Bianca Bustamante scores maiden victory in F1 Academy
Updated: May 8
Bianca Bustamante held off Léna Bühler and Hamda Al Qubaisi to claim a lights to flag victory - her first in race cars - in F1 Academy's second race of the Valencia weekend.
The two Saturday’s races had two new race winners in F1 Academy: Hamda Al Qubaisi left her mark on race 1, while it would be Bianca Bustamante to claim an incredibly exciting second race, after 20 minutes of close racing.
Drama has started even before the green flag, when race 1 podium finisher Nerea Martí did not line up on the grid of race 2, leaving the eighth grid slot empty.
Martí had suffered from engine issues at the very end of race 1, still bringing home a second place. The issue, though, couldn’t be fixed in time for race 2 and the potential front runner had to sit out the race entirely.
From the front row, a Prema lockout saw Bianca Bustamante – who had held off masterfully Marta García at the end of race 1 – lining up alongside Chloe Chong, the only race car rookie of the series who is making big steps forward.
Right behind them, Léna Bühler was starting third - and given her pace in race 1, where she scored a podium from sixth, the Swiss driver was one to watch for the shorter reverse-grid race.
At lights out Bustamante had a great launch and fired into the lead, while Chong was passed by Bühler and was under pressure of the Al Qubaisi sisters, as both had great starts. From seventh, Hamda was immediately up to fifth, before the safety car was deployed on lap 1 for an incident involving Emely de Heus and Carrie Schreiner.
The Dutchwoman found herself in the gravel and was aided by the marshals to exit the gravel trap. With external help not allowed, De Heus was black flagged.
Schreiner could continue, but was at the tail end of the pack.
At the restart on lap 3, Bustamante led Bühler, Amna Al Qubaisi, Chong and Hamda Al Qubaisi. The winner of race 1 found a way past at turn one at the restart while, a bit further down, Megan Gilkes went deep but rejoined, just ahead of her teammate Abbi Pulling - in another extremely difficult race for the British racer, also hampered by some technical issue that the team is working to fix.
Also from the back of the field, Marta García was making up positions and completed a stunning double pass on the battling Jessica Edgar and Chloe Grant, who were having a very intense wheel-to-wheel duel. Lovinfosse also joined that group, eventually making an opportunistic move stick on Edgar.
Once in clear air, García was soon getting bigger in Chong’s rear view mirrors. The Al Qubaisi sisters, meanwhile, pushed hard to catch back the leading duo: with Hamda slightly faster, Amna played the perfect teamwork and let her sister through on lap 7. The move paid off for both, as Hamda soon set the fastest lap and caught Bühler and Bustamante, while by avoiding a battle, Amna was able to keep a good gap to the fast Prema cars behind. García had in fact passed Chong and was gaining ground.
It was soon clear that it would be a three-car battle for the win, with Bustamante having to deal with two fast drivers behind. The Filipina, though, never put a wheel wrong and completed a flawless race to win lights to flag, in her first ever victory in race cars.
Bustamante kept her cool throughout the race and was brought the Philippines to the top step of the podium, in a historic moment that had the 18 year old racer emotional.
She preceded a very solid Léna Bühler – who is now looking strong with her three podiums championship-wise – and Emirati star Hamda Al Qubaisi.
With a third place finish at Spielberg, a win and another third place at Valencia, Hamda is now Marta García’s closest rival in the title fight, having conquered 61 points to date - only 8 behind the Spaniard.
Amna held off García in the closing laps and finished fourth, still bagging important points. She is now third in the standings, at 41 points and two behind Bühler.
Despite two starts from the back, García still limited the damages and scored good points with fifth.
Back in the points-paying positions was also Chloe Chong; the youngest driver on the grid topped her best finish so far, had good battles and a clean race with good pace, close to the top five.
Chloe Grant was again the the top ten after a brilliant fourth place in race 1; the Scottish driver is progressing quickly and showed good racecraft in the close midfield battles. She preceded Lola Lovinfosse, Jess Edgar and Maite Caceres - in the Uruguayan first top ten of the season.
After the first lap incident and a subsequent pit stop, Carrie Schreiner was eleventh, with Abbi Pulling and Megan Gilkes also hitting trouble and finishing outside the points.
Race 3 is set to get underway on Sunday at 12:35 local time, with Marta García lining up on the front row alongside Abbi Pulling. Nerea Martí and Jessica Edgar will shared the second row.