- Tatiana Calderon is one of the most prominent women in motorsport today, zipping around race tracks in her bright pink BWT Arden Formula 2 race car at breakneck speeds.
- She is just one classification below Formula 1, and after driving an F1 car for the first time in an official capacity last year, is desperate to race alongside drivers like Lewis Hamilton in motorsport’s marquee Grands Prix.
- But unlike Hamilton, Calderon has battled sexism throughout her journey, and it’s all because less is expected of women, she said.
- Calderon points to prominent women in the sport, in the driving seat and behind the scenes, as evidence of what women are capable of.
- And she’s determined to show the world she’s capable of even more.
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Tatiana Calderon was 4 years old when she first got behind the wheel of a car.
She was so small her feet couldn’t reach the pedals and she had to sit on her father’s lap just to get a good grip on the wheel. Her father would accelerate and brake, and she would steer the vehicle through her hometown streets in Bogota, Colombia.
Calderon’s parents managed a Kia Motors dealership in Bogota so cars were always going to play a key role in her childhood. Even though she showed an interest in golf, hockey, and horse riding, Calderon began karting in 2002 at age 9 and never really looked back.
She told Business Insider about a time she was the only girl on a track full of boy racers who were trying, some successfully, to shunt her off course.
When she came in to pit, a mechanic said she should shunt them back. So when she returned to the track, that’s exactly what she did, in style, as she went on to win that race.
Calderon flew to Spain to compete for the Juncos Racing team in the Star Mazda championship at 17 years old in 2010. She finished 10th in her first year, sixth in her second, and then moved up to Formula 3.
She drove a Formula 1 car for the first time in 2018, test driving for Sauber in its 329 km/hour C37, clocking a best lap time of 1 minute and 23.170 seconds after 23 laps at the Autodromo Hermanos Rodriguez in Mexico City.
This was 2.442 seconds slower than Lewis Hamilton’s best lap in the 2018 Mexican Grand Prix on the same track. That gap may seem like a lot, but that was Hamilton’s 12th season in Formula 1, and Calderon’s very first session in an F1 car.
According to Autosport.com, Calderon compared the experience to a videogame. “The first time I accelerated, it seemed like I was on a PlayStation with how fast everything happened.”
Now, Calderon is racing in a bright pink Arden car in Formula 2 and test drives for the Alfa Romeo Formula 1 team.
A test driver is an athlete who works with mechanics to help develop F1 vehicles by testing new systems on the track at high speeds and maximum efficiency. And discovering what it felt like in the cockpit of the C37 last year only enhanced her dream to drive and compete in F1 for real. It is her career goal, one she has had for more than a decade.
The 26-year-old’s ascent through motorsport’s classifications has been impressive, and she is now just one rung away from racing in Formula 1 itself, alongside household names like Sebastian Vettel (Ferrari), Max Verstappen (Red Bull), and, of course, Hamilton (Mercedes) himself.
But there’s one challenge she’s faced that Vettel, Verstappen, and Hamilton have not – she’s a woman in a male-dominated sport.
People expect less from women, Calderon says
“People expect less from you … they don’t really believe a woman can be as competitive as a man,” Calderon told Business Insider. “They underestimate you and you have to prove yourself more than the guys. The team may not like to take a female as it’s a bit of a risk, they don’t know what the performance might be, and we’re not given the right responsibility.”
In motorsports, regardless of level, two tenths of a second can make a massive difference on a per lap basis. Matching drivers to higher performance cars can see an athlete quickly scale to the sport’s summit, leaving others in the dust. “If you do not have those factors, you cannot win,” Calderon said.
“Then there’s the physical aspect, we have 30% less muscle than men, so we train more,” she said. “We can definitely do a good job. You have to train harder than the boys. Make people believe in you, gain their respect. Show them on the stopwatch … that is the most important thing.”
Though Calderon lists the Colombian racing driver Juan Pablo Montoya as an early mentor, someone who has “a great talent” and was her “inspiration growing up,” over the last few years she has looked up to the former Formula 3 racer and F1 test driver Susie Wolff, a 36-year-old analyst who manages Calderon.
In other motorsports, Calderon “admires” Danica Patrick, the only woman to have ever won an IndyCar race.
There are also prominent women in the industry behind the scenes. Ellie Norman, the marketing director at F1, was a driving force behind the sport’s decision to get rid of the on-track promotional models called “Grid Girls.”
There is also a strategy engineer Calderon knows well through Alfa Romeo, Ruth Buscombe, who has been influencing racing at the higher echelons of the game.
All of these people “show what women are capable of,” Calderon said.
‘Anything is possible’
Calderon’s race weeks are already hectic. Between social media planning for her own accounts, for Alfa Romeo, and Formula 1, she also engages frequently with engineers regarding practise runs and race strategy. She completes qualifying simulations, talks to the press, and answers questions in Spanish and in English.
Calderon finished 13th in her most recent race at Barcelona, after starting 18th on the grid. She battled with Mick Schumacher, the 20-year-old son of race legend Michael Schumacher, and is looking to take momentum into Monte Carlo, this weekend.
But she wants more. “It is my intention to reach F1,” Calderon told Business Insider. “In F2 I am the first female to compete in this championship. If I can do a good job in this series, I can get to F1 in terms of performance. But you need to put a lot of things together. Sponsorship behind you, a team that believes in you. It would be a big step in my career and I’m hoping I can make the most of the opportunities.”
As one of motorsport’s leading women, Calderon knows she will be a role model to many young girls and boys. And to those she has a clear message.
“I come from Colombia, where we only have one race track,” she said.
“I can’t believe where I am now. I’m dreaming … I’m living my dream. I had determination to work hard and there are no limits to my performance to get to where I want to be. In life, sport, motorsport… you need to dream big and go for it with every tool that you have.
“Anything is possible.”