A female driver hasn’t raced in a Formula 1 Grand Prix since 1976. Tatiana Calderón is determined to change that
Tatiana Calderón cannot stop setting motoring milestones. As a test driver for the Alfa Romeo Sauber F1 team, the first woman to stand on the F3 podium, and recently signed to Arden, making her the first woman to compete in Formula 2, she is a true motorsports pioneer.
Chatting to Tatiana prior to her race in Jerez, her passion, dedication and knowledge of driving and all things motoring shines through. Introduced to racing aged 9 by her now-manager sister Paula, who Calderón laughingly blames for ‘[getting] me into this mess!’, Tatiana worked her way up through the American and the European karting circuits before making the move to Spain to pursue her dream of racing in Formula 1. Despite her successes, Calderón is constantly striving for more, revealing, ‘I think that there are no limits… I love challenges and I love to even surprise myself with things I thought that I couldn’t do at first.’
Tell me about when you started racing?
‘I was 9 years old. I had always been a sports lover, and my sister took me to a go-kart track near our house. I bought a ticket for 5 minutes of racing, and loved it. It was around the time that Pablo Montoya was getting into Formula 1, and there wasn’t much [of a racing culture] in Colombia until he got there – I remember getting up really early to cheer him on!’
How did you balance your racing career with school commitments?
‘It wasn’t easy – I missed a lot of school and my parents always said that I had to achieve in school, otherwise I wouldn’t be allowed to race. I was one of the best in school because of this, and it really helped me to manage my time well. I’m still a fan of lists, but they have to be on paper rather than on a phone – I like to tick things off!’
Driving a Formula 1 car is an incredibly physical experience – what kind of training do you need?
‘The races in Formula 1 are pretty long, and your heart-rate is always between 150 and 165bpm. There’s also the G-Force on your neck when you brake, which can be up to 6Gs. Every G is [the equivalent of] 7.5kg, so it’s like putting 30 kilos on your neck when you’re braking or cornering! There’s also a lot of mental preparation – someone is talking to you on the radio, you have to switch many things on the steering wheel, and if you miss your braking point, you’re in the wall!’
The motoring world is fairly male-dominated – what have your experiences of that been?
‘I truly believe that this is one of the only sports in which [men and women] can compete on equal terms. People think that we can’t be as competitive as guys, but I think we need to just be given the chance – we do things differently, which doesn’t mean slower.
When I was appointed as a test driver for the first time, people definitely looked at me differently, because Formula 1 is the best of the best. People start to treat you differently and look at you as a racing driver, and not just as female racing driver.’
You drove in the Formula E test in Ad Diriyah – what attracted you to the series in the first place?
‘Formula E and Formula 1 or Formula 2 are like night and day. In Formula E, you don’t have a match grid because the power is instant, and because there is a lot of technology and electronics, the engineers need to give you a lot of information to make sure you go quickly.’
What was your reaction the first time you drove a Formula E car?
‘There’s no noise except for the tires, which are sort of screaming, and you’re close to the walls, so you can hear the plastic [scraping] if you brush against them. It was fun – it was challenging to go fast, and every time I get to drive, it’s what I love the most.’
How do you unwind after a race?
‘I find spending time with my family is the best way to cleanse the mind. I like Bikram yoga as well. You can lose up to 3kg in a Formula 1 race, because the car gets really, really hot, so it’s kind of similar. I prepare mentally also, which has helped me a lot with my self-confidence.’
What has been your best moment racing?
‘Driving a Formula 1 car for the first time, without a doubt. I had been dreaming of that moment since I was nine years old, and to drive that car in Mexico was incredible. It was the best day of my life.’