“This is only the beginning of everything for me”: W Series’ Bianca Bustamante is the rookie to watch

by Cheryl Lai-Lim  /   September 30, 2022

The young Filipino race driver – and only Southeast Asian on the grid – shares her experience from karting to formula racing

What were you doing at the age of three? For Filipino race driver Bianca Bustamante, she already had her first taste of racing at that young age. 

“My dad bought me my first ever go-kart when I was three,” she recounts with a smile. “He was a former karter, and at a very young age, everything – the passion and the love for the sport – came from him. He would always bring me to the track and he’d show me around and I got to see the go karts. That’s when [my love for racing] sparked.”

Bianca is currently racing in the W Series, an international female-only single-seater racing championship. A Formula Three racing series that’s in support of the F1 world championship, W Series was launched in October 2018 to provide equal opportunities and to eliminate the financial barriers for female racing drivers to climb up the ladder of motorsports to F1. 

The 17-year-old knew she wanted to race professionally at the age of six. “My very first national race was in Macau and I won,” she says. “I was against all these guys and I was the only girl on the podium. I was in tears holding my trophy. When they announced my name and called me on stage, that was the moment when I knew I was ready to give up everything for the sport.” 

Of sacrifices and hardship

What has she sacrificed in order to race? “A normal school life – I was home-schooled from grade school to high school – and a normal social life,” she answers with an air of melancholy. “I didn’t have a normal childhood like other children. Instead, I was at the race track, driving and training, but those little sacrifices made the most differences. To be really good at something, you have to dedicate your time and effort into it.” 

Speaking of sacrifices, the driver is frank about the struggles her parents faced and the sacrifices they made. “I come from a very, very middle class family,” she says of her childhood in Laguna, Philippines. “When my dad realised that I wanted to pursue racing, he thought in his head that racing is mainly reserved for people with money because of how expensive the sport is. For me to keep on living my dream, he made the sacrifice to move abroad [and work] so that he could sustain the family and my sport.”

Her father moved to the United States for a period of time and worked three jobs there, she tells me. He was absent for part of her childhood, barring birthdays, Christmases, or “whenever there was a big race”. But Bianca understood that he was doing it for her. 

“He opened the path for me to do what I wanted to. He gave me this chance. And in the end, even though he was so far apart, I still felt so close to him because we had this bond over racing and it pulled us together even though we’re 1000 miles away.” 

She describes her mother as her pillar of support and a picture of resilience. Bianca’s older brother was diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder, and her mother had to take care of both his needs and her passion for racing. “I would say that my mom is my role model. Even though my dad was away, she held the fort in our family,” says Bianca. “She’s a very strong woman, and that’s why I have no reason to be weak. She would be very strong for me and because of that, I learned to be strong as well.” 

Her situation also served as fuel for her determination to succeed. “My dad had to work 18 hours a day so he could get me to racing. I’m not like those kids where I can just waste an opportunity, where I can just waste a race and be like I’ll do better next race, because I never really knew if I was ever going to have another race.”

To be really good at something, you have to dedicate your time and effort into it

Bianca Bustamante

Rising up 

Her parents acquiesced to her need for speed and it paid off – Bianca’s rapid rise through the ranks of racing and jumping straight from karting to single-seaters is rather unheard of. “Due to my lack of experience in formula cars – it’s very rare to get a driver from out of nowhere, just in karting, and straight into a formula car – the W series took the risk on me.”

She won the China Grand Prix Kart Scholarship four times, and the famed Macao International Kart Grand Prix three times.  She was awarded an FIA Girls on Track Rising Stars scholarship in 2021, and was the only Asian recipient. This caught the eye of W Series, and at the start of this year, she secured an invitation for a shootout test for prospective drivers at the Inde Motorsports Ranch in Arizona.  

As a driver, Bianca is not only preternaturally talented, she also puts in the hard work. “I’m a bit proud to say that I believe I worked the hardest during that [Arizona] test,” she affirms. “I put in the most effort, I listened the most, I took the most notes, I studied the most, and eventually it was rewarded with me being the fastest driver from that test. And after that test, W Series invited me to Barcelona [for pre-season testing].” 

She only had two weeks to prepare from Arizona to Barcelona, and she describes the time as “challenging”. Her dedication paid off, and she was selected as one of two drivers – alongside Juju Noda from Japan – to race for the W Series Academy Team during the 2022 season. 

She made an impressive debut at the inaugural Miami Grand Prix, which was the first W Series race of the season. In her first race, the young driver rose from P17 to finish in P11, with post-race penalties eventually moving her up to P9, which meant that she scored two world championship points in her very first race weekend. 

“I didn’t want to disappoint myself, so I went in just thinking that I need to push and give it my best. Even though it was my first race, I needed to act like I deserved to be there and I know that’s the mentality,” she recalls. “The result was a bit of a moment for me. It says that all those hard work has finally paid off, and showing results is such an amazing feeling that just fueled me to keep on pushing even more.” 

Just like the Miami Grand Prix, the Singapore Grand Prix is a street circuit. But Bianca is no stranger to racing here on our island. She had karted here in several competitions over the years, and even recalls having to take the train in Singapore to the race track and back as budget was an issue then. 

While she is happy to be back for her first professional race in Asia, she also acknowledges that the Marina Bay street circuit is one of the most challenging tracks on the calendar. Intensive training at the gym as well as a two-day test in Malaysia has built her confidence up, however. “Confidence is really the key, and I want to keep building it up lap by lap. It’s important to not let the pressure get to me because that’s when mistakes happen.” 

It’s important to not let the pressure get to me because that’s when mistakes happen.

Bianca Bustamante

Eyes on the future

Tenacity is clearly a trait that Bianca has in abundance, but it’s also one that’s been tested repeatedly. As we speak, it’s evident that although she might be young, she’s also mature – it’s a maturity doesn’t come with age but with experiences and situations passed. Steely determination lines her spine, for as a young athlete and a year 11 student studying STEM, she’s had to keep up with the pressure – both physically and mentally. 

She recalls of the time when she went to an Olympic training centre in San Diego for intensive seven-day training to get her ready for her pre-season test in Barcelona. “I would say it was very dramatic for me, because I went from zero to a hundred, like I went from no training to training intensively,” she notes. 

She had to put a stop in all her racing activities during the pandemic due to the lockdown, and so it took a lot to jump back into the swing of things. “Mentally, I would say I was so drained from the amount of training and pressure then. I was living on my own in the training facility with all these athletes, Olympians, gold medalists, and whenever I looked at them I would think that I’m so weak.” 

How did she bounce back? “Eventually, I got the hang of it,” she brightens. “I turned that into motivation. I told myself that just because I can’t do something, it doesn’t mean that I’m in a low now. It just means that I have the most to improve on and that I can see progress.” 

Racing is, after all, as much of a mental game as a physical one. She has been learning to prioritise her mental health, and when the pressure gets a little too much, she makes sure to take a break and recharge. “If there are a few days where I’m feeling mentally off and not in a good position, I’d know it’s time to take a day off. I’d always keep reminding myself to take a breather sometimes.”

Social media, where the driver is active with hundreds of thousands of fans keeping up with her, can sometimes also pose a challenge. “I do get comments saying that I should quit racing, or that I should dream lower and maybe then I’ll achieve something in life,” she reveals. “Comments where girls are being put down because these people don’t like the image of women in motorsport.” 

Motorsport is a male-dominated field, and while there has been a push to break new ground over the years, it will take time, says Bianca. “The idea of women dominating the sport is not very normal yet and I think that’s just because of the world we live in now. I do see that changing eventually, and I do see people accepting it more and more. To be a female driver in this area, it’s just amazing.” 

Her family – who will see her race professionally for the first time at the Singapore Grand Prix – keeps her grounded, especially as she tries to achieve her goal of making it to Formula One. “I want to make it to F1, and that’s why I will keep pushing regardless of what people say and the rejection I’ve received – whether it’s because I’m a woman or I came from the Philippines. Those words don’t really matter now, because I still found a way to do what I want and what I love and to be here now.”

The past year has been an incredible whirlwind, and she describes it as “magical”. “It was really tough for me starting this year, when I was only in karting and had no direction in life and in the sport. But here I am now on the international stage, and I’m not going to waste this chance.” 

She’s keen to keep making waves and to reach new horizons. “I’m not in a plateau situation where I’ve reached my peak. I’m only just getting started. This is only the beginning of everything for me and I’m really glad to have all this.”