Tatiana Calderón is probably the fastest woman on the planet right now, and the 27-year-old Columbian’s racing career has been punctuated by a number of firsts. She was the first woman to compete in both Japanese Super Formula and Formula 2, and was part of the first all-female LMP2 driver lineup in Le Mans history earlier this year. She’s also the first woman Alfa Romeo has ever signed as a test driver for their Formula 1 team, and that’s where she’s headed.
“I want to be a full time Formula 1 driver, that’s my dream. It’s why I wake up in the morning,” Calderón told MotorTrend during a virtual roundtable event hosted by Alfa Romeo Racing.
But getting a seat at the pinnacle of motorsport is a herculean task for even the most experienced and most fortunate (male) drivers.F1 is by far and away the most expensive, most exclusive, and most difficult form of racing there is, and for women there are further obstacles that have little to do with talent or experience. After all, this is a sport that hasn’t had a woman behind the wheel in almost 30 years. In F1’s 70 year history, just two women have qualified for and competed in a race—Desiré Wilson and Lella Lombardi. The last woman to enter a race (despite not qualifying for it) was Giovanna Amati in 1992.
In more recent years the Federation Internationale de l’Automobile (FIA), the governing body that runs F1, has tried to bolster women’s presence in the highest levels of motorsport. In 2009, the Women In Motorsport Commission was created to acknowledge women in motorsport, and to try and encourage participation in them. Calderon has been one of the program’s ambassadors for the last two years.
“We are trying to create this awareness that young girls can really start in karting,” Calderón said. “Because if we want girls to reach Formula 1, you have to start at a very early age. Parents these days wouldn’t take their girl to karting, they’d take their boy. We want to change that.”
Karting is where Calderón got her start. She’s been racing in karts since the age of 9, and has since worked her way up the traditional ranks. Though Calderón is well aware that there are now racing series specifically for women, she still believes that the best way to include women in motorsport is instead for women to prove themselves against men. She is adamant that if you want to be the best, you have to race against the best.
There are, however, more than a few places where women are put on the back foot. Visibility, securing sponsorships, and even the cars themselves. Calderón told us that even though racing is one of the few sports where men and women can compete on equal footing with equal equipment, the cars themselves need to be tailored specifically for women—and the cars in Formula 1, 2, and 3, are all built around men.
“You need to consider the measurements of girls so that when we get to the level where three tenths (of a second) is the difference between winning and tenth (place), we are comfortable,” Calderón said. “But also this is a very expensive sport regardless of your gender … we need to force exposure at the beginning because that’s how you make change and get sponsorships.”
But the cars and sponsorships are just part of the battle. The other is getting women to participate in the first place.
“We need more girls, definitely,” Calderón said. “That’s why I believe this Ferrari Driver Academy we are creating right now is a great first step.”
The FIA’s program for young women called Girls on Track Rising Stars recently struck a deal with Ferrari Driver Academy—the same academy that has given rise to Charles Leclerc and other F1 notables—to give two women at least one full season of races in their regional Formula 4 Championship. The hope is that, with a name like Ferrari and some of the best cars behind these women, it will give them the opportunity to not only race professionally, but win and be recognized for other opportunities in F3, F2, and maybe even F1.
Calderón is a huge proponent of this and other efforts like it, and she doesn’t want women to worry about the fact that racing is male-dominated. She says if racing is a woman’s dream, she should chase it relentlessly.
“Nobody can put limits on what you’re able to achieve (as a woman). They don’t know what we’re capable of … if you find your passion you need to follow your dreams and work hard,” Calderón said. “I absolutely feel that there are no limits.”