Sauber F1 development driver Tatiana Calderon reflects on the opening half of her GP3 campaign in her latest column for Motorsport.com, and explains why she's optimistic of better things to come.
Welcome to my latest Motorsport.com column! It’s certainly been a busy season so far, with both my Sauber development driver role and GP3 commitments with DAMS to juggle. But it’s also been very rewarding, even if my results are still not what I would like them to be.
Moving to a new team is always tricky, and at DAMS there is a different type of atmosphere and work ethic compared to what I have been used to before. It always takes a while for both sides to fully understand how each other works, and for the team to adapt to your driving style.
But after a tough start to the year, finally I feel things are getting into place. We struggled in the early rounds with general pace, and I wasn’t really feeling confident in the car, but since then DAMS has worked really hard for me to feel comfortable, to get the set-up where I want it.
I think the hard work is paying off, especially as last time out in Hungary I managed to get my best grid slot since I joined GP3 at the start of the last year, and was best of the DAMS cars by quite a margin.
The reality is though that qualifying could have been even better, as I was blocked by my teammate Matthieu Vaxiviere. I was really compromised because I had to do two push laps in a row without a cool-down lap, and I was actually improving on that lap a lot. We talked things over afterwards and Matthieu apologised.
Sadly I couldn’t convert my 10th place into points after I got squeezed off-track on the first lap in race one, but in race two I was overtaking several guys using the DRS and I was matching race pace with some of the top drivers, which was really encouraging. It gives me a lot of confidence heading into the second part of the season.
Changes at DAMS
Things definitely changed a lot after my teammate Santino Ferrucci decided to leave DAMS to switch to F2 after Silverstone, which was a difficult weekend for the team. But Hungary turned out to be the best weekend yet in terms of finding the right set-up direction, as the team was able to give me what I needed to go quicker, going towards something that suits my driving style better.
Now I’m finding my way in this new situation, which has made me realise how much I’ve learnt from the last couple of years – about set-up, about what works for you.
To be able to lead the team in that sense is a great experience for me, and it also gives you a bit of confidence, to say ‘I know the way to go, and it’s working’. That was important for me in Hungary to perform, and show that I know what I want on the car and that I know what I need to go quick.
Now coming up are Spa and Monza, two tracks that I really like and that I’ve performed well at in the past. I hope we can keep this momentum going, keeping this understand between me and the team to move forward and become regular points-scorers.
And if I can finish in the top eight on Saturday, it gives you a chance to do something big on Sunday with the reverse grid. I’m pretty sure if I start in the top three, I can finish there (as long as nobody crashes into me!) because my race pace is good and it’s been difficult to overtake this year, even with DRS.
Impressing Sauber's new boss
Of course, getting good results in GP3 in the second half of the year is doubly important to impress Sauber’s new team boss Frederic Vasseur. I knew him from testing with ART in GP3 three years ago, he’s very experienced and just the guy the team needs to move it forward.
The other thing I feel that's helped my form lately is my Sauber simulator work. I spent four days there last month, I was really improving and testing stuff for the real car.
It’s also been really enjoyable for me to work with really great engineers, and I think this experience showed in qualifying in Hungary.
Still, if I’m going to get the opportunity to expand my role at Sauber, I’m going to have to earn it on track with the results.
So that’s my target for the rest of this year, to really show what I can do with DAMS' full support and to be close to scoring points and in the top eight.
And where better to start doing that than Spa, where I led in European Formula 3 two years ago? I can’t wait to get back in the car there and really start showing my true potential.
Until next time,