The GAME interviews Formula racing’s rising star — Bianca Bustamante after one of her races in the 2023 UAE F4 Championship.
Dubai — On any given race weekend, the Dubai Autodrome is guaranteed to give anyone with a pulse an adrenaline rush. The overflow of energy is expressed from the whooshing car engines of the racers to the organized chaos that comes with running the paddocks and the pits.
Injecting an extra jolt of liveliness are the fans who are finding the best available seats on the grandstand to get a glimpse of their favorite teams and drivers and cheer them on. And of course, what’s most apparent everywhere is the hustle and bustle of every person in charge of making sure that race weekend happens as it should.
But on this particular race weekend, on a beautiful and sunny Saturday afternoon, there was one spot in the entire venue that was just a little bit happier than anywhere else. At the tent of Team PREMA, The GAME had a chance to sit down with none other than The Dark Horse, Bianca Bustamante who had just finished a great race that saw her jump 12 places (in just five out of the 10 racing laps) to finish P17 after starting at P29.
The Dark Horse has a new racing stable — PREMA
“The car is really mega, especially with the team environment that I’m in. I have great people surrounding me, the health to move forward and learn from each race,” Bianca enthusiastically shares with us as soon as we sat down.
When she says ‘team,’ Bianca Bustamante is talking about PREMA Racing — the Italian motorsports organization that is highly regarded and widely recognized as the third biggest name in Italy after Ferrari and Alpha Tauri.
“It’s crazy how far we’ve gotten just from five weeks of racing,” the 18-year-old says. Based on what we have seen so far, it seems like it’s a match made in car racing heaven as the progress has been nothing short of remarkable.
“We worked on it, step-by-step to get our first-ever points,” she adds with the brightest of smiles on her face.
(Note: at the time of this interview, she was on her way to scoring her second-ever points which she gained in the following race.)
“When I look at my car, I see and feel that it is so well-built. But what people don’t see is that about five to ten people actually put that together,” she explains. Inasmuch as Bianca Bustamante understands and appreciates the value of each member of the entire team, it is also very apparent from the way she speaks that one of the most important relationships that exist is that between the driver and the engineer.
“Having a good relationship with your engineer is so important. It’s the connection… having that extra mind that works with you is just so important.”
For those that aren’t familiar, race engineers work hand-in-glove with the drivers in almost every aspect except for driving the car itself. The job entails everything from constantly communicating with her on radio about the state of the car, the developments on the track, analyzing race data, and so on — making it paramount that the fit between the two is good if not the best.
“I’m not gonna lie. I’ve always dreamt of being here… they know how to work with young talents, from Charles Leclerc to Mick Schumacher. Being here is actually a huge opportunity that I never thought I’d ever get.”
Despite this being a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, there was another equally important reason why Bianca relishes her engagement with PREMA.
“They truly believe that women are as good as men and that’s one quality we were looking for in a team — they had to believe in me. They had to believe that I was capable of achieving great things.”
PREMA doubles down and signs Bianca for the F1 academy
Speaking of believing in her potential, just a few days ago, PREMA just inked a one-year deal with Bianca Bustamante.
“We’ve recently announced signing with PREMA to join F1 Academy this year. It’s definitely going to be a challenge because there’s going to be a lot of amazing female drivers right now.”
The F1 academy is an all-female driver racing category that Formula 1 has just launched this year to develop young women in motorsports, so that they may be able to progress to higher levels of competition, including Formula 2 and Formula 1.
“To have a community of women to help you grow and compete and really hammer one another out is also very important.”
Bianca Bustamante believes that the development of women in motorsports is different from that of men but emphasizes that she knows that they are just as good as one another. She goes on to specify the differences that she has noticed and how she feels that her approach gives her an edge.
“I work a lot more mentally than I do physically because it allows me to outthink my rivals. F1 academy allows me to work more on that approach,” she shares, explaining to us that the sheer amount of testing that’s being done definitely helps in the mental aspect of the game most especially because she gets to work with the best minds in the sport.
“One of the best things about F1 academy is that they didn’t just build the series to have women racing. They built it to have a woman in F1.”
For its first year, five teams have been confirmed for the inaugural campaign, and consist of F2 and F3 teams, including ART Grand Prix, Camps Racing, Carlin, MP Motorsport, and PREMA Racing. Each team will have three cars to make up for a 15-car grid.
A work in progress
As American-Italian Mario Andretti famously once said, “A racing car is an animal with a thousand adjustments”. This statement also holds water when talking about the drivers themselves.
Obviously, at 18 years old, there’s quite a bit to work on — for anyone, let alone a formula racing driver.
When asked about how she gets her mind right for races and competitions, she laughed with her whole body and revealed to us that this is currently the part of her game that she needs to work on the most.
“I struggle with it nearly every day, actually,” she admits. “I don’t know how to switch it on. I’m saying it to you right now. I’m not trying to hide or sugarcoat it.”
The Filipina speedster then goes on to detail how she made mistakes that they’ve already worked on in practice just because her mind wasn’t right and was quick to humbly take responsibility for the opportunities that were wasted.
“I actually have my little notebook where I write everything that I feel.” It contains anything and everything from notes about how she felt, how the car felt, what she was thinking about during the race, after the race, how she can improve, and so on.
This thinking-out-loud process allows her to recollect everything and ask herself what’s next. “The moment you stop asking is the moment you start improving,” she adds.
Just being around her and watching her interact with her whole team shows the degree of her dedication to continuous learning and applying herself to the sport. She even went as far as sharing a quick anecdote about how during one debriefing session after a race that all of the engineers were telling her that she needed to go back to the hotel as the hour was already late!
“If you don’t put in the work, someone else is going to outwork you and eventually beat you. Working hard brings you further than talent.”
The journey so far and the big dream
“No dream too big, and no dreamer too small” she utters as she playfully tries to imitate Guy Gagné’s delivery of this line from the animated movie, Turbo. Just like Theo (star of the movie Turbo), Bianca’s racing journey is far from conventional.
She tells us about how even at a young age she already knew that the odds were stacked against her in terms of pursuing her racing dream.
“I knew that motorsports wasn’t a household sport in the Philippines. I knew that it was a disadvantage that I had to live with. It meant that I won’t have the funding, I won’t have the support, I won’t have the same training as the people in Europe do because the infrastructure isn’t there.”
Despite having to overcome those hurdles, when it comes to racing, the biggest one to overcome is the availability of money. And so even as a kid, she had to have conversations with her parents about her seriousness in pursuing the sport that she loved.
“I didn’t come from a wealthy family. We’re a very middle-class family. My dad had to go overseas just to sustain us — work three jobs just to be able to put food on the table. That’s why I value the hard work because it’s not just my sacrifice but also my dad’s and my mom’s,” she shares.
“We can’t just do something and not give it our 100 percent! Especially racing! It’s one of the most expensive, if not the most,” she explains. To this, Bianca Bustamante also adds, “That’s why I really had to put in a lot of work. And that goes a long way because without it I wouldn’t have made it this far.”
Perhaps even more impressive to us is how Bianca understands that in today’s world, it’s no longer enough to just excel in your chosen field.
“I understand that this is not just about driving. It’s about being a personality. I had to do all the interviews and do all the photoshoots to build my brand. At the end of the day, I did it because I love my sport.”
Having gone through all that she did and looking at where she has gotten, most people would have settled or slowed down by now. But Bianca Bustamante is not like most people. One of the things that really stood out during our conversation with her was her ability to call herself out.
“That’s something also that I feel like I’ve lost the past few years due to the pandemic — my eagerness to win. Most of the time I feel like I’m here just to survive, but now that I’ve gotten my grit back, I wanna go for a podium.”
“The dream is of course to make it to F1. I wanna be the first female driver in Formula 1 in my era.” she calmly and confidently tells us.
With the way that her story is unfolding so far, the moniker of The Dark Horse seems to be one that is completely apt. People given this nickname are branded as such for a reason. As for Bianca, it wouldn’t surprise us one bit if she ends up making headlines once again.