Bianca Bustamante joins McLaren Driver Development Programme, returns to F1 Academy
Bianca Bustamante has joined the McLaren Driver Development programme and will represent the Woking-based team in the F1 Academy second year in a ART Grand Prix entry - becoming the first official signing of the 2024 season.
Bianca Bustamante has officially become the first 2024 F1 Academy signing as the Filipina star will return to the all-female championship representing F1 team McLaren. Bustamante has in fact joined the McLaren Driver Development programme - as the first ever woman as part of the programme.
This represents a significant development for the career of the 18-year-old driver, who currently sits seventh in the championship standings of F1 Academy's inaugural season, with two wins and four podiums to her name. The McLaren deal in fact creates a potential pipeline not only towards the Woking-based F1 team, but also for the Arrow McLaren Indycar Team as well as the NEOM McLaren Formula E Team.
The F1 Academy McLaren entry will be run by ART Grand Prix; it's the first F1 team that announced its 2024 partnership with the existing F1 Academy teams.
“This is such an unreal moment in my career, to sign with McLaren and ART Grand Prix is way beyond anything I could have ever imagined growing up as a kid racing karts in the Philippines" - Bianca said. "I still have a hard time seeing my name next to McLaren without getting emotional, as the history and heritage linked to this team leaves me truly speechless."
At her second season in single seaters after making her debut straight into Formula Regional machinery in 2022 in W Series, Bustamante contested the F4 UAE championship in the winter and then was part of the PREMA Racing operation in the inaugural F1 Academy season, where she started off with a podium finish in Austria, before claiming her first win in Valencia only one week later. More top five finishes followed at Barcelona and Zandvoort. Another breakthrough performance saw Bustamante taking victory in Monza - a track that she often described as her favourite on the calendar - paired with a further second place finish.
In her first year in F1 Academy, Bianca has consistently shown good speed and proved to belong to the top end of the field enough to gain the recognition of McLaren, which she will represent in the second season in a 7 event global calendar announced yesterday.
Bianca will therefore sport the iconic Papaya livery, under the guidance of former McLaren test driver and Le Mans legend Emanuele Pirro, current Director of the McLaren Racing Driver Development programme.
“I’m pleased that Bianca is joining our Driver Development Programme", Pirro stated. "She’s a promising young talent who has a brilliant work ethic and is aligned closely to our team’s values. I look forward to working with Bianca on her development as a racing driver. We’re also excited for Bianca to be representing the team in the F1 Academy series and we look forward to seeing her race in papaya in 2024.”
Multinational technology company Cisco is set to become McLaren F1 Academy's official primary partner, which will include a collaboration in supporting women in STEM through the 60 Scholars initiative. Bianca's partners who have made her climb into motor racing possible also include Lance East Exotics, whose brand will remain through the 2024 season on Bustamante's car.
"I am so grateful for this opportunity as I believe I now have the best possible development structure around me to take the next step up in my career, and for this I am so thankful" - Bianca continued. "2023 was all about improving my speed which we demonstrated across several races this year, but in 2024 my aim is to establish consistency and improve my mental strength in order to make a championship challenge in the coming next F1 Academy season."
Ahead of the 2023 season finale in Austin, Texas, Bustamante will focus on finishing the season with PREMA Racing on a high, as she targets a top five in the drivers' championship standings.
"For now, my focus is to finish off the F1 Academy season strong here in Austin, but we will get to work immediately on the 2024 season", the driver continued. "I've never been more motivated in my life! A big thanks goes to Susie Wolff and the team at F1 Academy for fighting so hard for us girls, to give us this opportunity to be the best we can be."
"Additional thanks go to Zak Brown, Andrea Stella, Emanuele Pirro, Sebastian Philippe, my sponsors, and all my supporters for believing in me and making this all possible. I am full of gratitude, and I promise to give it my all.”