Sauber Formula 1 test driver Tatiana Calderon says she is aware she needs to deliver in GP3 this season in order to keep alive her dream of becoming the first woman on the F1 grid in over 40 years.
GP3 racer Calderon became part of the Sauber family last year, and it was announced last week that she will be staying on board with the Hinwil outfit in an expanded ‘test driver’ role.
This will involve some running in a yet-to-be-defined specification of non-current F1 car, which would make her the first woman to sample grand prix machinery since Susie Wolff took part in FP1 at the British Grand Prix in 2015.
Motorsport.com caught up with Calderon in Barcelona – fittingly, on International Women’s Day – to speak about her goals for the year ahead and her unique place within the F1 paddock.
Your title at the team has changed, but what has changed about the role?
“I will keep doing my simulator work, travelling with the team, assist with all the technical meetings, and to obviously test a Formula 1 car is the next step. And with GP3 I need to earn that chance as well.”
Frederic Vasseur said you need to focus on GP3 this year when he was asked about you. How hard is it to do that when you’re doing this role with Sauber?
“It’s not easy, but I think that the year I have of experience last year, I have my priorities really clear for this year. Fred has also made it clear, we need to deliver, and for that reason I won’t be with the team on the GP3 weekends.
“I’m fully focussed on my programme, and last year really helped me to be ready for this step up mentally.”
Have you imagined how your first run in an F1 car will feel?
“Of course I’ve dreamed of that moment for years! Everything has happened so quickly I haven’t really had time to digest the news, but I’m trying to be as ready as possible physically, mentally and really focussing on GP3 for the moment, and waiting for the team to give me that chance to prove that I can deliver.”
You said you feel like you’re ready to be the next woman on F1 grid. Are there any remaining weaknesses or things you need to improve to be fully ready?
“I think still qualifying, which has been getting better year by year. But I think that’s the key element of a short race like GP3, really half of the race is there and in the starts.
“Those are the areas I need to focus more on, to improve the qualifying and the actual race start, to be in a position where they can’t crash into you! And you’re in less trouble. They respect you more when you’re fighting in the top five. That was my main focus for pre-season testing.”
Will this will be the year you put everything together after the flashes of speed you’ve shown in last two years?
“I like to think so. It was certainly a really good start [in Paul Ricard testing] but it was only a test and we still need to find out a lot about the car, about my teammates and how competitive we really are.
“For sure is the goal is to improve what we did last year and fight for podiums and be in the top five. I think this is achievable, I feel comfortable with the team so far, we can do a good job I think.”
How is it being the most experienced driver at Jenzer going into the year?
“I think it does [make a difference]. It’s nice when people listen to you, when you’re guiding the way you want the car to be set-up, and how things go.
“It’s a nice feeling and I really feel like Jenzer is giving me the tools to feel comfortable and confident in the car, and they’re listening to me which is the main thing.”
You said you feel you’re making ‘small steps’ – is that enough or do you need to make a big leap this year in order to achieve your goals?
“I think people develop at different rates sometimes, and maybe I didn’t do enough Formula 4 or something and you have to stay a little bit more [in the same category] to be ready for the next step. I would be worried if I was not improving every year.
“Of course I would have liked to have improved quicker, but for different reasons… it not only depends on your performance but on the car, the team you choose.
“That’s the thing about motorsport and I think age at the end of the day is not as important as people think. It’s the stopwatch that matters in this sport and I’m trying to be better and improve a little bit quicker this year.”
Are you still in contact with Juan Pablo Montoya?
“We saw each other in Austin, he was there for the Grand Prix. He’s always been very open and helpful, and of course he’s got a son now [kart racer Sebastian] and he’s very busy with all the racing programmes.
“But I’m sure when we see each other we’ll catch up and it’s always a privilege to have your idol teach you stuff.”
Carmen Jorda’s comments in the press last week caused a lot of controversy. You’ve made it clear many times the two of you have different views – would you like to sit down with her and try to change her mind about certain things?
“We have different views, and as I said I don’t know her much. I only get [to hear] what people write that she said. I don’t really know what she thinks, so it would be quite interesting to sit down and discuss how he actually feels, and how we could all together help each other.
“Women should be [working] together and trying to make their lives easier, here in motorsport especially.”
Presumably, you will discuss things with her on the FIA Women in Motorsport Commission this year?
“Yeah, we were already on the first meeting this year, but nothing controversial came up. So we had certainly no issues, we were trying to help and to move forward with the Commission. We’ll see what happens in the next ones.”
Susie Wolff has also a big influence on your career. How important has she been to your career trajectory and the opportunities you have now?
“She’s been really helpful and opened a lot of doors for me, trying to help me since my Formula 3 days. She really saw something in me since the beginning, and not just since I’ve been here in F1.
“For me it was a big impact to have the support of someone whose position I dreamed of being in. To be here today and have her support as well, it’s really special and what she’s done for women in motorsport with Dare to be Different is amazing and she keeps going.
“So, I hope I can somehow help her out as well and give everything back that she has done for me.”
Any idea what’s the plan for 2019 yet?
“t’s too early to say… I’m fully focussed on this year and on making GP3 a great season, and focussing on what I have to do with the team.
“Anything can happen in motorsport, so I need to focus on getting those results and hopefully get more opportunities.”