For 18-year-old Bianca Bustamante, nothing beats the joy of hearing “Lupang Hinirang” being played as she took the Philippines to the top step of the podium right after the conclusion of Race 2 of Round 2 at the F1 Academy held on May 6 at the Circuit Ricardo Tormo in Valencia, Spain.
“The anthem was played, we raised the flag. We Won!” posted the Laguna native and University of Santo Tomas senior high school student on Twitter minutes after receiving the trophy—her first career win in the all-female Formula 4-level racing series founded by Formula One (F1).
The inaugural F1 Academy is sanctioned by the Fédération Internationale de l’Automobile (FIA) under the management of Formula Motorsport Limited. Composed of 21 races across seven rounds, the F1 Academy is designed to give young female drivers like Bustamante access to more track time, racing and testing, as well as support with technical, physical, and mental preparations.
These races are meant to provide young women access to the fundamental level of experience needed to progress to Formula 3 and finally to F1, regarded as the highest class of international racing for open-wheel single-seaters. There are still no female drivers in F1, and it has been 48 years since the Italian Lella Lombardi contested a Formula 1 grand prix.
After five races, Bustamante is now 5th in overall standing with 38 accumulated points, just 31 points behind the current leader, Marta García of Spain. García, 22, is Bustamante’s teammate at PREMA Racing along with Chloe Chong, 16, of the United Kingdom.
Bustamante earned 18 points as she placed second during the inaugural race held at the Red Bull Ring in Spielberg, Austria, last April 29. She earned another 10 points when she placed 4th during Race 1 of Round 2 in Spain. Race 3 of Round 2 is scheduled today, May 7.
There are five teams competing at the 2023 F1 Academy—ART Grand Prix, Campos Racing, Rodin Carlin, MP Motorsport and PREMA Racing—each entering three cars to make up a 15-strong grid. Bustamante, who drives the No. 16 car, is the only one from Southeast Asia; two are from the United Arab Emirates, one from Canada and one from Uruguay.
After the races in Valencia, the series heads to Barcelona, Spain, for races on May 19-21.
Points are earned via the following: For Races 1 and 3 (lasting 30 minutes, plus one lap) the top 10 classified drivers will be awarded 25, 18, 15, 12, 10, 8, 6, 4, 2, and 1, respectively. In the shorter Race 2 (lasting 20 minutes, plus one lap), the top 8 finishers will score 10, 8, 6, 5, 4, 3, 2 and 1, respectively. Drivers who take pole position for Races 1 and 3 following the final classification of the Qualifying sessions will be awarded 2 points.
To level the playing field, all the drivers of F1 Academy race in identical cars, a Tatuus T421 chassis that is also used in Formula 4.
Each car, capable of a top speed of 240 km/h, is powered by a 174-horsepower turbo-charged engine supplied by Autotecnica, while the tires are supplied by Pirelli.
Before her F1 Academy stint, Bustamante competed in the Formula 4 UAE Championship (also under PREMA Racing team of Italy) in February. She finished with two Top 10 finishes among the 40-car grid.
In 2021, the teenage racing sensation was the only Asian driver chosen by FIA to take part in the FIA Girls on Track-Rising Stars Youth Scholarship Shoot-Out. The scholarship was set up by FIA together with Scuderia Ferrari’s world-renowned Ferrari Driver Academy.
Bustamante, who started racing at the age of 5, quickly caught the attention of the talent scouts when she swept multiple karting championships across Asia: four times at the China Grand Prix Kart Scholarship (2018-2019), thrice at the Macau International Kart GP Champion (2014, 2018, 2019), twice overall champion at the Junior Asian Karting Open Championship (2018, 2019), thrice voted as Philippines Driver of the Year-Karting (2018, 2019, 2020), and Philippine National Junior Karter of the Year (2018).