representative in a sport where women and Asians are constantly overlooked.

“My aspiration is not to be a champion but to be the difference I want to see in the world. And I know that the only way to have more women in the sport is to have more representation,” she said.

Bustamante believes that Filipino representation in motorsport could bring more local support for the next generation of racers, which she lacked when she was just blossoming: “When I was young, I didn’t have a lot of female Asian drivers that I could look up to. There weren’t a lot of Filipina racing drivers.”

One way to expose Filipinos in the sport is by sharing every step of her journey on her social media accounts, eventually reaching virality on TikTok, where she has already amassed more than 600,000 followers.

“I know how much love I have for this sport, and to have other people to share that with is an amazing feeling,” she said.


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