McLaren sign first female driver to development programme

Bianca Bustamante will run a McLaren livery in the 2024 F1 Academy season.

McLaren announced on Wednesday morning that they’d signed F1 Academy driver Bianca Bustamante, who’s become the first female driver in their development programme.

The 18-year-old made her single-seater debut in 2022 in the final season of W Series, before the championship entered administration.

She was the highest finishing rookie driver that year, with her sole points finish having come on her debut in Miami.

2023 has seen her compete for Prema Racing in the inaugural F1 Academy season, a side she’s departing for 2024 to join ART Grand Prix.

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As well as competing for ART next season, she’ll also be using a McLaren F1 livery in the F1 Academy, with each F1 team to be represented by a driver in the junior category next year.

Bustamante has enjoyed a great season ahead of this weekend’s finale at the Circuit of the Americas, which will be part of the support action for the United States Grand Prix.

So far this year she’s claimed two wins and further two podiums, putting her seventh in the Drivers’ Championship.

Joining the McLaren driver programme will massively increase her chances of reaching a World Championship, with the programme being designed to support drivers work towards a spot in the likes of F1, Formula E and IndyCar.

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The young star of the future cannot believe her name is now linked to McLaren, with her being “so grateful for this opportunity”.

“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,” said Bustamante, as per the official F1 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.

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“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.”