Meet Bianca Bustamante, the Race Car Driver Turned TikTok Sensation

A collage of photos of Bianca Bustamante in her McLaren racing suit on the podium at the Miami Grand Prix and in a blue letterman jacket at the airport.
(Image credit: Clive Mason/Getty Images; Courtesy of McLaren; @racerbia)

Bianca Bustamante was 3 years old when she got her first go-kart. In Manila, Philippines, where she was born and raised, racing cars wasn't a career path that existed in the minds of the people around her. But her father Raymund's love of Formula 1 sparked something in her at a young age. "Growing up, it's all I ever really knew, ever since I was a year old," she tells me on media day for the Miami Grand Prix. "Before I could speak, I already knew racing lines, breaking points, all that stuff." Their combined passion for motorsport, mixed with a great deal of sacrifice and hard work, got Bustamante to where she is today, doing what, as a child in the Philippines, felt like an impossibility. That is, racing on the same tracks during the same race weekends as her idols in F1. "There was like a 2% chance that I would make it—that I would be in this position," she says. "It's… it's quite something."

On the Sunday after our conversation, otherwise known as race day, Bustamante—who drives for ART Grand Prix in F1 Academy, a single-seater all-female racing series that launched in 2023, and is part of McLaren's Driver Development Program—stood on the podium after finishing second in her second of two races in Miami. She celebrated her first trophy of the 2024 season alongside competitors Abbi Pulling and Doriane Pin. Afterward, she took to Instagram to shout out the people who made the achievement possible. "This is a special thank you to my team, engineer, mechanics, coach, teammates, and most importantly, all of you!!! It's been a surreal moment, but I want to thank everyone who stayed and waited by my paddock after my stall in Race 1 just to cheer me up," she captioned an Instagram video of the team's celebration. "You all inspire me to be better."

Bianca Bustamante wearing an orange and white fleece McLaren jacket in Woking, Britain.

(Image credit: Courtesy of McLaren)

Bustamante is one of 15 female drivers in F1 Academy, a championship under the F1 umbrella that was designed to prepare and develop up-and-coming women in motorsport to help them reach higher racing categories like F3, F2, and eventually, F1, the pinnacle of motorsport. The series is led by Susie Wolff, MBE, a former race car driver herself who made history when, at the 2014 British Grand Prix, she became the first woman to take part in an F1 race weekend in 22 years. Since her retirement from racing in 2015, Wolff has made it her mission to open doors for other women to get into F1 and motorsport, first with Dare to Be Different, a call-to-action designed to inspire the next generation of female drivers, and now as the managing director of F1 Academy. In her short tenure, she's helped to bring unprecedented partnerships to the championship, including a sponsorship deal with Charlotte Tilbury as well as a TV deal with Reese Witherspoon's production company, Hello Sunshine. (The Drive to Survive–esque series will premiere in 2025.)

Once a male-dominated sporting arena, F1 is slowly but surely diversifying and welcoming women into the fold. "When I started karting, pursuing a career in motorsport wasn't even an option that was given to us in school or by people around us," Bustamante says. "We had not a lot of people to look up to—there were not a lot of female racing drivers or even engineers." But through F1 Academy and other initiatives led by people like Wolff and supporters like Mercedes AMG Petronas driver Lewis Hamilton, times are changing. "Obviously, it was tough, but it is a growing sport that's evolving massively," she says. "[Every day] you see a new initiative or a new program for females in motorsport, not just for drivers, but even in engineering, marketing, media, [physiotherapists], psychologists—there's now a massive spot for women in the sport." In 2024, Bustamante says that F1 paddocks are filled with women, something she's proud to be a part of.

A post shared by Bianca Bustamante 🏁

A photo posted by racerbia on

The 19-year-old still has trouble wrapping her head around the fact that she's in the world of professional motorsport at all, let alone an integral part of this period of change. Her journey to get to where she is now has been one hurdle after another. "My parents were sacrificing everything, as if we had a lot to sacrifice," she says. "We [had] loans, we were in debt, we were knocking on people's doors asking for support. My dad was working three jobs, and my mom was having to live for me." Then COVID-19 happened. "Three years ago during the pandemic, I couldn't even leave the house," she recalls. "We were struggling to eat three times a day because my dad couldn't work. We were living off of a pension from the government. The thought of racing was so far away." During that period in the not-so-distant past, surviving was Bustamante's number one priority. "I had to give up on my dreams."

I had to give up on my dreams.

Bianca Bustamante

Everything changed when she met her manager, Darryl O'Young. "He's been my pillar and my support—he's the main reason why I'm here," she says. According to Bustamante, O'Young was the person responsible for getting her out of the Philippines and paying for her school tuition and even for her to get her braces off. "The reality is that I had nothing—I had no money to even pay for anything," she says. "My manager took a risk on me, and because of that, I was able to show my potential on track." Unlike in many other sports, starting out in motorsport takes money—a lot of money. For someone like Bustamante, who grew up in a place where there are no racetracks or established teams, the financial burden is even greater. "To be able to afford even just to fly to the track is a battle," she says, and that's only one of countless other steep monetary requirements of the job. "So obviously when I had [an] opportunity [to get behind the wheel], I just drove my heart out as if it was my last race, because most of the time, it really was," she says. "There was always uncertainty whether I'd be able to race again—whether we could afford to race again."

Her hard work paid off when her pace and ability caught the attention of the former director of McLaren's Driver Development Program, Emanuele Pirro. "Last year, early into the year, [Pirro] was saying that he was going to start the Driver Development Program again and was really looking into signing a female driver, not just because she's female, but because she deserves to be there—because she is a good driver," Bustamante recalls. In October of 2023, the iconic racing team from Woking made it official. Ever since, she's been racing in papaya, the signature color of McLaren.

A collage of photos of Bianca Bustamante in her McLaren racing suit on the podium at the Miami Grand Prix and in a McLaren x Reiss jacket.

(Image credit: Clive Mason/Getty Images; Courtesy of McLaren)

Though so much of her success in the last few years is because of what she does on the track, Bustamante is well aware of the effect her growth on social media has had on her career. (She has a combined 2.6 million followers on Instagram and TikTok.) "You have to spend millions in motorsport before you even make it to Formula 1," she explains. "Not everyone has that." That's why sponsorships exist and play such a significant role in the success of drivers. "You have to use every single tool [you have, including] marketing, endorsements, sponsorships, building your brand, and understanding the business side of this whole motorsport world." By growing her presence on social media and building a fan base, she was able to secure enough financial backing to get to where she is today.

That's not to say that she only uses social media to help in her career. For her, everything she posts is organic and genuine. "I was just me—I just offered myself to the world," she says when I ask her why she thinks her platforms have blown up like they have. "I do all my own social media, from editing to capturing content," she says. "I do all my edits, [everything on] TikTok, all the Reels." She admits that it's harder than it used to be and takes more time than she has available to her. "At the same time, I love it. This is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity," she says. "Why not share it with the rest of the world?"

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Bustamante isn't the only person in motorsport who's benefitted on-track from expanding their horizons off of it. The most notable example is Hamilton, whom fellow F1 driver Alex Albon recently referred to as being "[as big as] if not bigger than the sport" in an interview earlier this year. Hamilton has hands in nearly every industry, from film to fashion to music to other sports (he is one of the owners of the Denver Broncos), something that he was criticized heavily for in the past. "When I first got into Formula 1, it was wake up, train, racing-racing-racing-racing, nothing else," he recently told GQ. No matter how many races he won—and he's won a lot of races, 103 to be exact—he still wasn't fulfilled. "I found out that I was actually quite unhappy," he said. It wasn't until he started to incorporate creative outlets into his routine that his life began to feel balanced, thus making him a more complete driver and athlete.

When I ask Bustamante for her thoughts on the subject, she immediately agrees with Hamilton's stance. According to her, it's very common in Asian culture to relate your happiness and self-worth to how successful you are. "Because of that mentality, I've always looked at every race like, if I don't win, I'm not going to be complete or I'm not going to be happy. And that kind of mentality really ruins you," she says. "You can never win them all, and even if you do win, what's next?"

A collage of photos of Bianca Bustamante from her Instagram.

(Image credit: @racerbia.jpg; @racerbia)

It's becoming increasingly important for Bustamante to prioritize her interests and goals unrelated to what she achieves in her career. "That's actually one thing I'm starting to learn now from growing up, that I need to find happiness in me and find comfort in knowing that I am worthy and just to be happy in my own skin," she says. Having a creative outlet, like Hamilton said, is one way for her to gain confidence and a sense of comfort. "It's about knowing that even if I'm not a driver, I am this person, and this person loves art and this person loves music." Her side hustles, like photography, fashion, beauty, and social media, make her feel complete in ways that her professional achievements alone don't.

Flip that and the same is true. According to Bustamante, she wouldn't be who she is today without racing. "Racing brought out the best version of myself," she says. "I grew up as a very insecure kid. I was so shy about my skin color, because in Asia, beauty is often perceived if you have porcelain skin, because porcelain [skin] means that you're wealthy or elegant—you're beautiful." That was the beauty standard in the Philippines when she was growing up. Her insecurities showed themselves in a variety of ways, including her style, which she says was mostly based on whatever was trendy or perceived as beautiful by those around her. "From racing, I've learned to embrace all my imperfections," she says. "When you have that helmet on, it doesn't matter who you are." This realization gave her the confidence to take control of her fashion choices, avoiding trends and instead building her wardrobe around items that accurately and authentically reflect who she is.

"I love a good neutral 'fit," Bustamante says. "I love beige—it matches really well with my skin, which I'm very proud of." White, she says, is her favorite color to wear. "I think it just goes so well with my skin tone—my Filipino complexion," she explains. "It's all about how you express yourself, and [I] can always do [that] through fashion."

Obviously, I want to be in Formula 1.

Bianca Bustamante

Recently, she's been able to bridge the gap between her racing career and her creative endeavors with the help of Storm Models, an agency she signed with in September of last year; McLaren; and her management company. As a result, she's shot for Vogue; worked with Charlotte Tilbury through F1 Academy; and partnered up with Sephora, three endeavors that were all announced during the Miami Grand Prix weekend. And that was only round two (of seven) of the series, leading me to believe that there's more on the way for Bustamante this season. "A lot of things will be coming out soon," she says, confirming my suspicions. "I'm very, very proud of it [all]. I mean, it's hard—it's blood, sweat, and tears all in one, but like I said, it's my creative outlet, and I'm really happy to share it soon."

Though the rising star on and off the track has plenty of concrete career goals, they aren't the be-all and end-all. "I just want to be happy," she says when I ask her about the future. "I want to continue being happy in what I do and happy in my own skin." It's very easy to fixate on results, she says, but she's well aware of how unpredictable motorsport and her future in it are. "Nothing is guaranteed in life," she says, especially life in her chosen career path. "As long as you know where you want to be and you know who you are and you're happy, then that's all that matters." A second goes by, and a smile creeps onto Bustamante's face. "But obviously, I want to be in Formula 1."

Senior Fashion Editor

Eliza Huber is a New York City–based fashion editor who specializes in trend reporting, brand discovery, and celebrity style. She joined Who What Wear in 2021 after almost four years on the fashion editorial team at Refinery29, the job she took after graduating with a marketing degree from the University of Iowa. She has since launched two monthly columns, Let's Get a Room and Ways to Wear; profiled the likes of Dakota Fanning, Diane Kruger, Katie Holmes, and Sabrina Carpenter for WWW's monthly cover features; and reported on everything from the relationship between Formula One and fashion to the top trends from fashion month, season after season. Eliza now lives on the Upper West Side and spends her free time researching F1 fashion imagery for her side Instagram accounts @thepinnacleoffashion and @f1paddockfits, running in Central Park, and scouring eBay for '90s Prada and '80s Yves Saint Laurent.