Bianca Bustamante is on a path that is both magical and elusive.
Very few sports capture the imagination and attention of Filipinos—basketball, boxing, volleyball, and most recently women’s football. Even fewer do so with athletes who can command society to a standstill, a “Manny Pacquiao” moment, if you will. Jaws are dropped, politicians flock to offer their congratulations, and billboards are propped to celebrate their wins.
Bianca Bustamante is inching closer and closer to her own standstill moment. The 18-year-old first made headlines for her F1 Academy win in Spain, a first for a Filipino. A video of her tearing up during the national anthem, our most-liked post of all time, saw an outpouring of support from personalities, including Bretman Rock. Interviews, features, and photoshoots soon followed.
The wins kept coming, and suddenly, Filipinos had that moment once again, magical and elusive in a sport that was barely on anyone’s radar. Bianca knows she’s jumpstarted something beautiful for motorsport in the Philippines, and she sees the effect even in her circles.
“I have friends who didn’t know anything about racing [who are] now asking me cool questions like ‘What’s wrong with Ferrari’s strategy? Is it the tire compound?’ And I’m like, ‘I’ve been racing for 10 years and you’ve never asked me anything about that (*laughs*),’ so it’s kind of funny.”
In hindsight, motorsports is a shoo-in for local popularity, given the Filipinos’ innate driving intensity (“We should have an EDSA Grand Prix”). With her never-say-die attitude leading the way, Bianca believes that the Philippines is primed to buy into the sport, a feat, she says, would mean more than a world championship.
In her brief return to the country, Bianca talked to Complex PH about her F1 Academy journey, getting teary-eyed at the National Anthem, holding an EDSA Grand Prix, and more.
How was the Singapore Grand Prix (GP)?
It was great! I was in the paddock and I got to interact with some of the drivers and teams. It was definitely a cool experience.
Do you have a favorite driver from the current grid?
I’d say Oscar (Piastri). He’s exceptional. As a rookie, he’s done an amazing job adapting to the team.
Going back to your origins, you’ve been competing since the age of five. How does this even happen?
Coming from the Philippines, it’s a sport that many struggle with to start. I wouldn’t have been able to get into this sport if it wasn’t for my dad. He was a former karter, and the minute I was born, I lived and breathed motorsport.
I remember at the age of one, I had my own racing suit, driving a go-kart at the age of three, and that’s really where the passion led on. I showed my parents that I’m more than capable of being a racing driver and they supported me with that.
When did you know that being a racecar driver was something you wanted to do for the rest of your life?
Honestly, it’s a weird feeling. Not many people in life find their reason or their calling so early on.
Often I was told “You’ll get over it” or “You’re going to find something newer and exciting,” but I just fell in love instantly, even more now.
Many Filipinos were moved by you being teary-eyed when the national anthem was played after your F1 Academy win. Can you describe your emotions at that moment?
I wasn’t expecting the magnitude that would lead from a single win. Winning my first race was a big deal, but I wasn’t expecting the series of events that followed.
I was training in France after the race and when I woke up, I received all these messages and tweets from personalities, counselors, and leaders. I continued scrolling and I saw Bretman Rock tag me and he reshared the Complex Philippines post and I was like: “What’s happening?” I even got my own billboard, which was pretty cool.
To me, it was crazy knowing the amount of people who rallied behind and supported me throughout my journey. It’s such a small thing but it means so much.
Why do you think women in Formula One are exceedingly rare? The last was reportedly in 1976.
We get this idealism that cars and driving fast will always be a man’s hobby [in] a man’s world. I’ve been told I’m not strong enough, and even funny ones like “Go back to the kitchen” or “Go make me a sandwich.”
I understand that it’s a male-dominated space, but there’s nothing that stops me from competing. Comments will be comments, but I’m closer to my dreams day by day, so no matter how tough it gets…eventually I’ll get there.
How difficult is it to be behind the wheel?
It’s so easy to have misconceptions of “Oh you’re just driving a car, steering a wheel, and how hard can that be? I do it every day.”
But honestly, driving that car at speeds of 260 kph—the deceleration, the acceleration, the change of G-Force, weight transfer—your body has to be able to withstand all of those while simultaneously thinking about how to drive faster, how to pass a car, and how to manage tires. It’s physical, mental, and a lot of self-analyzing on how to be a better driver.
What preparations do you undergo?
We do a lot of training off-track. Neurocognitive training for reaction, peripheral training to enhance our reaction time, and also weightlifting and muscle training to steer that car because it is really heavy.
I still get scared and nervous. I even cry if I have a bad race, and it’s normal. As someone who came from a middle-class family, I was so scared. I was like “I hope I don’t crash the car because we’d have to pay a lot of money.”
But as soon as adrenaline kicks in, you’re just out of it. You end up constantly telling yourself to push past your limits. That’s one of the best feelings about competing—going beyond your comfort zone.
How does someone attempt a career in motorsport?
People look at racing and their first thought is “Mahal ‘yan (That’s expensive). Huwag na ‘yan, basketball na lang at bigyan kita ng maraming bola (Don’t pursue that, just take up basketball and I’ll give you the equipment you need).”
Starting my career in the Philippines, I wouldn’t be here if it weren’t for my parents, and the main first step to actually get into the sport is to have supportive parents. If it weren’t for them and all their sacrifices—buying my first go-kart and my dad literally flying to America as an OFW (Overseas Filipino Worker) just to pay for the family, for my racing, for everything—I wouldn’t have made it here.
I always say, “You grow in the environment that you’re in,” and as long as you have that supportive environment, you’ll be able to overcome anything.
Would driving along EDSA be a good start?
We need to have an EDSA GP (*laughs*). I haven’t driven on EDSA yet because I’m honestly scared. It’s a different discipline because, compared to a race track, you don’t have people crossing in the middle of the street, jaywalking, or turning without using signals. It’s crazy. We need to drive safer. I promote safe driving.
It might be a fun experience, but at the same time, we need to be a bit more safe.
Do you see a surge of fellow Filipinos, especially women, entering the sport in the future?
Yes for sure, I mean that’s really what I’ve been trying to do.
I want to be the difference that I want to see in the world. If I get to inspire two, three, 10, or even 20 aspiring drivers to pursue motorsport then I would say that that means to me more than being world champion.
Apart from the track, where else can we find you?
In the gym. Being an athlete, I can’t not be training.
But if there’s another place that I would be, it would be in my room drawing. I love art and I think that it’s my center. I would draw architectural stuff, floor plans, portraits, and paintings. I also love reading and I think I’ve always been a learner in many aspects—life, school, sport, family.
I do my best to always try to enhance my knowledge, keeping myself open-minded about every single topic. So yeah, often I’m just in my room, reading, drawing, studying engineering.
Any words to the curious or frustrated Filipino driver who would want to make it one day?
If there’s one thing I’ve realized during my 15 years as an athlete and as a dreamer, it’s that discipline is above everything. Know what you want and need, and prioritize the path where you want to be.
Constantly pushing yourself forward is the main ingredient to succeeding, not just in this sport but in life.