Tatiana Calderon: "I don't want to race against girls, just the best!"

Racing against other girls has never been of any interest to Tatiana Calderon, and as she reveals exclusively to Motorsport.com, the reasons why go right back to her childhood in Colombia.

Tatiana Calderon: "I don't want to race against girls, just the best!"
Tatiana Calderon, Arden International
Tatiana Calderon, Arden International
Tatiana Calderon, Arden International
Tatiana Calderon, Arden International
Tatiana Calderon, Arden International
Tatiana Calderon, Arden International
Tatiana Calderon, Arden International
Tatiana Calderon, Arden International
Tatiana Calderon, Arden International
Tatiana Calderon, Arden International
Juan Pablo Montoya and Tatiana Calderon
Juan Pablo Montoya
Tatiana Calderon
Podium: second place Tatiana Calderon
Podium: Tatiana Calderon, Jean Alesi, Tarun Reddy and Nikita Troitskiy
Tatiana Calderon, Status Grand Prix
Tatiana Calderon
Tatiana Calderon
Tatiana Calderon
Tatiana Calderón, Carlin Dallara F312 Volkswagen
Tatiana Calderon, JZR/ Mücke Motorsport Dallara F312 Mercedes-HWA
Tatiana Calderón, Carlin Dallara F312 Volkswagen
Tatiana Calderon, Carlin Dallara F312 Volkswagen
Tatiana Calderon, Carlin Dallara F312 Volkswagen
Tatiana Calderon, Arden International
Tatiana Calderon, Jo Zeller Racing Dallara F312 - Mercedes
Tatiana Calderon, Arden International
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It was at the 2015 Malaysian Grand Prix when Formula 1 supremo Bernie Ecclestone caused a stir when he suggested the idea of a new series solely for women racing in Grand Prix machinery.

Unsurprisingly, reaction to the proposal from female drivers at the time was mainly negative, then-Formula 3 racer Tatiana Calderon telling Motorsport.com that she doubted there would even be enough women racing to make up a competitive grid. 

So, it came as something of a surprise to the Bogota-born, Madrid-based driver when she received an email a few months back sounding her out to compete in a girls-only championship in 2017.

It came shortly after she had firmed up her switch from Formula 3 to GP3 with Arden for the upcoming season, and it was a proposal she understandably gave short shrift.

"All my life, I have always competed against boys," Calderon said. "I started racing when I was nine years old, I've won races in various championships, and I've never felt that I couldn't win.

"Maybe it's not possible for women to compete in other sports, where the physical aspects are a much bigger factor, but we are fit enough to race in Formula 1.

"I think we're capable of competing at the highest level, and as time goes by we're showing that more and more."

Ecclestone's views on female drivers have been a constant source of headlines over the years, one of the 85-year-old's more recent musings being that he doubts a girl would be taken seriously in F1.

"It annoys me, but at the same time it motivates me because I want to prove him wrong," said Calderon of Ecclestone's latest remarks.

One of the boys

So, why this stubborn refusal to be defined by her gender? To find the answer, we have to go back to Calderon's childhood in Bogota, where her parents, Alberto and Maria Clara, steered her towards physical pursuits from a young age.

And that meant, inevitably, a lot of time during her formative years was spent hanging around boys.

"My parents always wanted me to do sports – tennis, football, even horse riding," she recalled. "So I always loved doing sports, and at school the boys were more interested in sports than the girls."

Her brother Felipe, who is two years younger, was also a big influence: "We used to do everything together – I would play tennis against him, or play football with him and the guys.

"It was just normal; I thought to myself, 'who cares if I'm the only girl playing football?' and the same applied when I started go-karting.

"It never really occurred to me that there were no other girls doing it, and I never really felt they treated me differently because I was a girl.

"I was never told that I couldn't race, or that it was awkward for a girl to like the sport."

Starting go-karting at the age of nine, it didn't take long for Calderon – inspired by the success of her compatriot Juan Pablo Montoya – to realise that karting was more than just something to do for fun.

Asked when the thought of being a professional racer first crossed her mind, she said: "Maybe when I was 10, when Montoya was at the peak of his career in Formula 1.

"I started following him from his last season in IndyCar [2000], and then the following year, when he switched to F1, I would wake up early to watch every Grand Prix.

"Once I took up karting, sooner or later it clicked in mind – I want to be a Formula 1 driver! I remember my parents laughing a little bit, but it made sense in my mind!"

As well as racing in her native Colombia, a young Calderon was a regular on the US karting scene for many years, and it was there she eventually made her first serious steps into single-seater racing (more of which can be seen here.)

"In America, there were a lot more girls racing than any other country that I've raced in," she noted. "So for them, to see a girl compete and do well was quite normal.

"Of course, every now and again, someone might say, 'she's quick… for a girl!' But those kind of comments only ever filled me with more determination to kick everyone else's ass!"

Family support

Indeed, Calderon's karting accomplishments in the States – racing against such familiar names as Sage Karam, Spencer Pigot and Gabby Chaves – were instrumental in proving to her parents she deserved their full-hearted support to build a racing career.

"It was when I won the Stars of Karting championship [in 2008] that it got more serious," she reflected. "By the stage I had to start thinking about whether I wanted to go to university, and that's when I told my parents that I really just wanted to dedicate myself to racing.

"They could see I was putting in a lot of effort and that I was succeeding, so they gave me the chance to race full-time.

"My dad owns a Kia dealership back home, and he has always loved racing. So he was really happy I wanted to race, because he never had chance to and he wanted to give me that chance.

"It was much easier to convince him than my mum, who needed a little bit more time to digest it, but she has always been very supportive too."

Though parental support is key in any young racer's career, for Calderon, there has been one person whose contribution has had an even more profound impact – her sister Paula.

Seven years Tatiana's senior, Paula took up go-karting at the same time and raced alongside her sister for a number of years before she ultimately gave up racing to focus on her studies.

While the two may no longer race together, Paula remains very much involved in her sister's career as a de facto manager, helping Tatiana to deal with teams, sponsors and the media. 

"We're like best friends," said Tatiana of her older sibling. "She moved with me when I had to leave America to race in Europe, so I had someone to talk to who knows what it's like behind the wheel.

"She knows me so well; if I'm upset and I'm not saying something, just by looking at me she knows what's wrong.

"She knows the effort I put in, and she loves the sport as much as I do. We live the dream together, and more than anyone she wants me to succeed."

Bouncing back 

To say that last season didn't go according to plan for Calderon would be something of an understatement, as she ended her third European F3 season without a single point to her name racing for the Carlin squad.

It came as something of a shock after her strong run of form with Jo Zeller/Mucke in late 2014, but her stellar showing in the MRF Challenge series at the end of the year, where she finished runner-up, served as a timely confidence boost ahead of what is set to be a critical year for her career.

"Last year was a really tough year, but for me it was clear there was something not working for me to do with the set-up and the communication between me and the team," said the 23-year-old.

"For sure, you have doubts – 'is it me, is it the car, what is it?' It's not easy when things don't go your way weekend after weekend.

"But I could see the data from the top guys, and I felt I was capable of doing what they were doing, plus I knew from 2014 that I'm capable of driving an F3 car quick.

"So I kept believing that, when I got comfortable, the results would come back. And then in the MRF Challenge I finally was able to show again that, given equal equipment, I can compete."

Indeed, her struggles at Carlin last year could be seen as ideal preparation for her GP3 campaign with Arden: "The tough times always make you stronger, and I learned so much last year.

"I've learned that I can't fundamentally change my driving style and that the set-up needs to be adapted around me, so I'm working hard to feel as comfortable as possible in the GP3 car – because I know that if I'm comfortable, I have the speed."

And finally, we ask if, were she to endure another season like 2015 again this year, would that offer of racing in a female-only series become that bit more attractive?

"No, I wouldn't do it!" comes the predictable reply. "I want to race against the best, so I would stick to another path and keep on racing at the highest level possible."

Next time, perhaps those in charge of sending the invites should be a little more careful about who they send them to.

Tatiana will continue as a Motorsport.com driver columnist in 2016, starting with this weekend's season-opening GP3 round at Barcelona.

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