Home Lifestyle Only two women have ever raced in the F1 — I’m determined to become...

Only two women have ever raced in the F1 — I’m determined to become the next

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F1 Academy driver Bianca Bustamante (Picture: PHL, ART Grand Prix)

Formula One used to be a boys club, but times are changing.

Women now make up 40% of F1 viewers compared to just 7% in 2017. The smash hit Netflix show, Drive To Survive (and the resulting social media debriefs) can certainly take some credit for this – but the purchase of F1 by Liberty Media in 2017 has also change the sport’s fanbase.

The company paid a reported $8billion for F1, and, according to Forbes, did so with the intent of attracting new fans, particularly young women.

In 2023, they launched the F1 Academy, a global initiative ‘committed to driving change through increasing female participation and talent in motorsport.’

And 19-year-old Bianca Bustamante is one of the F1 Academy drivers. She’s proved to be such a talent, that she’s become the first woman ever to be accepted into the McLaren Driver Development Programme – which aims to spot and mould future McLaren F1 drivers.

Bianca’s success in the world of motor sports is made even sweeter by the fact that she been a fan of the sport since before she could talk.

She inherited her love of racing from her dad who karted, and often spent time with him at tracks.

Bianca got her first race suit at the tender age of one (Picture: PHL, ART Grand Prix)

‘I was given my own racing suit when I was one-year-old and my own car at the age of three,’ she tells Metro.co.uk.

‘Driving that is one of my core memories. It was a baby car that I would drive around the track – I’d beg my dad to take me to the track very day.

‘Even though I came from Philippines, which is a country not really known for motorsport, I was introduced to it at a very young age, which made it very memorable.’

Aged six, Bustamante told her parents that she wanted to take motor sports seriously and become a professional driver.

‘I knew that we didn’t have much money at all,’ she says. ‘My dad was working two jobs in America and my brother had heart problems so we were struggling with medical bills. We were barely eating three times a day. It was a really tough moment for us because it was either risk everything or drill down studying something mundane to make good money.

‘Obviously, my parents saw the passion and they supported that and they really believed in me. Anything I do is not just my success, it’s my parents.’

As a trailblazer in the sport, Bianca wants to create more opportunities for others. ‘To be the first woman to do this in 2024 speaks volumes,’ she says. ‘But to be on the frontline of the sport evolving, and hopefully be the first of many, is the goal.

‘I want to open doors for a lot of young talent that come from less fortunate backgrounds. I want them to look up and see and see me in this position now, knowing what I’ve gone through, knowing that they can make it as long as they’ve got the love and the passion for it, regardless of where they come from,’ she says.

However, Bianca very much feels like one of the team. ‘One of the best feelings is going into the McLaren Technology Centre (MTC) and never feeling like an outcast. Not because I’m a driver and I have my race team, but because I’m a woman and I’m surrounded by women,’ she says.

‘I work day to day with a lot of women – in communications, in engineering, in partnership, in media. Every corner I look to in MTC there’s a woman there, giving their time and effort and all of their knowledge and all of themselves to the sport. It’s such an empowering feeling to be surrounded by these people.

‘I look up to them quite a lot because I’ve always wanted to work in motorsport but as a woman in the Philippines it was even frowned upon to take up engineering or mechanics because it’s such a male job.

‘I feel like in Asia, we still have this kind of idealism and the stereotype that woman have to do the more feminine jobs. Hopefully I can help change that. I want to see more Asian representation in this field.’

How to train like an F1 star

Training to be an F1 star doesn’t begin behind the wheel. It doesn’t even begin in the gym. Instead, a huge part of Bustamante’s regime is focused on her mindset. ‘Mental training is very important – just as much as the physical,’ she says.

‘Having a sports psychologist that can help me deal with my mental struggles, whether to do with family or personal struggles and external things are not even to do with motorsport but affect my performance on track, is very important in this kind of sport.’

She’s also passionate about getting her nutrition correct, helped by the Optimum Nutrition partnership with McLaren Racing. ‘Growing up, I’ve never had any supplements. We could barely afford to eat rice. Now that I do have access to incredible nutrition I go into my training feeling so strong and like I can do anything.

‘I have a massive sweet tooth, so I love the chocolate whey protein shakes and chocolate brownie protein bars. Anything chocolate, I will eat.’

Bianca says physical fatigue from driving can lead to mental fatigue(Picture: PHL, ART Grand Prix)

As you might imagine, the physical training days of a motor racing star is different from that of other athletes. ‘Having to drive a car for a long amount of time and withstanding all that G-force and holding your core – it’s physically taxing and fatiguing.

‘Fatigue really affects your mental strength – the minute that your body is tired, your mind can’t focus, so it’s very important to have a strong body to have a strong mind.

‘I normally have training camps in France that I do midseason and I train for long hours – from nine to five every day. I’ll mainly be in the gym lifting weights – doing body building, working on muscle endurance and plyometrics. We also do neck training which is very important when you’re driving.

‘Your body is a machine and how you treat that machines will pay off in the race. In a sport like this where everything is moving variable – the car, your team – the only thing you can ever really control is yourself and how prepared you are.’

And Bianca’s training is all in the hopes of achieving her dream: becoming a Formula One driver. There have only been two female drivers in the history of Formula 1 that have actually qualified and started a race: Maria Teresa de Filippis in 1958 and Lella Lombardi in 1975 and 1976. Bianca is hoping to be the next.

‘The goal is Formula One,’ she says. ‘But there’s only ever 20 seats available and there’s probably a million drivers out there fighting for it and want it just as bad.

“So I want to make the most out of this journey. I can think of winning championships in the short term, but long term? I want to live a life that I am truly happy living without any regrets.

‘It’s very important to cherish every moment. Every time I’m on track, I try to make the most out of it,’ she says.

That’s true whether Bustamante is placing P2 at the Miami Grand Prix – as she did earlier this month – or simply turning up to work to practise on the track.

‘It never really feels real. Every time I walk through the entrance I take a photo. I walk around the office with my phone out because I’m surrounded by 20 F1 cars. I’m such a fan girl,’ she says.

But maybe more fan girls – on and off the track – are just what F1 needs.

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