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  • Writer's pictureRACERS

FWS: Bustamante & Block share Female Trophy wins in Valencia

Bianca Bustamante fought through technical issues in the second Formula Winter Series round in Valencia and, despite limited green-flag running in heavily disrupted races and a cancelled qualifying, she ran on top-15 pace in race 1 and improved on her starting position. Lia Block enjoyed her best F4 outing to date with a strong race 2 , where she kept it clean and moved forward, securing her first Female Trophy win.

Bianca Bustamante, GRS Team, Formula Winter Series, 2024 Valencia
Photo credits: Daniel Bürgin

One week after the start of the second Formula Winter Series championship, the Gedlich-promoted series for Formula 4 moved to Valencia Ricardo Tormo, where it hosted the second race meeting of the year. Three female drivers were on the starting grid in Jerez - Bianca Bustamante, Lia Block and Carrie Schreiner. The three F1 Academy racers are in fact making the most of the winter championships to prepare for the upcoming all-female series promoted by F1, where they will represent McLaren, Williams and Sauber respectively.

While Schreiner was back to the UAE for the final round of the F4 UAE season at Dubai Autodrome, Bustamante and Block got back behind the wheel of their GRS Team-run Tatuus at Valencia, in yet another huge field featuring 34 drivers.

It had been a busy schedule for the F1 Academy drivers, who had completed their first collective test at Barcelona, before racing in FWS - and then headed to London for the first F1 Academy Driver Development Day at the F1 headquarters. Furthermore, immediately after the Formula Winter Series second race in Valencia, Bustamante and Block had to fly to Jeddah, where F1 Academy will host another test early in the week.

The track action at Ricardo Tormo was therefore mainly a chance to maximise track time and, for Block, build upon her very first start in formula cars only a few days before, where she completed her first open wheel race in Jerez by running solid laps and taking the chequered flag in every contest.

Bianca Bustamante had an unfortunate round at Jerez, mainly marred by technical issues - and her bad luck continued at Valencia - at the venue that saw her first historic victory in single seaters last year, at the second round of the F1 Academy inaugural season.

On a track that she knew, Bianca was therefore eyeing a further step forward from Jerez - where she was actually able to gain many positions in a charging second race from the back of the field. And, despite recurring technical difficulties on her #16 car, times in the pre-event test definitely proved that the young Filipina had the speed to run within the top-15.

Bianca described the start of the weekend as "rough" due to an engine power issue carried out from Jerez that cost her around 6 km/h on the straights. The issue seemed to have improved on the final run of testing, when she made her first appearance in the top-20 out of an almost 40-car field. "A promising last session, and now we just have to fight for every tenth as the field is extremely close", she commented.

On Saturday morning, though, track limits were again a big discussion topic - as per tradition in Valencia. After an incredible plot twist, the whole field was disqualified and the grid was organized based on practice times. That put Bianca Bustamante in P24 and Lia Block in P31.

"Rough start with Q1 being cancelled as all cars were disqualified due to track limits", Bustamante summed up. "In the end we had to use our best lap time from practice to determine our grid position for Race 1".

Andres Cardenas ended up on pole position for race 1, with Griffin Peebles in second and Mikkel Pedersen and Juan Cota on the second row.

Bianca Bustamante, GRS Team, Formula Winter Series, 2024 Valencia
Photo credits: Daniel Bürgin
Race 1

Cardenas led the 38-car pack into turn 1 from Juan Cota who made his way from the second row; GRS teammates Bustamante and Lia Block lost a couple of places on the first lap before the safety car was deployed to recover the vehicles of Lenny Ried and Filippo Fiorentino who made contact and got stuck in the gravel. Mattia Colnaghi also had to make a trip to the pits for a new front wing.

The green flag waved with 19 minutes to go and Cardenas had another clean restart - but Pedersen went deep and beached his Drivex car at turn 1, bringing out another safety car, after also an unrelated off track for Ernesto Rivera.

Bianca Bustamante had survived the restart and made up two places, taking P23. Lia Block also kept it clean and reclaimed her starting position in P30 after the chaotic first few laps.

Andres Cardenas accelerated away once again on lap 8 and soon opened a small gap. Bustamante picked up another position and was faster than Finn Harrison ahead; she followed the Campos driver by half a second. The Filipina was recovering well and, despite the limited laps under green, she had climbed up to P21. Unfortunately, as she attempted a pass, she would drop to P23 on what eventually turned out to be the last racing lap.

Two separate incidents involving Weisenburger and Macedo in fact brought out the red flag with 4 minutes to go and the race was declared finished. Andres Cardenas was never under threat and took victory, preceding Juan Cota and Griffin Peebles.

Despite the lost places at the very end, Bianca Bustamante improved on her starting position and was P23 - just like her teammate Lia Block, who moved up to P29 after a good recovery.

"Started P24, we had good pace and fought our way up to P21", Bianca wrote. "Unfortunately in the last lap I had committed to a pass for P20 that didn't pay off and lost 2 positions. Big learning curve, especially having to manage so much on track battles front and rear", she continued. Although the technical issues had not fully been fixed and she kept losing out on the straights, Bianca's pace was closer to the top-15 and she set the 17th fastest time of the race.

Her GRS teammate Lia Block ran cleanly and, by avoiding getting caught in the chaos, she made good progress - just like she did in Jerez.

"Unfortunately quali was abandoned, meaning lap times were used from practice yesterday and not giving us a great starting position," Block said. "At the end of the day there was more experience gained and lessons learned."

Lia Block, GRS Team, Formula Winter Series, 2024 Valencia
Photo credits: Daniel Bürgin
Race 2

The second qualifying on Sunday morning was effectively a practice run for Bustamante and Block, as they would'nt be able to take the start of race 3 due to F1 Academy commitments. Based on fastest laps from the first race of the weekend, Bustamante would line up from P17 - in her first start close to the top-15 - and Lia Block from P33 in the second race on Sunday morning.

After a delayed start to the early afternoon, race 2 got underway with Griffin Peebles holding off Cardenas into turn 1, after the latter had briefly found a gap on the inside but had to back out in the run towards turn 2. Bustamante had a strong start and gained one place - and a stellar getaway for Block saw the driver of the #57 machine making up six positions on the first lap.

A safety car, though, interrupted the action on lap 2, when Wiktor Dobrzanski and Ernesto Rivera made contact.

Griffin Peebles had a good restart as the whole 35-car pack ran towards turn 1; unfortunately there was no luck for Bustamante, who was hit by Bart Harrison and sent into the gravel; the accident brought an early end to her race 2 and to a challenging weekend. The safety car was out once again as marshals cleared the #16 GRS Tatuus.

"It was a tough challenge during the races as I was easily getting passed on the straights, but it was truly a good lesson for me to work on my race craft, making smart decisions", Bianca wrote. "I had a really good start in race 2 and we were up to P16, but unfortunatly my race ended soon after as a driver dove in on me hitting me into the gravel."

Lia Block had masterfully navigated through the chaos and picked up two more positions: at the green flag, the young American was P24 and comfortably ran in the midfield, a few tenths from Strauven and Savinkov. While she lost out to the recovering Pedersen and Ried, Block held on nicely until the next safety car - triggered by a suspension failure on the Campos Racing car of Finn Harrison on lap 11.

An accident for Drivex teammates Pedersen and Macedo caused yet another neutralization and Lia Block once again made it out unscathed, advancing to 24th. With one lap left, Block had to keep it clean to secure her best finish to date in single seaters - and she did just that: although she lost out to Anurag by 0.026 across the line - and half a tenth from Olivieri further ahead - Block came home with a solid P25.

Despite the chaos unfolding throughout the field, Griffin Peebles claimed a controlled victory, ahead of Andres Cardenas and Gianmarco Pradel.

Bianca Bustamante, GRS Team, Formula Winter Series, 2024 Valencia
Photo credits: Daniel Bürgin

It certainly was a tricky weekend for Bianca Bustamante, who fought through the technical issues and tried to make up ground from a difficult starting position. Nevertheless, her race pace in race 1 is a positive to be carried onto the next round in two weeks.

"All I could do this weekend was to focus on what I can do as a driver and maximise the car the best I could", Bustamante summed up. "I worked on maximising my corner speed, carrying min speed by bleeding off the brakes better and really pushing the car to its limits. I’m pretty happy as we were able to stay within P20 on pace out of the 39 car field, which is not where we want to be but I did my best to make the most out of the situation."

Lia Block's second race was arguably her best performance to date in single seaters; in heavily safety car disrupted races, Block always stayed out of trouble and climbed the order, almost mingled with the top-20 in the final laps. She collected her first Female Trophy win and the experience in such a busy grid will be surely beneficial as she enters her first F1 Academy season.

"Would call that a successful race 2", she commented. "Starting from 33rd on the grid and ending 25th. Made some mistakes along the way but it's a learning process and just another step on the ladder."

Both drivers missed Race 3 as they flew to Jeddah for this week's F1 Academy collective test ahead of the season opener on 8-9 March. They are expected to return to Formula Winter Series in two week's time, at Motorland Aragon.

Lia Block, GRS Team, Formula Winter Series, 2024 Valencia
Photo credits: Daniel Bürgin



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