Conducted and Written by Kate Krause, Edited by Meghana Sree
The 18 year-old driver takes us through her race win in Monza, mentors in motorsports, and reflects on her season in F1 Academy.
Bianca Bustamante, a young Filipino racing driver, recently joined McLaren’s development team. This is a monumental accomplishment, considering she is the first female driver on the team. However, before her groundbreaking move to McLaren, Bustamante was already making waves in the motorsports community through her many performances, especially during the inaugural season of F1 Academy in 2023.
Kate Krause, part of the Divebomb team, had the chance to interview the up-and-coming star, and when asked about anything specifically memorable from the season, Bustamante especially reflected on the team she was racing with - PREMA.
“A lot of things have happened, a lot of good things, a lot of learning experiences as well. I mean, working with PREMA it really has been such a great, amazing opportunity. Working with the best junior formula team right now means a lot of experience gained, a lot of lessons learned, the technical bits of racing as well that we have really been trying to understand more this year, which we did, so it’s always a positive to take away from any race that we go to.”
Throughout the F1 Academy season, PREMA had great results with all of their drivers, even placing first out of all the teams in the 2023 season. Bustamante talked about their success in the season, mentioning that:
“We’ve been working really hard, we’ve been testing as much as possible. And now F1 Academy where really we weren’t expecting to be up there, to be fighting, you know, fighting for a win but on most weekends we were one of the fastest drivers on tracks so that really showed all the hard work that we’ve been putting in. And eventually resulted into a race win at Valencia and at Monza.”
Bustamante also spoke about her own personal developments with PREMA racing, and how she sees her progress and future in racing.
“I think that really just symbolised everything that we’ve been working hard for and that we’ve had a massive breakthrough compared to last year. I was racing last year in the W Series and most of the time I was always last or four seconds off the pace and to be on par now with drivers that were very competitive last year in the W Series meant that I developed a lot throughout the season. That really just makes me realise we’re able to do so much more with the continued progression that we’ve been having. [...] We were working very hard to be even more competitive for next season, for next year whatever we're doing, and this year has been really good to us.”
Talking about her second win of the season in Monza, Bustamante indicated the circuit to be one of her favourites. She went on to express how the track has impacted her personally, as well as the venue’s historical significance.
“Monza is my favourite track in the world. I think it's one of those tracks where you literally just start entering the circuit and you already have goosebumps all over your body, you're looking around and you're kind of dazzled with all this historic greatness. Monza has witnessed a lot of great things that have happened in the world of motorsport, we’ve seen amazing battles, amazing championship fights, amazing passes, races and as a driver myself, it really is one thing to drive the track itself.”
She also spoke about driving around the circuit itself, and the indescribable feeling of going through the high-speed corners and straights that define Monza.
“The feeling you get when you’re just driving down the straight, you’re going through the corners Lesmo, Ascari, Parabolica. It's a corner where you’re always maximising the car, you're always at its peak. You’re driving at speeds of 260 kilometres per hour, there's very small margins for errors, and that itself gives you so much adrenaline rush. Just driving that circuit felt so much to me.”
Bustamante then went into further detail on the race itself, describing her emotions during the event and how she had a feeling she would do well. She explains how Monza was a good lesson for her and the team, and that despite an initial unfortunate situation, they managed to turn it around in their favour.
“It was also a track that I knew that I would be quite reasonable at, I think pace wise we were really up there from the very start of the practice. With qualifying we had the mishap for Q1, but we bounced back immediately in Q2, showing our raw pace. Even without the slipstream we were able to qualify it on P2, nearly on par for pole."
"So really we showed that we had some strengths, keeping for us to show for the weekend. And then we headed into the race, unfortunately the incident that happened, I was unable to start, race one I had a DNF, so that meant that it was an opportunity taken away from us to fight for the win."
"But regardless we bounced back for upcoming races, in race two we went from P9 to P2, we had the most overtakes, we were passing around the outside, I just had so much confidence driving at that track. And the confidence had to go in hand with technique and patience, I think we drove a very smart race then, and which then I think paid off in race three, where I made a pass for P1 and we got the win. Overall still highs and lows of a weekend, still not a weekend we were looking for, even though we knew that we had the pace because of the DNF in race one, but yeah, lesson learned.”
When asked about challenges she has faced that she didn’t expect in F1 Academy, Bustamante mentioned how she felt she was more inexperienced than the other drivers, due to her recent entry into the motorsport world.
“I’m one of the inexperienced drivers on the grid, I’m one of the younger ones as well, so I’m racing really with a lot of drivers that have had five years in Formula 4. My teammate Marta [Garcia], she’s been in F4 since 2016, and because of this she has had lots of knowledge with the car, with the tracks."
"We went to three Spanish race tracks this year, so I think on the hindsight, we didn’t really have any advantage going into this season. All of the tracks I went to apart from Barcelona, it was my first time, I’ve never driven any of the tracks we went to this year compared to the other drivers that have driven there, so I think that's one of the main [things] we struggled with; was that we struggled directively, on pace, because it was always like a new circuit for me, a new environment.”
Bustamante was also asked about support systems provided by F1 Academy, and if she thought they were sufficient to help her and the other drivers move forward in the racing world.
“F1 Academy has really taken away that struggle to find a seat in any of the championships. Building F1 Academy doesn’t only mean that we would be able to race in a championship, but it would also mean that we would be working with the best junior formula teams such as ART, MP, PREMA."
"To be honest we would never have been able to get a seat in any of those race teams and gain experience if it weren't for F1 Academy. If it weren’t for the link, we wouldn't have gotten the connection to move forward. With F1 Academy I was able to race with PREMA in Italian F4, in F4 UAE, which I would never have if it hadn’t been for the connections.”
She also mentioned how Formula 1 Academy has helped her gain visibility and a platform outside of racing, and has given her the freedom to connect with many different people.
“They’re doing an amazing job with giving us opportunities, connecting us to the right people, and not only that but as well as having a platform where we have this ability where people can see us, watch us, it’s supported by F1 as well, so that kind of visibility has really helped us grow, has helped me grow."
"Over this past year we’ve grown over a million followers across all of our social platforms, and because of that I was able to voice out my messages, my stories, and really share my journey with everyone else. So it’s given so much more than racing to me.”
Bustamante then took us through some role models and mentors she has had or currently has, and the ways they have influenced her.
“In F1 Academy we worked with PREMA so I drive for PREMA, so really a lot of talent has come along their race team. Most talents are now in Formula 1 such as Oscar Piastri, and a lot of others. Lance Stroll as well, meaning that within the team a lot of them are very experienced and are well known for handling junior drivers, up and coming talents that are, like I said, inexperienced. Within the team I have a lot of people coaching me, guiding me the right direction.”
She then pointed out one mentor in particular, her engineer Juan Soma. She described the many ways he has helped her advance in her racing career, such as deepening her knowledge on the mechanical side of motorsport.
“I have my mechanics, team managers, my engineer Juan Soma. He’s one of the experienced engineers I have within F1 Academy that has really helped guide me this season. He’s had experience in F3 and F2 so this meant that I was learning a lot as a junior driver."
"Because of that I was able to communicate very well with him. Talking about the technical side of the car, and really being treated as a driver, as a professional driver. And doing datas, and reviewing onboards, and very technical scenarios, and learning from that experience and using moments to really do my best to analyse and understand the mechanical side of racing as well as understanding the data. So I think having those people around me really helped me develop this year.”
Throughout this year's F1 Academy season, Bustamante has achieved many incredible things and has truly broadened the horizons for young female drivers like herself. We at Divebomb can’t wait to see where her journey takes Bustamante next — a driver who is one of the most promising female drivers motorsports has seen.