Tatiana Calderon, who has recently increased her involvement in the FIA’s Women in Motorsport programme in line with the announcement of her GP3 Series drive with DAMS and her appointment as development driver for Sauber F1 Team, has no illusions about her ambitions within the sport which she calls home: “For me I want to beat everybody: not as a woman, but as a racing driver.
“We all have different strengths and weaknesses, we all have different driving styles, and I think it’s just a matter of pushing the team in the right direction so that you can feel comfortable driving the car. So I don’t think it [being a woman] makes a huge difference, and at this stage it’s my second year in GP3 and I think now that people know I can race and they respect me, and take my opinion as a racing driver rather than as a woman, which I think is great.”
Which is not to suggest that she thinks the FIA’s programme isn’t important. “It’s a huge privilege to represent Women in Motorsport,” she confirms in the GP3 paddock ahead of the first race of the season, “and also to encourage more women to follow their passion, because that’s important. When I grew up there was no one I could actually look up to, anyone in racing, and I think this is a sport where we can compete against men, and to win races.
“I just hope that with my passion I can inspire more people, and we can have more women in the sport in all areas, because they can do really well.”
But what got Calderon involved in a sport in which so few of her countrymen, let alone women, have to date succeeded? First and foremost, it was her older sister. “Yeah, I started with my sister: we both started at the same time but she’s 7 years older than me, so she couldn’t really take it as a profession, for her it was just more of a hobby.
“I tried go karts when I was 9 years old, and I just fell in love with the speed and the adrenaline! For me it was always that: I loved the feeling of driving a kart, and it really got me into this sport. I’ve always been a sport lover, but I found my real passion when I found karting.
“There are 3 of us: I also have a younger brother, but he always said ‘no, this sport is for girls’ – he likes to play tennis and soccer instead! Ironically he thinks we do a really good job but he was not really quick when he started, so he didn’t like it. We used to joke about it because he didn’t like motor racing, although just now he is starting to like it a bit more, but he thought it was just for the girls in the house!”
Living in a country without a huge motorsport tradition, albeit with a couple of big name drivers, meant that Calderon was largely left to her own devices, learning at her own pace about what worked for her: “yeah, I think it was a case of finding my own way, but I always followed [Juan Pablo] Montoya’s career because he was getting into Formula 1 when I was starting, and it made a huge impact on Colombia and motorsport. So I come from that Montoya boom, and hopefully I can make sure that people follow the sport in Colombia again.”
And coming from outside of the traditional motorsport markets only adds an extra level of complication, particularly when you move to Europe and compete with drivers who have raced here their whole lives. “Definitely it was a real challenge: this is not your market, so it’s hard to find sponsors when people don’t look at the races because it’s a small series, and also the culture and the way people work is a lot different.
“Unfortunately in South America we don’t have a really competitive single seater series where we can learn and then come to Europe, so there are many challenges that you face, and of course as a woman it hasn’t been easy to deal with that aspect as well! But I think that you earn your respect on track with a stopwatch, that’s where it really counts, and I can’t believe that I am in this position coming from Colombia where we only had 2 drivers in F1 history, so it takes a lot of effort!”
But that effort is starting to pay dividends, particularly in the form of her deal with Sauber, and Calderon has no regrets about following her dreams: “For me one of the best moves I did was to race in GP3, because you’re here in front of and exposed to the big teams, and that’s where I wanted to be. It’s because I did some good races last year that I got called up to meet Sauber: we kept in close contact during the year, and at the end of the year we sat together and discussed how can we work together.
“For me it’s like a dream come true: I came into GP3 with that objective in mind, I wanted to be picked by an F1 team, and I got that. Now I think the best and the most difficult part starts, because I need to deliver. Of course I have a lot of things to learn, but my goal is to race in Formula 1 and I am taking one step at a time, and they have really opened a door at Sauber. I’ve done already 2 days with them in the simulator, it was positive and they are keeping an close eye on everything I do, so it’s a proper development programme that I am getting from them.”
Sauber are keeping the pressure off Calderon, expecting her to concentrate on her main job, in line with those of her rivals such as George Russell (Mercedes), Jack Aitken (Renault) and Nirei Fukuzumi (Honda) who are in a similar position with the other F1 teams: “definitely my main goal is to do really well in GP3, because that’s what they will measure: the progress I do with their guidance, and the help that I get to develop as a driver. My main thing is GP3, and that’s the best way to show them what I’m capable of.
“I think that this series is one of the toughest, and it’s why you see people going from GP3 to Formula 2 and doing really well, like Leclerc, De Vries and Albon: that means the series really prepares you well for the next steps. Even the people who have done a few free practices or tests in the [F1] car, they’re ready: this is why I think the level is so high here in GP3, and why if you want to move up to there you have to prepare here first.”
And if some of her competitors can sometimes be a bit macho, Calderon is more than ready to show them that she’s racing here on merit: “the other day I saw a Mexican guy I raced against, we race in different series now, but he said I remember one time you passed me on the outside, it was this year at this track at this corner, and that I have never felt so shit in my life!” she laughs.
“I thanked him for saying how it made him feel when I overtook him like that, and for sure it doesn’t make things easier, but at this level you also need to think that yes, it’s a woman, but I also need to be on top, and then slowly but surely they start to respect you.”
And they don’t give out a trophy for P1 of the women, it’s just for P1: “Exactly, thankfully!”