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McLaren first F1 team to announce a driver for 2024 F1 Academy

by Josh Suttill
4 min read

McLaren has become the first Formula 1 team to announce the driver it will be supporting in the second season of the all-female F1 Academy.

The first season of F1's own all-female series comes to a close this weekend at Austin where it will be racing on the grand prix support bill for the very first time.

Live coverage of all three races (as well as practice and qualifying) will also be streamed on TV for the first time this year. Thus far only highlights packages have been available post-race.

F1 Academy will run all of its seven events next year alongside F1 with a season-opener in Jeddah in early March followed by races in Miami, Barcelona, Zandvoort, Singapore and Qatar before the season wraps up in December in Abu Dhabi.

All F1 10 teams will be backing one driver in the Formula 4-level series with the supported driver's livery representing their F1 team's colours.

McLaren has become the first of those teams to confirm who it will be supporting with 18-year-old Bianca Bustamante getting the nod.

She sits seventh out of 15 drivers in this year's F1 Academy with two wins from 18 races.

Bustamante made her single-seater debut in 2022 with multiple campaigns including racing in the final year of W Series where she finished 15th with a single points finish.

She's the first female driver to join McLaren's driver development programme that's headed up by five-time Le Mans 24 Hours winner Emanuele Pirro.

McLaren F1 team boss Andrea Stella said "the team are delighted for Bianca to join us" while Bustamante called it an "unreal moment" that she could have never imagined would happen.

"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," she said.

“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."

Bustamante will switch from Prema to ART Grand Prix for 2024. Each F1 Academy team currently runs three cars with MP Motorsport, Carlin and Campos completing the grid.

Those racing teams will still be solely responsible for running the drivers with the level of involvement each F1 team has beyond the livery and overalls branding down to the individual F1 team.

Who else will join Bustamante?

McLaren is the first F1 team to announce a 2024 driver but further announcements elsewhere on the grid are expected imminently.

Ferrari already supports 16-year-old Brazilian Aurelia Nobels who finished 26th in Italian F4 this year and will add another female junior to its ranks by the end of the year.

Alpine has F1 Academy frontrunner Abbi Pulling and six female karting drivers on its books as part of its Rac(H)er programme.

Like McLaren all of the other F1 teams will have to look outside of their existing driver development programme to find the driver they'll support in 2024.

What's happened in the inaugural season so far?

Ex-Renault F1 junior Marta Garcia is the clear favourite to leave the Austin weekend with the inaugural F1 Academy title.

She holds a 48-point lead over her nearest challenger, Sauber-backed Lena Buhler, with 64 points on the table.

Garcia has rebuilt herself after losing her Renault F1 junior status at the end of a year and a half in Spanish F4 back in 2016-17, a tenure she started just after her 16th birthday.

She was competitive during her three years in W Series but a title challenge never materialised. However she's chalked up six wins this year with Prema to become the series' benchmark driver.

Twenty-six-year-old Buhler sits second ahead of Hamda Al Qubaisi, Nerea Marti and Pulling - who is Carlin's top-placed driver but is without a race win in fifth despite pre-season expectations of a title push given her W Series achievements.

Pipeline bolstering

To bolster the pipeline of young talent, F1 Academy recently announced a collaboration with karting series Champions of the Future (COTF) to create the Champions of the Future Academy Programme.

The global series will feature three mixed-gender series and F1 Academy will back three drivers in each of the categories. Each of those participants will receive financial support with entry fees and the three best female drivers in the most senior karting category will be invited to take part in an F1 Academy test.

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