Not many people can pride themselves with making history at such a young age—let alone a young woman in a male-dominated sport.
But that was exactly what Bianca Bustamante did one Saturday afternoon in Spain.
“I remember going on the podium, I saw the flag, and I was just standing there when the anthem played and I think that’s when it really [sank] into me that wow, we won a race,” the Filipina said.
Bustamante, 18, dreamt of having the Philippine national anthem played in motorsports ever since she was a child.
“I hadn’t heard the national anthem being played in motorsport for a very long time,” she said.
“That has always been my goal and my dream—to hear the national anthem being played in the motorsport world and it did and I really couldn't hold back my tears. It was an amazing moment for me,” she said.
May 6, 2023 saw "herstory" made as Bustamante dominated in the second race of F1 Academy’s round 2 held in Valencia, Spain.
Bustamante led from start to finish to clinch her first-ever career win as a professional racer.
As she stood on top of the middle podium, with tears in her eyes, she put the Philippines on the map in the world of motorsports.
And the marks her tires made would not be simply forgotten in the years to come.
Women representation in motorsports
Societal conventions are not easily favorable to women, especially in areas that are traditionally constructed to belong to men such as motorsports -- perhaps even simple driving.
Bustamante took pride in representing women in a male-dominated game and she is glad to carry with it the honor of being a Filipino.
“The lack of representation of women in motorsport in Asia has always been one of the main causes why we don’t have a lot of female Asian racing drivers,” she said. “So to be representing in behalf of the Filipino people and Southeast Asia, it has been a complete true honor of mine.”
F1 Academy, an all-female single-seater racing championship, is designed to prepare young female drivers to launch them into higher levels of competitions and ultimately to Formula 1.
“It’s becoming more inclusive and diverse,” she said of motorsports.
“[They] are making sure that we get equal treatment, equal rights, every driver— boy, girl, man, woman. Once we have the helmet on, we’re racing drivers. We’re classified as racing drivers. I think that’s one of the best feelings you could get in a sport where you’re accepted for who you are,” she said.
Bustamante boasted of her upbringing in Laguna. Having lived near the Carmona Race Track, she first learned karting at age 3.
At 6 years old, she began competing in Karting within Asia.
Now 18, she shared how the environment she is in has been “safe space” for her.
“I’m one of the youngest drivers in F1 Academy so I look up to a lot of these girls that I’m racing with. And to have them as a role model it really means a lot. And the fact that they accept me as their fellow competitor, as a racing driver regardless of where I came from… has been an amazing experience.”
Bustamante was signed for a full season with PREMA Racing team following an impressive rookie performance in the F4 UAE Championship.
She also competed in the W Series in 2022, which was cut short due to funding issues.
“Last year I was so young and that was my first time racing in the pinnacle of motorsport and I think with that I was just in shock, culture shocked. And with the spotlight on me and limited track time I wasn't able to perform the best I could,” she said.
She continued, “And that’s why coming into this year I knew I had the best shot… I wasn't really expecting a race win in the second round nor a P2 in the first but it showed that all our hard work and training paid off and I know that we’re gonna accomplish a lot more in the future.”
This first win for the rising race star has boosted her confidence that she hopes would translate to more wins as the F1 Academy season progresses.
“I’ve been working with a lot of mental coaches, sport coaches to build my confidence as a driver and definitely a race win has skyrocketed this but to a point where I can put in all of these into a positive progression, not letting it get to my head, to still keep my feet [on the ground] and head down and focus on the next one,” she said.
Moreover, while Bustamante does everything with utmost dedication, which eventually merited her an approval from accomplished Formula 1 driver Esteban Ocon, she said that her faith is what guarantees her a safe finish every race.
“In this sport, [everything we do is so critical.]. Everything is always high-performance and the minute that you’re out of control, a lot of things can happen. You’re going [at a ] speed of 260 km per hour so with this in mind, I know that with Him keeping me safe, I’m able to walk away from anything,” she said.
“I always just thank Him before and after every race, thankful for this opportunity, thankful for the life I have,” she added.
The future is bright for the young Filipina who already had a race win and another podium finish so far in the 7-round maiden season of the all-female series.
But looking at the larger picture, Bustamante is optimistic that she is hitting all the apexes on her way to her F1 dream.
“I will always say that my goal is to be in Formula 1. Always has been. That’s why I put in so much dedication, love, heart, [and] passion into every single thing I do in motorsport because it really is my goal. And I think we’re in the right spot, right time, right moment, and I really do believe that when everything comes together that it is a possibility.”