She kicked off the 2023 racing season by competing in the Formula 4 UAE Championship.
When we think of racers, most people think of Lewis Hamilton and Max Verstappen. They are, after all, today’s biggest names in a sport that many see as a quintessentially European pursuit, and one that is dominated by male drivers. But teen racer Bianca Bustamante hopes to change that — for both the Philippines, and for women.
Bustamante became the first Filipina to race in the prestigious W Series, an international competition that provides equal opportunities for women and reduces the financial barriers of motorsport. And recently she kicked off the 2023 racing season by competing in the Formula 4 UAE Championship. It’s no secret that there hasn’t been a female driver start in Formula 1 in three decades, and the world is holding its breath to see who will finally break through.
Right now, Bustamante is the Philippines’ best shot. Here are three things you need to know about her.
1. Bianca Bustamante started racing at 6 years old.
Talk about starting young! When she was just 1 year old, Bianca’s dad would bring her to the racetrack. Driving a go-kart came soon after.
“He had so much love and passion for the sport and immediately I was hooked as well. And by the time of age 3, I was already driving a go-kart and driving around a track,” Bustamante told guest correspondent Bee Go on the podcast “Go Hard Girls.”
“At age 3, he would already ask me if this was something I actually felt passionate about or if it was just something that I did to make him happy,” she said. “But immediately I told him that it's something that makes me happy. It's something that I wanted to aspire to. We made a decision that I could potentially get into motorsport as a career as well.
By the time she was 6 years old, she was already earning free drives in motorsports competitions, with the help of sponsorships from racing teams. She’s now been racing competitively for over a decade, and is the 2-time Junior Asian Karting Open Overall Champion, 2-time Philippine International Junior Karter of the Year, 2-time Philippine National Senior Karter of the Year, and 3-time Philippine Driver of the Year in Karting.
2. She overcame financial barriers in the (very expensive) sport thanks to her community.
“It is a truly expensive sport. Even just the grassroots of motorsport, which is karting, already costs millions a year. And that's something that we couldn't afford. We didn't have that amount of money. My dad had to move away when I was a baby just so he could financially support the family, put food on the table, and add all of that to expenses also my karting career which was very tough for us,” Bianca recalled on the podcast.
Knowing she couldn’t take anything for granted gave Bustamante a sense of determination and appreciation for every opportunity, which led to others in the motorsport community reaching out to help her.
Veteran coach and race engineer Elson Carpio, who was also her godfather, gave Bustamante free coaching. Even other drivers helped out.
“People knew that I wasn't from a wealthy family…I am very grateful to everyone,” she said. “There were moments in my younger karting days when we couldn't even afford to buy a set of tires or even entry fee. Some drivers, or some of the parents from the team would put in money just so I could enter the race.”
3. She isn’t just racing for herself, but for the culture.
Opportunities like the W Series and the F4 UAE Championship spur Bustamante on. She hopes that her journey will help open more doors for drivers from diverse genders and socio-economic backgrounds.
“Back then, I would say 2013, 2012, I would always be the only woman on the grid. There was no female mechanic, no female tire changer, just me,” she said. “Seeing all of the changes now, seeing that there's a women's series racing alongside Formula 1 and there are a lot of female drivers dominating in rally, in Formula cars, in GT Cars, is just an amazing sight to see.”