Bianca Bustamante strives to race in male-dominated motorsport

Bianca Bustamante strives to race in male-dominated motorsport
Filipina racecar driver Bianca Bustamante is set to make her sophomore appearance at the F1 Academy. —PHOTOS COURTESY OF @RACERBIA/INSTAGRAM

Teen motorsports prodigy Bianca Bustamante is living the dream.

From jet-setting around the world to making history as McLaren’s first female development driver, she seems to have it all figured out at the age of 19.

But with all the success coming Bustamante’s way, it’s very easy to overlook the inner obstacles she has been facing. Ahead of her sophomore stint at the F1 Academy, the Filipina racecar driver opened up about her mental preparations during a virtual roundtable discussion with media members on Tuesday.

When asked about what she strives to achieve in her upcoming campaign in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, Bustamante said she gives priority to her personal growth over everything else.

“There’s a lot of things you need to learn about motorsports that aren’t related to being the fastest or being the quickest,” she remarked. 

Bianca Bustamante
Bianca with her racecar

As a female driver in a male-dominated sport and growing up in a country where pursuing a career in motorsports is often dismissed as a pipedream, Bustamante had to overcome seemingly insurmountable odds.

“Because of my upbringing [and] because of the culture that I was used to in the Philippines that you always have to be the best, you can’t fail. You need to support the family,” said Bustamante.

“I was technically the breadwinner of my family. And the fact that I had that pressure on me growing up that I needed to be successful or else this or else that. It was so hard to get myself out of that space.”

Finding inner peace

“If you ain’t first, you’re last” is the line character Ricky Bobby (portrayed by Will Ferrell) repeatedly told himself in the 2006 sports comedy “Talladega Nights.” Although the iconic quote came from a work of fiction, real-life racecar drivers like Bustamante tend to adhere to a similar mentality.

“I have to say, most of the time, I often act by my emotions, and sometimes it drives you forward—that’s the light within you,” she confessed. 

“But, at the same time, when you’re dealing with all the difficulties, it’s also very easy to lose your head or to be mad or to lose sight of what matters.”

The problem with a win-or-bust mindset, according to Bustamante, is that it’s difficult to locate the off switch once she gets off the tracks.

“One negative thing that I really didn’t like about myself is that I often link my results to my self-worth,” she admitted. “So when I wasn’t getting good results, I felt like I wasn’t worth it or that I couldn’t find happiness elsewhere because it was always about racing.”

Support system

Bianca Bustamante and McLaren team
Celebrating her 19th birthday with her McLaren team

Fortunately, Bustamante found a support system through her “McLaren family.” 

“I was actually very fortunate enough to have a mental coach or a sports psychologist working with me throughout this whole process, given to me by McLaren.”

“It’s all about flow, like your equilibrium, and the best drivers are the ones that are able to maintain it.”

The up-and-coming driver also credited her coach Warren Hughes and mentor Emanuele Pirro with providing much-needed guidance.

Above all, Bustamante believes surrounding herself with positive people helped the most in overcoming her problems.

“I love talking, so talking gets me out of my head. When I talk, I don’t think so it just allows me to kind of have a refresh and have a different perspective of life again.”

“I’m [also] finding new hobbies. I’m getting back into drawing; I finally made a big decision to move to the UK because I wanted to have a life. So then, when racing isn’t going well, I can always run back home and have that peace.”

A homecoming of sorts

Bustamante navigates the Jeddah Corniche Circuit in Saudi Arabia

Bustamante’s breakout moment came last year when she finished seventh overall in the inaugural F1 Academy season. This weekend, she will drive the black and orange Tatuus F4-T421 in the all-female series, navigating the Jeddah Corniche Circuit.

With a newfound fire in her belly and a fresh outlook heading into her next race, Bustamante hopes to surpass her previous placing in front of her compatriots in Jeddah.

No less than 700,000 Filipinos live in Saudi Arabia, making up the fourth-largest group of foreigners in the country. For Bustamante, putting on a show for her kababayans could be the extra bit of motivation she needs to perform at her best.

“I love it so much, and I just feel so at home,” Bustamante said, a childlike excitement resonating in her tone. “Someone told me there’s like a million Filipinos here at Jeddah and the fact that there’s so many of us, I never even realized it until I got there.”

“I do hope there is a big crowd in Jeddah that are Filipino that will support and watch and I hope I get to see them.”

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