‘Never Let Others Dictate How High We Can Get and How Good We Can Be’: An Interview with Tatiana Calderón

IndyCar’s Tatiana Calderón has been a trailblazer for women in motorsport over the course of her career.

Written by Immy Cousins

August 8, 2022

Colombia’s Tatiana Calderón started karting at the age of nine and quickly processed through single-seater racing. From being the first woman to win national karting competitions to the first and only woman to race in GP2/F2, Calderón has had a history of firsts in the sport, making her a trailblazer in her own right. Along the Racing Line’s Immy Cousins sat down with the young driver to talk about racing around the world, being a woman in motorsports, and getting back on track for IndyCar.

Tatiana Calderón with the #11 IndyCar (Credits: @Actionsports @grindstonemedia)

Let’s start out with some rapid-fire!

 

Rank strawberries, raspberries, and blackberries from your most favorite to least favorite.

Strawberry, raspberries, and blackberries

Have you got a favorite comfort food that reminds you of home?

We have these corn arepas! With a little bit of cheese, oh, I love those from Colombia.

Can you describe motorsport in three words?

Adrenaline, speed, and innovation.

 

Have you got three idols that you had growing up?

Juan Pablo Montoya, and I had to choose between tennis and motorsports so Roger Federer and Maria Sharapova I quite like.

 

Do you have any fun superstitions or pre-race rituals?

I always like to jump in the car on the left side. That never changes. I used to have more when I was a kid, but that’s my ritual at the moment.

 

If you could design your own livery for your race car, what would it look like?

Well, I’m not a good designer, but I would say that I would like to play with the colors of my helmet. That would be a good start for me.

 

Have you got any top three songs at the moment that you like listening to?

Obviously from Colombia, I like Karol G and Shakira. They just also had a release of new songs and I liked Coldplay quite a lot as well.

 

Have you got a best racing-related memory?

Many! But I think the best one is the first time I drove in a Formula One car. I think that is quite special for me.

 

Have you got a favorite sport or team to watch? One that’s not racing related!

I love watching tennis. And not only watching but also playing better. Yeah. My favorite sport.

 

Have you got a favorite thing to do in your free time to relax?

I like coffee quite a lot. Just experimenting with different types of coffee and having a coffee just to relax is the way to go for me.

 

Credits: @Actionsports @grindstonemedia

 

Now onto some deeper questions. According to your website, you’ve raced in 28 different countries! After being away from home while you were quite young, is there anywhere that you would consider your home race?

Yeah, it’s just incredible. I’ve been lucky to compete in so many countries. I think Spain and Mexico are the closest I get to feeling like home. I haven’t raced in Mexico that much, but I feel the love of all the fans there. And Spain because I spent so much time there, I lived there for like 10 years. I think I would call those the closest home races to me.

 

Say you got into F1 in the future, you’d claim the Spanish Grand Prix and Mexican Grand Prix.

Exactly. I think actually, in Colombia, there was a request to host a Formula One race. I think we’re still maybe a bit too far away from being able to host it, but it’s there right? So we’d love to.

 

Having traveled a lot for GP3, GP2 and F2, how does the traveling compare in IndyCar? Is it a bit easier being in one country all the time, or is it quite similar given the size of America?

In a way, it’s a little bit easier to just travel inside the same country due to COVID regulations because the last few years have been a nightmare. You had to do something different if you were going to England, Italy, or France. So that makes it easier. But the United States is such a big country, right? At the end of the day, you spend pretty much the same time on the airplanes, but at least it’s like the same sort of regulation for the whole thing. So, give-and-take on both.

 

What’s a track you haven’t raced at before, but you’d really like to?

Well, I would love to go to Bathurst. I think everyone’s a super fan of that challenging track. Maybe Singapore looks amazing with the shots that we get in the night from above. It’s pretty challenging as well. So those are on my list, and I’m looking forward to having the Singapore Grand Prix back this year to watch it at least.

 

Would you ever like to do the endurance racing at Bathurst as well?

That would be a must, I think. But it’d be far away. But who knows, right? I hope that some of the teams there read this interview so I can get a go sometime!

 

You’re the only female rookie in IndyCar currently as well as the first and, as of now, only woman to have raced in GP2 and F2. A lot of fans like seeing the dynamics in the relationships between different drivers in the paddock. Have you ever found that potentially because you’re a woman, you don’t necessarily make the same relationships with other drivers or have you found it as easy as we see others?

It’s a tough one, actually. Because yeah, I always found it a little bit more difficult for us to integrate, but I think it also goes with the personality of each person. I think it’s easier when you have a teammate, and you speak with one another a little bit more, but when we’re in different teams, maybe other people have better relationships with the drivers outside of routine. So yeah, it’s a difficult one to reply to. But also, I think there’s definitely a difference between Europe and America in that regard. I think that [in America] you speak to other people from different teams, not only with the drivers, maybe a little bit more than in Europe.

 

Credits: @Actionsports @grindstonemedia

 

Have you ever found someone that you resonate with in the paddock? Do you have relationships similar to what we see of (Lando) Norris and (Carlos) Sainz in F1 or Pato (O’Ward) and Felix (Rosenqvist) in IndyCar?

Well, I think Montoya and I had that kind of really good relationship, and he’s been helping me quite a lot. And I would say Helio Castroneves as well because his wife is Colombian and is building a house in Colombia as well. So we have other topics than just racing to talk about. So that has been really nice. They’re a bit older than me! But yeah, I get on with them quite well.

 

You’ve raced in F2 and IndyCar and lived in both Europe and America as a result. What are your favorite parts of the two cultures?

They’re very different types of operating. Not only from the driving side but also the way of working in America. Compared to Europe, there’s such a big difference in regulations and the way you raced against each other. I think because there have been more female drivers in America, in IndyCar particularly than in Formula One or Formula Two, I do feel like I’ve been respected or accepted a little bit more over here. That’s been my feeling so far. Also, I have been to Japan, so that’s also a very different way of working. I’ve been privileged to have experienced these different types of work. That has made me a better racing driver in trying to communicate what I’m feeling from the car and which way is best for me to communicate that.

 

The respect you’ve received in America compared to Europe, would you say that’s one of the key differences that you notice between the two different cultures?

Yeah, I don’t really understand why. I don’t know if it’s because I race in IndyCar, and you know, you don’t drive IndyCar if you are not a good driver! That’s the way they look at things. I felt like in the team; they already knew I was capable of driving these cars to the limit. So it was never a doubt. And in America, they tend to develop the car a little bit more for you, rather than telling you how to drive their car. So it’s a different approach to what I had in Formula 2 and Formula Three. Formula One is very different, but in the lower series, I felt like maybe they wouldn’t listen to me that much. That’s the way I have perceived it so far.

 

Well, hopefully, that can change a bit in the future.

I agree; that’s why I’m talking about it because I want things to change. Hopefully, we can start that change.

 

I can’t wait to see the day, and hopefully, there will be one where there is a woman getting to F1 and more women just in general around the paddock and on the track; that would be great.

Absolutely. Just takes one sometimes to make all the difference. And hopefully, we’ll get that opportunity at some point in the near future.

 

I feel like we’re getting there. Steady progress, but it’s coming soon.

I agree. 100%.

 

Are you focusing your career in IndyCar for now, or are there maybe other cards on the table such as Endurance, F1 and Formula E in the future?

Well, I loved my time in IndyCar. To be honest, that would be something I would love to continue doing. But I also had a great time in WEC and the endurance races like Le Mans and Daytona. Now that the LMBH cars and all the manufacturers are coming in, I think it’s very interesting to be part of that series. I’m keeping all my options open, hopefully! But, I have had half of the season in IndyCar, and it’s tough to be a rookie. So I would like to come back to those tracks and see how far or how much more I can improve. Hopefully, I’ll have that chance.

Credits: @Actionsports @grindstonemedia

Do you see yourself as a driver that can be quite flexible? Because obviously, the different series come with different styles of racing. 

Yeah, I truly believe that. Last year I did Super Formula, and I combined it with WEC, and it was tough because traveling to Japan is always long, and the calendars. But I felt I developed as a driver quite a lot in endurance as well. People don’t realize that you barely drive in the free practice sessions and stuff because you have to share the car. You have to adjust your driving quite a lot because there’s only one setup, and you have to compromise usually. So you’re not fully comfortable with what you’re driving. You have to push and find a way to deal with this stuff. Save fuel, save tyres, know when to attack, and the traffic management. It’s really complex. So I think it’s a great compliment as a driver to have the ability to drive in both disciplines.

 

Your fellow IndyCar driver Pato O’Ward has been extremely passionate about bringing his love of IndyCar to his home country of Mexico. For example, how he paid for people in Mexico to be able to access IndyCar. Is that something you’d like to do for Colombia and be able to bring your love of racing back into Colombia?

Yeah, I would. I would love to bring more motorsports to Colombia itself. At the end of the day, we only have one racetrack, and it’s quite short, so we would have to bring the car to the streets.  I would like for people to be motivated to watch more racing. More IndyCar back in your country; that’s where you usually get your support from, right? Yeah, hopefully, I can stay and think of ways to bring it closer to them.

 

Do you think we could see a lot more Colombian talent coming out if motorsport was more popularized in the country as well?

Yeah, it grew a lot when Montoya was in Formula One because we were all watching him, and he was doing so well. At the end of the day, it’s with them to find the motivation to go racing. We still need a little bit more push to get people back to watching races and getting interested in the sport. With that comes the support that you need in this sport because this is one of the most expensive ones. In Colombia, it is sometimes difficult to get support because of how expensive it is these days. There are other very popular sports that maybe you can sponsor as a company with less money than you need in racing. It’s finding that balance, you know, to try and find the right sponsorship, but it also comes with people getting more involved in the sport.

 

As a woman in racing, do you see progress being made in terms of equality, and is there anything more that you think needs to change in your opinion?

I do feel like we are making progress. We are creating more opportunities; people are taking us a little bit more seriously. But there’s still a lot that needs to be done. In terms of research, in terms of the ergonomy of the cars, the design of the cars with our measurements in mind, to be thought about and to include us more in some important decisions. Maybe because there have not been that many women, we are seeing that the research is not there. The data is not there because there have not been that many women in the sub-series in the sport, so I believe that to be given the right opportunities, we’re still a little bit behind. To participate, it’s fine here. But to win it? You need to combine a lot of factors, and you need to be in a really good car in a really good team to be able to show your full potential. So in participation, I think we’re doing much, much better. And the next step, obviously, is to get all those real opportunities and the belief that we can do the job.

 

Even simple, basic things like race suits being more targeted and directly made for women because they’ve never really been designed can be improved. It’s only been quite recently that there’s been a race suit designed specifically for women before you get into expensive custom suits.

Absolutely. And it’s the same with the pedal, the steering wheels, and the measurement between the pedals. We have different torso and leg measurements, and we’re maybe a little bit smaller, and our hips are bigger to fit in the seat. When you’re going more than 300 kilometers an hour, and you’re looking for tenths of a second, you need to be very comfortable if you don’t have any power steering. I think it all comes down to that and knowing that we are different. There are different ways to look at things and feel the car, and then in terms of setup. So many things I feel that could be further developed for us to start from the same level as the guys because everything is there for them. Designed for them. Not designed for us.

 

Credits: @Actionsports @grindstonemedia

 

Even from an academic perspective, there’s pretty much no research into how motorsport can be developed for women as well. It’s very difficult to find something that’s actually been researched as to how we can help women get into motorsport by changing such simple things.

Exactly. Or even the way you train. There are so many studies on that. Even if you’re not doing motorsports, the way our bodies react in different stages of the month, you have to consider that to build muscle. There are endless things that have not been researched for us. And yet they have the information for the guys, and they make you train the same way, but maybe you don’t need to train the same way; you need something different because our bodies are different. That is still something we need to try and get more information on, but you need more girls coming through as well. It’s one thing to get the participation up, which will help a lot. The next stage is to actually create the best opportunities possible to give us a chance to show our real talent and that we can be quite high up the grid if we are given the right tools and what we need. Not what they need.

 

So many young girls look up to you as a trailblazer for women in sport. Do you have a message that you could give to young girls in racing and those looking to get into racing?

I feel very privileged to get these types of messages from young girls, from their parents saying that they want to be racing or go karting because they saw a girl competing in Formula Two or in IndyCar. I get so many messages, and many little girls at the track, and they’re like, “Oh, well, I can do this too!” Coming from Colombia when I was nine years old, I dreamt of becoming a Formula One driver, driving a Formula One car, and I’m here in that position. I have driven a Formula One car, and it was just because I believed that anything was possible. We should never let other people dictate how high we can get and how good we can be. It’s just up to you about how much you’re willing to work for it. Once you decide what your passion is, you should go for it.

 

A lot of drivers tend to rely on sponsors from their home country or through personal connections. We’ve seen how difficult it is for drivers about these connections, especially in F2 this past season. For you personally, has it historically been difficult to find sponsors willing to jump on board?

Yeah, that is part of it. You know this sport is so tough in that area. And it’s just like the more sponsorship you can get, the further up the grid you can go sometimes because you need to be testing, you need to get access to the best teams, and it is still a very, very expensive sport, unfortunately. You depend on that kind of sponsorship to continue progressing in this sport, and it’s never easy to get a sponsor, regardless of your gender or your nationality. But I think it’s the moment; it’s been really, really tough. I’ve been lucky to have had ROKiT over the last couple of years, supporting my career, Richard Mille Racing as well in the Endurance Championship. You just gotta keep working on it, but it’s a very difficult topic, and we definitely need more sponsors earlier on. Coming from Colombia where sometimes the Colombian peso, when you change it to dollars or euros, you lose four times. So it’s also tough in that regard; it also depends on where you come from. Regardless of your gender, it’s difficult to get sponsorship.

 

It’s clear that you’re sort of a true talent that needs to be supported because you’ve made it this far now. So hopefully, you can keep working, and you’ll get there!

I’ve been lucky as well. Sometimes, when I feel like I have nothing, and you still hope, you still work: something comes up. The universe has a funny way of putting challenges onto you to see how much you want it. When you keep working, you have to be patient; great things come when you work hard for them. Hopefully, we can go from there and continue to race in IndyCar this season! We’re trying hard to come back.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Immy is a long time fan of motorsports having grown up watching it with her family. Being in isolation at University in late 2020 allowed her to really grow a love for it. She is currently studying BA Sociology at University with the intent to train to be a teacher. Immy has a particular interest in the media side of motorsports which led her to creating F1/Motorsport themed TikToks in her spare time. She enjoys writing both about F1 and F2 as well as the diversity in the sport. You can find her on Twitter @immy_cousins.

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