Ahead of the first F1 Academy round in Jeddah, ART Grand Prix driver Bianca Bustamante spoke to the media, including Asian Motorsport, about the support she gets from the McLaren Driver Development Programme and her aspirations for the upcoming season.

By Seb Tirado

It’s very rare these days to meet people that truly believe that you have what it takes to make it”

During the roundtable conference, the Filipina driver spoke about how grateful she is for the amount of support that she is getting from McLaren.

I think that I’m the type of person that generates power, generates confidence from the people surrounding her. And I have a team that truly believes that I can be competitive this year and fight in the front and who’s there to support it, support me on the sim, support me physically and mentally.

I’ve been at MTC more times I’ve been at my home this year. So, I think that says a lot about how invested they are in supporting me, supporting my dream, supporting my potential. And it’s very rare these days to meet people that truly believe that you have what it takes to make it. And finding that, I found myself, found that confidence within myself to still fight for it.”

Bustamante during pre-season testing | Credit: F1 Academy

Going on to detail pre-season testing at the Corniche Circuit, she said, “We were fast in Jeddah. We topped a few sessions and overall, we were so, so strong. We’re coming into the race week knowing that we were strong in the pre-season test and that I was able to work with my team and McLaren and just feel so at home without even trying so hard.

“We were able to get good results and I think that’s what matters. Racing isn’t forced, it’s just about flow, how you work with the team and how you work on yourself and I’m ready to to show that at Jeddah this weekend.”

“It’s like a project, like Project Bia”

On being asked about who at the Development Programme have been by her side, Bustamante said, “there’s a lot of people, I can’t even name all of them with just my two hands! There’s a lot of people involved in this. It’s like a project, like ‘Project Bia’ and everyone is so hands on. At one point I felt like, oh gosh, do I really deserve all the support? But you know, here I am, and they think I do, and I owe it to myself to believe it as well.”

 In particular, she mentioned former F1 driver Emanuele Pirro, former BTCC and GT driver Warren Hughes and McLaren Business Operations Director Stephanie Carlin. “Emanuele Pirro is very, very, very, very insanely talented, smart, and one of the most well-conversed people I’ve ever spoken to.

“He gives so much knowledge, he’s like my sensei! He gives me that perspective that you need as a driver. You need to always have perspective; you need to always have a point of view. And he makes sure that I keep that point of view straight, he keeps me on track and he’s rough on me when he needs to be, he puts the hammer down when he has to.

 “Warren Hughes, he’s an amazing driver. He’s one of the main coaches in McLaren that’s involved with F1 and GT and all that stuff. He’s been tasked to kind of mentor me on-track. He’s basically with me in all of my testing, in all of my races. He’s with me at F1 Academy, and so he’s basically my coach, my mentor, my main ally on track.

“Whenever I’m driving bad, he makes me aware of it. And of course, when we’re driving good, he just pushes me to fine-tune all of those techniques. So, I’m very, very thankful for that.

 “And of course, we have Stephanie Carlin, an amazing woman in the sport, very talented and very, very hardworking. She’s in charge of making sure that I am living my best life and my best career within the team, making sure that I have the best of everything.

And even though sometimes it’s very hard to put in a perfect scenario, Steph makes sure that I have that best scenario.”

“I can’t wait to get in the car!”

Looking ahead to the start of the season, Bustamante showed her confidence for the first round. “I’m feeling very, very good. I love Jeddah. I love fast circuits, I love the fact that you’re just so close to the wall, you’re so close to the limit. You’re just sending the car and you’re just like correcting so little and those minor corrections can either send you to a very good lap or into the wall. And I think the fact that you’re playing like with those limits, I just love that feeling.” 

Bustamante’s car adorned in McLaren papaya | Credit: F1 Academy

“We’ve got a really, really good car. ART has been working amazingly just to make sure that the car is suited to my driving style and they’re very, very passionate people. So that just gives me confidence and, you know, I’ll be racing with F1 this weekend. I’ll have my family with me, McLaren, the papaya family.

“They’re so excited for me to get there and I can’t wait to be racing in front of my team, in front of my family, in front of Zak our boss. There’s a lot of pressure, but at the same time, when we do well, I know that they’re gonna be really, really proud. And honestly, I just can’t wait. I can’t wait to get in the car!”

Looking ahead to the rest of the season, Bustamante made her ultimate goal clear. “This year, I’m here to win. I’m here to fight for the championship and I’ve got every single variable with me in my favour to be able to get in there and perform as best as I can.

“I’ve been to Miami, I’ve been to Singapore, I’ve raced at Abu Dhabi. I know most of the circuits and I’ve got the best team with me to make me the best driver I can be. And it’s my job to be the best person I can be.”

F1 Academy in 2024 gets underway this week at the Jeddah Corniche Circuit.

Header image credit: F1 Academy

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