INTERVIEW: Bianca Bustamante is living her father’s dream

04th June 2024
Ian Parkes

There is an element of Bianca Bustamante’s burgeoning motorsport career that is reminiscent to that of Lewis Hamilton. Hamilton's path to becoming a seven-time Formula 1 world champion was hewn from the endeavours of his father, Anthony, who, at one stage, held down three jobs to fund his son's karting exploits. Bustamante’s father, Raymund, also did likewise, born from his obsession for motorsport which resulted in him purchasing a race suit for his daughter when she was just a year old.


What makes 19-year-old Bustamante’s story as captivating as Hamilton's is that she was born and raised in the Philippines, a country with no recognisable history or heritage of motorsport, yet Raymund's passion was infectious.

"I was introduced to the sport at a very young age, and my dad, he was just obsessed," said Bustamante in an exclusive interview. "He was obsessed with racing, with motorsport. It was all we ever talked about, and I felt like it was the only way we could actually bond as well. In that sense, everything was about motorsport.

"In particular, he loved karting. He loves how raw it is, how passionate it is. I feel like when you go into F3 or F1, everything is diluted. There's the media side, the business side. But karting, it's so raw, so pure. I think he just liked that.

"For him, back then, obviously no one really introduced him to the sport because he also grew up in the Philippines, so it was very hard for him to get into motorsport. He was already too old, so he made sure his kids would eventually pick it up and I was the one that did."

Bustamante has a brother, Rafael, who is two years older, and although he also showed an early interest, that sadly waned due to a childhood illness. "I was the one that really showed interest and passion," she said. "Because of that, my dad pushed me more, I would say. I guess since he saw that I was a girl, he thought it'd be cool that his daughter become a driver."


At the age of three, Bustamante was introduced to her first go-kart, a red 60cc Birel ART Baby Kart that was "love at first sight," and from that moment there was no turning back.

Fighting her way up the ranks, however, had its difficulties, notably battling against the conventions of her country as she and her father were going against the grain as to what a young girl should aspire to. "For me to pursue this, it wasn't an option," said Bustamante. "People would often tell me to do something normal, something more common, to be a doctor, a lawyer, to achieve something in life. It was very hard for me to get into it and to pursue it.

"I felt I had to take a certain path not taken by many Filipinos, which was at first very scary, but at the same time, very daunting in a way that inspired me to strive for greatness, to strive to succeed, because I knew that if I was going to make it, it would need a lot of determination and a lot of sacrifices."

Those sacrifices, as with Lewis Hamilton and his father, came from Raymund, and her mother, Janice, who was naturally against Bustamante racing initially, only for her nerves to ease and wholehearted support to follow when she recognised "the love and passion that grew" inside her daughter.

"I felt like my parents had to live for me," said Bustamante. "My dad had to work three jobs just to sustain the family, as well as pay for tyres and fuel, making sure we're eating three times a day, and that was a struggle. For the longest time, that was my reality on the road, and I had to take the train to the race tracks, I had to share hotel rooms with the team, mechanics, my parents. That's what it was like for me growing up."


Without Raymund especially, however, Bustamante would not have made it. She owes almost everything to her father in those early days, and what he pushed himself through for her to realise the dreams of them both.

"He did everything, every side hustle," she said. "He's a construction worker, so he was doing that, but he was also a mechanic, and he also did part-time jobs, like cleaning houses. It was ridiculous, honestly. To a certain point, I felt embarrassed for my dad to ask him for that much. I felt really guilty.

“Obviously, [he is meant] to be a good provider, to be a father to me and my brother, and a husband to my mom. He was doing everything to provide, but to ask more of him, to a certain point that he barely gets any sleep... Every time he got paid, he would send the money back home to the Philippines, and he'd barely have any for himself. It was really hard to see him do that, and to watch my family go through that.

"For my mom, every time she wanted a nice dress, a nice bag, she'd always think, 'Oh, I'll save it for Bianca's next race, for her fuel, or for tyres, or the entry fee'. It was those mini sacrifices that made everything so worth it because in the end; if my mom hadn't supported me the way she's done, I wouldn't be here. My dad was always away, so it was just my mom who had to be both a mother and a father to me. It was also her sacrifices that made it all work."


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The first big break in Bustamante’s fledgling career - although she did not know it at the time, arrived aged 11 when she met Darryl O'Young, a Canadian-born racing driver/director from Hong Kong with Craft-Bamboo Racing.

Bustamante won a kart event in China she had been invited to compete in, and that O'Young sponsored. He told her that he saw "a great talent", and if she one day chose to make the move to single-seaters, to contact him for advice. It was a promise he kept when, aged 16, Bustamante took the next step up the motorsport ladder. At the time, after moving to the United States, she admits that she was struggling.

"I was living on my own, working, providing for myself financially, so I could eat, live, everything because I wanted to take away that burden from my family," she said. "I was doing all my own media, marketing, endorsement deals, partnership, branding, all these things. Most people use [those things] to be able to race, I used them to be able to live, to afford food, an apartment so I could have a roof over my head."

It was at that point she contacted O'Young, and her life changed dramatically. Although taking on the role of her manager, Bustamante concedes he has become so much more.

"He's been the backbone of my career, supported me through and through," said Bustamante. "He's like my second dad. He took me under his wing and he's paid for my tuition in school, so I can graduate, get a degree. He's paid for my racing licence, my medical. I owe him my whole career."


Working part-time for O'Young doing media and PR to "pay him back a little bit," that career has seen Bustamante compete in the now-defunct W Series in 2022 before being signed by Prema Racing last season, allowing her to drive in the Formula 4 UAE Championship, and primarily, the inaugural season of F1 Academy, in which she won two races.

In October last year, Bustamante became the first female to be signed to the McLaren Driver Development programme, and this year is competing in F1 Academy with ART Grand Prix. She finished second last time out in race two in Miami.

Alongside her on-track exploits, she is also building her brand. As she points out, she has "had to value brand and image". That is paying significant dividends as she is reputed to be the third most influential female driver in the world, with a combined following on Instagram and TikTok of 2.4 million.

Whilst Bustamante acknowledges that representing McLaren brings with it a certain pressure, she astutely added: "I always say it takes a village to build a champion. Having this whole papaya family with me on this journey, I feel stronger than ever. I feel like I'm ready to face anything. They've done nothing but support me through and through, on track, off track.

"I just feel loved and supported most of all. They truly believe that I can do it, and whenever I win, we win together."


Images courtesy of Motorsport Images.

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