Formula 2 and Super Formula' s first female driver Tatiana Calderón on unconscious male bias in motorsports
Twenty-six-year-old Tatiana Calderón has big dreams. The Columbian racing driver became the first woman to compete in Formula 2 when she joined the BWT Arden team earlier this year, and was woman to stand on the podium in the British Formula 3 International Series.
The South American is—by far—the most successful woman motor racing has seen in the last 43 years, with the last woman to race in Formula 1 being Italy’s Leila Lombardi in 1974. But now, Calderón’s dream of eventually making it to motorsport’s premier championship seems like it may be just out of her grasp.
Esquire caught up with her at the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix—her penultimate race with her team—to talk about just how different it is to be
a woman in the sport.
ESQUIRE: How has your first season in Formula 2 been for you?
Tatiana Calderón: It’s been incredible to have the opportunity to be the first woman to compete in F2. It isn’t quite Formula 1, but I believe it is the toughest series out there.
ESQ: How come?
TC: The level is very high, but also because the cars are harder to drive. It is really physical as well.
ESQ: There’s no power steering like in F1, right?
TC: Yeah, so it’s really tough in many ways. It’s been a challenge, but I think you always learn from these challenges and I think I’ve learned quite a lot this year.
ESQ: You started racing at six years old, and your journey to F2 took you nearly 20 years. How many years do you think it will take you to make it to Formula 1?
TC: Well, I’m actually linked with the Alfa Romeo F1 team, so sometimes you feel very close, but very far at the same time. There are only 20 seats available in Formula 1, so that step is the most difficult one. I hope that in the next two, three years I can make that jump. There’s a 2021 regulation change and a lot of things can change. So I think it might be possible.
ESQ: Are there gender imbalances in the sport?
TC: Of course. These cars are designed for men. The dimensions of the cars, they’re built for men. Things are starting to change as people are looking at how we can make it a bit fairer for everybody, but it takes time and it takes more women racing in the sport for the teams to understand how we drive, how we think and what we need from the car.
ESQ: Is it actually changing?
TC: It is, slowly. But it’s still an extra challenge to be a woman in the sport. I hope that we can change that in the future.
ESQ: You mentioned the dimension of the car, in what other way is it tailored for men?
TC: With regards to strength, in Formula 1 you have the power steering,
so that evens out the playing field. In lower categories, like F2, the cars are much more difficult to drive in terms of physicality. There are many other strengths that women can show in Formula 1, which perhaps are not the same in lower categories. For example, studies show that actually women cope better with G-forces than men, it’s why you see quite a lot of female airforce pilots.
ESQ: Formula 1 has been around for almost 60 years. Why is it that we’ve only had a handful of women drivers?
TC: That’s the question I think the sport should be asking themselves. There’s been women in the past and things were definitely very different back then. There are very few role models in motorsports, that’s why we need to show girls out there that they have an option to race. That they can compete. I meet a lot of girls that say to me, “I didn’t know I could drive a Formula 1 car.”
ESQ: How do you change that?
TC: In the last couple of years there’s been initiatives like ‘Dare to be Different’, from Susie Wolff, from the FIA Women in Motorsport, to try and inspire the next generation of young girls.
ESQ: How did you get into racing?
TC: My dad was always a huge fan of motorbikes. But it was my sister who took me to the local karting track when I was a kid. I just fell in love with the speed and adrenaline. I’m very grateful with my family because they’ve always supported me no matter what.
ESQ: What’s are next year’s plans? Do you have a confirmed seat in F2 yet?
TC: No, it’s looking very difficult. This sport sadly is very expensive and F2 is one of the most expensive series out there. We are working hard to try to find a sponsor but at the moment, it’s not looking very promising for next year. I would have loved to because you do a first year, you get that experience and then you put it into practice in the second season.
ESQ: Lewis Hamilton said recently that Formula 1 is a sport for rich kids, and wealth will leapfrog talent when it comes to future drivers. Your thoughts?
TC: Sadly, it is turning out that way. Motorsports is very expensive. Even to afford testing time outside of actual racing. It’s very difficult to compete people with money, which is sad for young drivers who are just starting out. When you see F1 superstars on TV and you think you can train on your own and then become one of those great drivers, but the truth is you need a lot of financial backing behind you. I hope that in the future we can make it more accessible for people and make talent count for more.
ESQ: So if not F2, then what?
TC: I would love to do the 24 Hours of Le Mans. It’s a legendary race that everybody wants to do once in life. We are keeping the options open but still have hope that if we can find the full budget.
ESQ: What kind of financial backing does an F2 driver need to get a confirmed seat?
TC: Around two million Euros to compete in F2 and that is without including your personal expenses for flights, hotels etc. In F2 the drivers don’t get paid, in fact, we pay to drive.
ESQ: Any advice for the future drivers of the sport?
TC: When you want something bad enough give it everything. The financial things are tough, but in the end, I’m here because I want to be here.