"‘It takes a village to build a champion,’ and being in the right environment is so pivotal."
Bianca Bustamante on racing for PREMA and her upcoming F1 Academy season
Interview conducted and written by Elisabeth Brown, Edited by Simran Kanthi
What immediately strikes me upon speaking to Bianca Bustamante, the eighteen-year-old racer from the Philippines is the poise and humility she exudes in conversation. Bustamante, who is relatively green to international single-seater competition, recently completed her campaign competing with PREMA in the F4 UAE Championship. She overcame numerous challenges and showed steady progress throughout, with a best qualifying position of seventh and highest race finish of ninth, scoring points on this occasion and on one other. Throughout our time talking, Bustamante reiterated her gratitude for both PREMA and the experience in the F4 UAE Championship as well as the opportunity to compete for them in the brand-new series, F1 Academy, this year. She recognises that these experiences are not ones to be wasted, as thousands of young racers hold aspirations to not only compete at such a level but to compete with a team like PREMA that holds a rich history within the Formula 1 Feeder Series.
“They’re known for developing talents and pushing them to be the best drivers they can be,” Bustamante said of PREMA. “To be in the right environment at such a young age helps me develop my craft – helps me develop as a driver. Not only that, [but] as a person as well to be surrounded by good people, talented drivers, and amazing engineers - it’s all pivotal in my growth. Every single one of their inputs, [pieces of] advice, I take to heart, and I make sure that I'm able to apply it on track and off track. That’s truly what they’ve given me - they've given me the support, and to have a team that truly believes in what I can do, and consistently push[es] me to be better every time I drive, to maximise every lap, and to constantly be pushed to my limits, is a great feeling…and the fact that they do that is amazing for me. I'm enjoying it a lot. I've been enjoying my time here with them.”
On finding out that she’d been tapped by PREMA to race under their banner, Bustamante shared, “it is a big opportunity and a huge dream of mine to pursue such an endeavour like this…of course, I was overjoyed [about] the fact that not only will I be competing in such a big team, but I’ll be able to pursue to be the best driver I can be. I was very shocked when I first found out, but it’s going great. It’s been amazing.”
Bustamante acknowledged that she has a lot to work on and clearly holds much confidence in the combination of personal hard work and the backing of PREMA to take her skill to the next level. Her steady upward progression during the F4 UAE season was proof of this. “Being a rookie, the only way we can really go is up, and the only way to do that is to learn and [PREMA] has given me such amazing input that has really helped me throughout the season…I also realised that, unlike the other drivers I was working with in PREMA, I had to work a lot more because of the lack of experience I have, the lack of mileage.”
Noting qualifying as a weakness given her difficulty with extracting the most out of the car with new tyres, she sees racing as much of a mental game as a physical one. “With driving, you can teach someone to brake later or to improve your brake shape or take it tighter, but once it's mental, that's something that you can't really teach. It just comes in time, maturity, experience, and of course, the right guidance,” Bustamante explained.
Experience and guidance are certainly what, amongst other things, PREMA has provided and will continue to provide Bustamante. “They're one of -- arguably the best teams right now, and they know how to work with young athletes and young drivers, and they know how to build champions. Like I've always said: ‘it takes a village to build a champion,’ and being in the right environment is so pivotal.” This village she speaks of includes people that work behind the scenes and are vital in the driver's success. “You don't see the mechanics, you don't see the engineers, you don't see behind closed doors, how much they work with setup, and debriefs -- doing onboards.” She went on to specifically praise the patience of her engineer during F4 UAE as well as the overall patience of PREMA team members that aided her to forward momentum rather than stagnating or feeling as though her questions were left unanswered.
While shifting gears from F4 UAE to F1 Academy, the all-female racing series aimed as a feeder series to F3 and beyond, I wanted to get to know a bit more about the kinds of tracks Bustamante loves competing at. In true racing driver form, she stated: “I love all tracks,” but touted Monza and Singapore as top picks for ones she’d love to drive if she could pick any to be on F1 Academy’s calendar. Both are adrenaline-pumping tracks, with Monza known as the ‘Temple of Speed’ and Singapore a street circuit where the driver is often a handsbreadth away from the wall.
Certainly, both tracks would also provide incredible learning opportunities, as will the F1 Academy season in general for a driver like Bustamante who’s aiming to increase her track time specifically in single-seater cars. As would be expected of a racing driver, she wants to win and wants to achieve the best result possible, but there’s an incredible amount of reward available for Bustamante beyond goals focused on results.
Bustamante views these non-results-based goals from the lens of the potential for personal growth, a theme consistent across our time in conversation. “Any situation I'm in, whether good or bad, up or down, I just try to make sure I learn from it. If it's a lesson learned, then it's a lesson learned…this year, I'm going to just face it with an open eye. I don't know what the situation will be, [or] how competitive the other drivers are, but I do know that it's going to be tough - there will be a lot of challenges.”
She describes the season ahead as one that will inevitably be a rollercoaster. “Every race weekend can be such a high, such a low -- you can be quickest, or dead last the next session…sometimes you don't have the pace...[but] next weekend you're quick. In those situations, I just want to make sure that I learn from it, whether I'm quick or not, so that's a goal for me. It's going to be a new experience for me…working with a team, then there's going to be a lot of very competitive drivers, so I just want to maximise that.”
Her other goal is a simple one that is oft forgotten yet frequently and justifiably touted to be the most important to achieve in one’s career: to “enjoy.” She elaborates on this and reiterates earlier thoughts by stating, “I don't want to take it for granted. That’s something I never want to do. That's why I maximise every opportunity. That's why I spend the most time at the track — [I’m] the last person to leave because…it's not an opportunity I ever thought I'd get. I never thought I'd be here. Everyone knows how expensive the sport can be, and coming from where I came from, I just never thought I'd be here.” In summary: “just enjoy, [and] maximise it. It doesn't feel like a job if you enjoy it.”
A complete season of time spent behind the wheel while working alongside a team like PREMA with alum such as Pierre Gasly, Zhou Guanyu, Charles Leclerc, and Mick Schumacher is a perfect match for a driver like Bustamante working toward her goal of competing in Formula 1. F1 Academy’s inaugural season kicks off on April 28th in Spielberg, Austria, at the Red Bull Ring, with more details on how to follow the series coming soon.