F1 Academy's rising star Bianca Bustamante has been named as the latest recruit to the esteemed McLaren Driver Development programme.
At 18 years of age, she has achieved the remarkable feat of being the first female driver to join this prestigious British initiative. Hailing from the Philippines, Bustamante embarked on her single-seater career in the fiercely competitive W Series last year.
Her talent quickly earned her the title of 'top rookie'. The current season, however, has seen her shine as a standout participant in the inaugural F1 Academy season with PREMA Racing. With two impressive victories and two podium finishes under her belt, she's poised for the upcoming season finale in Austin.
As an integral part of her commitment to the programme, Bustamante will carry the McLaren banner into the 2024 F1 Academy season, transitioning to race with ART Grand Prix.
Her inclusion in the McLaren Driver Development programme sees her begin her journey through McLaren's talent pipeline, which is tailored to nurture and guide drivers toward the lofty heights of Formula 1, IndyCar and Formula E.
"This is such an unreal moment in my career, to sign with McLaren and ART Grand Prix is way beyond anything I could’ve ever imagined growing up racing karts in the Philippines," Bustamante told the Formula 1 official website. "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.
"I’m 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. 2023 was all about improving my speed which I 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 title challenge in the coming F1 Academy season.
"For now, my focus is to finish off the F1 Academy season strongly here in Austin, but we’ll get to work immediately on the 2024 season. 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 and 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."
Stella and Pirro see great potential
"The team are delighted for Bianca to join us, and for McLaren to be involved in F1 Academy," McLaren team principal Andrea Stella added. "It’s a core principle of ours to be a diverse and inclusive team, so we’re pleased to be so involved in Formula 1’s work on the important topic of improving gender diversity within motorsport.
"We also look forward to seeing Bianca grow and progress within the McLaren Racing Driver Development programme under Emanuele’s guidance."
Emanuele Pirro, Director of the McLaren Racing Driver Development programme said: "I’m pleased that Bianca is joining our Driver Development programme. 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."
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