It was perhaps cheeky to ask Tatiana Calderon to sum up the month of her life prior to our chat in Abu Dhabi last month using just a single word.

In the weeks leading up to the GP3 Series finale at Yas Marina, she had fulfilled a lifelong dream of driving a Formula 1 car not just once, but twice. She’d also been confirmed for a Formula E test with defending teams’ champion, Techeetah, and secured a Formula 2 test ahead of a planned move up to the category for 2019.

5774263478001

CrashTV: 

“Fantastic” was Calderon’s choice of descriptor after a few moments of thought and a laugh. 

“It was a dream come true, to drive a Formula 1 car, and to do it in the C37 in Mexico, which is like the closest track to my hometown in Colombia, and being part of the Escuderia Telmex, I couldn’t have chosen a better place to do it," she said.

“And then to have two proper test days in Fiorano in Maranello, where you feel that Ferrari energy… it’s still incredible.”

The goal had always been for Calderon to test an F1 car in 2018 as part of her development role with Sauber. She had been preparing intensively throughout the year, adding nine centimetres to her neck circumference to deal with the stresses of an F1 car, only for Sauber to drop a bombshell just prior to Mexico.

Her first F1 test would not be in an old-spec car as expected. Instead, it would be in Sauber’s 2018 car, the C37, as part of the team’s permitted promotional running.

Calderon described her first feeling hitting the track in the F1 car as “something from a different world,” her previous benchmark being Formula Renault 3.5 cars.

“It seems like a video game, because it passes so quickly," she reflected. "Then you get sort of used to it. The brakes are incredible. It took me a few laps to get used to everything.”

Calderon was only able to complete 23 laps of the Autodromo Hermanos Rodriguez due to the limits on promotional running, but impressed enough to secure a second, more extensive test, spending two days in the 2013-spec Sauber C32 car at Fiorano.

“I think it was a result of what happened in Mexico,” Calderon said. “We had said at the start of the year that maybe we’ll get a chance to drive an older car, but it was not that defined. That was a proper test with a lot of tyres, even race engineers - they went with me for that test, so it was proper.

“There were so many cameras on the Mexico test, you didn’t want to put a foot wrong. I was definitely not pushing to the limit. But at Fiorano I was able to explore the limits of the car, to really adapt my driving a bit more to suit the F1 car.

“Always when I jump in bigger cars, I’ve felt much more comfortable, because I’m a driver who pushes the entries a little bit more and when you have that extra downforce and extra grip overall, I think it really suits me. I really enjoyed those days, it was incredible.”

As for which of the two cars Calderon preferred driving? “Nothing beats the V8 sound!” she said. “It’s just music for me! There were a lot of people in Fiorano town, they heard the noise of the engine and came to watch on the fence.”

Calderon was told by the engineers on-site to perform doughnuts at the end of her run for the fans who had braved the 4ºC temperature to watch her. “It was just the cherry on the top of the cake, really cool.”

‘I’M A DIFFERENT DRIVER’

The F1 test came at the end of a difficult third and final full year in GP3. While it was certainly Calderon’s strongest season, one that ended with five straight points finishes, she ended up 16th in the standings with a best finish of P6. Nevertheless, Calderon said she felt “much more complete” as a driver for her experiences this year.

“Maybe sometimes the results don’t show the full potential. It’s so difficult that you have one lap, because everybody is sort of improving, and if you don’t put it all together there in qualifying, it’s really difficult to make up the places in the race,” Calderon said.

“Of course I wanted more from the season, but I’m quite grateful that I had the chance to test a Formula 1 car, and that I did quite well. I feel like I’m a different driver from the start of the season.”

Just as Calderon is a different driver to the one who started the year, Sauber is a different team. Its ascendance from backmarker to occasional midfield leader has been one of the feel-good stories in F1 this year, making the team one to watch for 2019.

“It’s incredible, the step they’ve made,” Calderon said. “I think that it shows what happens when you work hard, because they’re hard working and passionate people working there, I think it makes a huge difference.

“Even when you listen in the debriefs and things like this, you feel the motivation of the people. They want to do extra work because they are so close.

“That’s the key. You know that if you put in an extra two hours of work and you find this little tenth here, it makes a lot of difference. I really see that good atmosphere and motivation within the team.”

While Calderon is still yet to have any formal confirmation of plans for 2019 regarding her role with Sauber, the noises coming out of the team are positive.

“She did two good tests,” Sauber team boss Frederic Vasseur said. “The first one was more of a PR event in Mexico, but the second one was a real test and she did really well. She is able to manage the situation on the physical side, that probably, in this case in F2, is more difficult without power steering.

“She did well. She is very calm, improving step-by-step and, honestly, she is a very good test driver. She impressed everybody, including the engineers with 25 years of experience at the team.

“Now we have to relax. She will do the F2 test and see what happens.”

Calderon linked up with Charouz Racing System for the F2 test, the team which will be Sauber’s junior outfit from 2019. Her F2 test results were competitive, finishing 13th overall across the two days to act as a promising sign for 2019.

“I would love to continue [with Sauber],” Calderon said. “We haven’t really discussed much further. I would love to stay because I feel part of the family, and I get along with everybody really well. Hopefully we can finish the season on a high and have a good test to see what we can do in the future.”

Comments

Loading Comments...