Eventful weekend for the women of the F4 race at Macau
Updated: Nov 13
An eventful first weekend of the 70th Macau Grand Prix saw the three female racers of the F4 grid - Bianca Bustamante, Miki Koyama and Vivian Siu - battling through challenging conditions between the walls of the trickiest circuit: with a P9 in the qualifying race, Bustamante had great speed at her first participation, while both Koyama and Siu made up several places ahead of the final, where the Hong Kong-based driver snatched a top-15 with a greatly consistent drive.
The 70th edition of the famous Macau Grand Prix saw three female entries for the Formula 4 race at the challenging Guia Street Circuit, where the walls are closer than on any other racetrack on the F4 calendar and where the F4 South East Asia series hosted its non-championship round in its revival after the Covid pandemic. A superb mix of international and local drivers got behind the wheel of 25 identical 1,400cc, 160hp Tatuus F4 GEN2 single seater cars; having been previously run on the older generation of Mygale F4 cars, it was the first F4 halo-equipped car to race at Macau. Leading the female representation was Bianca Bustamante, who has been announced as the first F1 Academy driver confirmed for the 2024 season, where she will represent McLaren. The Filipino star in fact became the first woman to enter the McLaren Driver Development programme. Bianca made her debut in single seaters only one year ago she has made outstanding progression, with one-off starts also in the Italian F4 and USF Juniors; at her first ever participation at Macau, she teamed up with Black Arts Racing team. Racing for CHAMP Motorsport, Vivian Siu drove the #28 Tatuus - also at her first appearance at the iconic Macau track. At her first season of motor racing, Siu started her career just a few months ago but has already made history as she became the first woman to enter the Chinese Formula 4 Championship - as well as the first woman to score points in the series. In her first race in the new Tatuus, Siu scored two sixth places and three point-scoring results in the F4 SEA season opener in Zhuzhou International Circuit. Last but not least, 2022 Formula Regional Japan's champion Miki Koyama returned to her championship winning team SuperLicense, in a one-car operation that saw the current Super GT driver returning to F4 machinery. With support from Anest Iwata - Koyama attempted her first Macau race after contesting four races in this year's GT300 class at the wheel of the Lexus RC F GT3.
The first and sole practice session was filled with red flags and set the stage for the rest of the weekend. The first red flag was out just a couple of minutes into the session, before action quickly resumed. As the drivers tried to post fast laps, a second red flag was deployed with 27 minutes to go when a stricken car clocked the road in typical Macau fashion. The next green flag wasn't much longer, as Arvin Lindblad (Theodore Racing) slid into the same wall and triggered a yellow sector - although the next red flag was out soon after, when Jack Beeton (AGI Sport) crashed heavily into the wall. With the time still ticking down, the session would not resume. Freddie Slater (Theodore Racing) was the fastest, ahead of Martinius Stenshorne and two-time winner Hon Chio Leong (Prema), among the few able to post representative lap times. In the heavily disrupted session, Bianca Bustamante was 11th fastest, followed by Miki Koyama in 12th and Vivian Siu in 17th, although gaps were not representative. It was soon clear, though, that Bustamante had pace to fight for the top ten. The qualifying was initially delayed due a crash in the GT session, but when the lights went green, cars headed out on track to finally set their first fast laps and get in the rhythm. But just after 6 minutes, the first red flag came out following an accident by Kai Daryanani (Pinnacle Motorsport/B-MAX Racing). With 18 minutes to go the session resumed - but not for long, as this time experienced driver Stenshorne slid into the wall too and brought out the next red flag. But it wasn't the last one either, as Raphael Narac (R-ace GP) also made contact with the barriers and brought out the third and final red flag of the session. The session did restart, and Lindblad was the fastest ahead of Slater and Hadrien David (R-ace GP), after mainly one single full lap for most drivers. With an again a heavily disrupted session, it wasn't easy to put in push laps, but Bianca Bustamante still found the speed to set the 11th fastest lap; Miki Koyama was 14th - after running out of fuel in the final stages of the session - and Vivian Sui took P21 in the session that set the grid for the Qualifying Race. "Slightly disappointed after knowing we had enough pace for a Top10", commented Bustamante. "But with all the tricky red flags we struggled a bit. Anyways, [it's a] learning curve and still quite happy that we drove smart learning every lap", the Filipino commented, after another clean session with no mistakes.
Drivers then headed to the track on Sunday morning in very wet conditions for the qualifying race - which got underway behind the safety car. Conditions were so challenging that Liu Kai Shun spun and hit the wall behind the pace car. With five laps to go, the race finally went green and Lindblad kept the lead, but the SC was deployed once again at the end of the lap once Daryanani hit the wall once again. The action resumed one lap later, but once Hadrien David hit the barriers the race ended behind the safety car: Lindblad survived the qualifying race and bagged the top spot for the final, ahead of Slater and Leong. Starting from P11, Bianca Bustamante kept it clean and drove well in extremely difficult conditions, making up two positions. It was the highlight of her weekend, as her performance resulted in a top ten, with high chances of even bigger improvements in the final. Bianca always stayed out of trouble and had front-running pace, in a strong statement on her first Macau race and at only her second year of single-seater racing. "Struggled with the wet track condition but we stayed consistent and gained two positions", she said. "Pushing for more in the final race this afternoon!" Miki Koyama was also moving up the order and, having gained three places in the short green flag running, she finished the qualifying race in 11th position. The most impressive improvement was from F4 rookie Vivian Siu, who brought home an extremely solid 16th place, gaining five places from her starting position. Despite her limited experience, Siu naver made mistakes, unlike some much more experienced colleagues.
The final race was again contested in dry conditions and saw a superb start from Miki Koyama, who passed several drivers - but unfortunately couldn't make the Lisboa corner on lap 1, ending against the barriers. Just behind her, Bianca Bustamante had no room to avoid the Japanese driver and was sadly caught in the accident, hitting the rear of the SuperLicense Tatuus - and ending in an unfortunate retirement for both drivers. "We worked extra hard today to go over onboards and data, improving my technique to close down the gap. But on lap 1 a driver out-braked themselves, flew past me and hit the wall at Lisboa, giving me absolutely no room to go which caused me to DNF", Bianca summed up. "For hours I was replaying how it all happened thinking of any other way I could’ve avoided it - but it was just unavoidable. I gave it my best fight for a top 8 but this one was out of our control", she continued. "Not what we deserved, especially when the team put in such a great effort. Thank you Macau for teaching me to be patient and to not rush into things that take time and experience. You were a tough lesson."
The Safety Car was in with 10 laps to go, but there was more drama among the leading pack when Slater suddenly dropped back due to a technical issue - leaving Lindblad unchallenged. Another neutralization was then necessary as Siu Wa Lau stopped on track. In the final stages, things spiced up as Kai Shun Liu and Thomas Leung made contact; yellows were waved and Stenshorne hit the wall in an unrelated incident. Finally, Kungpeng Xiao (Asia Racing Team) triggered the final Safety Car as he hit the wall. The race ended under neutralization, with Lindblad taking the prestigious victory ahead of Leong and Rashid Al Dhaheri (Prema). Vivian Siu was the only female driver on track after the first lap accident; again, she had a flawless run, took no unnecessary risks and settled in her own rhythm, improving times at each green flag. Siu took the chequered flag and scored a remarkable 14th place at her Macau debut - showing patience in her smart run to the top-15, in one of the strongest F4 fields. With this result, Vivian Siu became the first woman to cross the finish line in the Final in the history of the F4 race. It was therefore an eventful and learning-oriented weekend for all three female drivers, who showed pace and ability to recover as they build experience for their next steps in the sport, likely aiming to return to the streets of the Guia Circuit next year.