For Bianca Bustamante it was a day of what could have been. Starting P4 on the grid, the win was in touching distance, but a stall on the grid left her fighting to salvage points from Race 1.

Relegated to the back of the pack, 10 seconds adrift of the nearest car, her job turned into a battle to get back inside the top 10. Showing her resilience, the McLaren driver put together a comeback drive to be proud of, crossing the finish line in P7.

Whilst a penalty for leaving the track and gaining an advantage dropped her back to P9, she managed to bring home three points, with the addition for the fastest lap.

Speaking after the race, the Filipina racer lamented the error that denied her a shot at capitalising on a successful Qualifying, with her two fastest attempts separated by just 0.007s.

“I’m not going to lie, I’m a bit heartbroken,” Bustamante admitted. “It still hurts knowing that the pace was there. The car was amazing, the team did a great job with the strategy — the team was faultless from Qualifying.

“We had a really good Qualifying. We had a really good strategy, we're able to save a new set of tyres for tomorrow as well because we only used one set. Everything was going really well and I had it all in me to do a good start, but unfortunately, I made a mistake.

“It was very costly. Starting from P4 I dropped down to dead last in P16, but I knew that I also had it in me to make every single lap count and still keep myself focused on what matters, which was to bring home points.”

Bustamante says she had to live every corner in the moment to climb back up to P9
Bustamante says she had to 'live every corner in the moment' to climb back up to P9

Immediately switching to damage limitation mode, Bustamante had already dispatched her first target on Lap 2 and rapidly progressed. Eventually turning things around, she took the chequered flag only 5.5s adrift of third-place finisher Chloe Chambers.

“That’s the best thing we could do,” she explained. “Every lap, I just tried to make sure that I was driving as fast as I could around the corners and close the gap down to the car in front. I didn't even realise how quickly the time passed by and we were down to the last lap and I had already passed nine cars.

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“So that was a bit incredible and we even closed down the gap to the top five in front to Hamda (Al Qubaisi) and Nerea (Martí) and I was very close to passing them. Unfortunately, we just ran out of time.

“The pace was stellar; the team did a great job putting into account all the inputs I told them from yesterday to make sure that we had the pace today. We had the pace today, we were the fastest car on track and that’s why it does hurt a bit knowing what could have been if I had started. But in the end, I think we did the best we could to recover and got the fastest lap time as well, so that’s an extra point in the bag.”

When asked about her mindset when recovering from the setback, Bustamante responded: “You don't really have time to process it. When I stalled, obviously I had to restart the car and make sure that everything is working. You see everyone else is in front of you and I was about 20 seconds behind, so obviously I had to catch up to the gap in front of me.

The McLaren drivers pace remained strong throughout Race 1 with Bustamante setting the fastest lap on Lap 10
The McLaren driver's pace remained strong throughout Race 1, with Bustamante setting the fastest lap on Lap 10

“On my first lap, I’d already passed one car, so it was always about the next car and the next car, the next lap, and the next corner. You always have to keep yourself focused in the zone. You have to live every corner in the moment and not be too fixated on the end goal.

“I had no expectations, I didn’t really know that we were going to be that quick to have been able to pass that many cars. In the end, I think it was very important to keep composed, keep calm and to not let the emotions take over, which is often very hard.”

Despite adding points to her tally, Bustamante has seen herself lose ground to the leading trio, dropping from P4 to P7 in the Drivers’ Standings. Yet even at this early stage of the season, the McLaren driver acknowledged the progression she has made in developing herself so far.

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“We came into this race P4 in the Standings because we did everything we could to score as many points as we could every single time,” she noted. “Quite unfortunate that we only scored three points this race. We’ll be start P2 tomorrow, so it’s an opportunity for us to bring home good points. “It’s only the second round of the season. It’s quite incredible, but I think I’ve had a lot of growth over the time from Jeddah to now. I struggled with pace over in Jeddah and we’ve had a massive progression this weekend — mentally, physically, as a driver and a person, and how I take my defeats and how I learn from them. So, I think that’s very important to keep for the rest of the season.”

Lining up P2 Bustamante has a chance at redemption in Race 2 on Sunday afternoon
Lining up P2, Bustamante has a chance at redemption in Race 2 on Sunday afternoon

Turning over a new page, Sunday presents Bustamante with a fresh start. Having earned a front row start for ART Grand Prix, she’ll have Race 1 winner Abbi Pulling for company on pole. Determined to get a win in the books this weekend, she says that the task ahead of her is simple and that her team’s approach to Qualifying has set her up with the best chance for success.

“Everything is to play for tomorrow!” Bustamante remarked. “I’m 100% sure that we’ll be fighting for the win with the pace that we have and the new set of tyres compared to everyone else. I just have to do good.

“I’m here to fight for it. Technically, all I have to do is pass one car. That’s the only thing I have to do tomorrow, if I think about it that way then it’s not that hard. The pace is good — setting the fastest lap time today, even with traffic and passing cars.

“It’ll just be an easier battle tomorrow if I do everything right. If I get the car going, get a good start, keep it clean and keep it smart, so it should be pretty good.”