Calderon hopes to defy doubters in Super Formula
Tatiana Calderon says she hopes to prove wrong her doubters in Super Formula this season after being handed an unexpected chance to prolong her single-seater career in Japan.
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Calderon was a surprise addition to Honda's roster of drivers for Japan's premier single-seater series last month, being selected to drive for the returning Drago Corse team in 2020.
It marks a departure from the Formula 1 support paddock for the Colombian, who spent three seasons in GP3 from 2016-18 before stepping up to F2 with Arden in 2019 - while also acting as a test driver for the Alfa Romeo F1 team.
The first chance for Calderon to drive Super Formula's SF19 car will come in the first official pre-season test at Suzuka in March, with another F2 racer, Nobuharu Matsushita, representing the one-car Drago squad in December's rookie test (pictured below).
Her lack of familiarity with the car, the series' circuits and the racing culture of Japan in general means she is under no illusions as to the scale of the challenge that awaits.
"I expect it to be more difficult than F2," Calderon told Motorsport.com. "I don’t have high expectations. I’ve never seen any of the tracks, I haven’t met the team, I haven’t driven the car. There are a lot of new things to take on.
"My goal is to get closer and closer to the top as the year progresses. Of course, the start is going to be tough but I want to get as close to the top 10 as I can. But it’s difficult to set a target without even having been there [to Japan].
Nobuharu Matsushita（ThreeBond DragoCORSE）
Photo by: Masahide Kamio
"I’ve never driven the Yokohama tyre so that’s also going to be very new to me. But I’ve driven the Pirelli for four seasons so to be able to focus on pure speed, pushing the whole time, it’s something I was used to in FIA F3 [in 2014-15] with the Hankooks and it’s a nice change.
"With Pirelli it was so tricky to make them work, sometimes they degrade and sometimes not. I’m hoping this year it will be more consistent."
While she accepted that her poor form in F2 last year made her an easy target for her detractors, Calderon said she is determined to make the most of the chance she has been handed in Super Formula - and hopefully silence the nay-sayers in the process.
"If you aren’t there in the team seeing what’s happening, and you just see the results, people judge you quite harshly," she admitted. "I’m not going to defend [my record] because I’m the first one who doesn’t want to get those kinds of results and be so far off the pace.
"For sure it’s going to be a huge challenge because I’m at a disadvantage in Super Formula – it’s really hard for Europeans to do well there, especially in the first year.
"But I don’t care what people say. It’s a fantastic opportunity. I’m going to try to learn from it; I think it’s going to make me a better driver.
"I hope I can prove of some of those people wrong, but the main objective is to learn, and remain in single-seaters that are as close as possible to F1."
Calderon made her farewell outing in F2 in the season finale at Abu Dhabi, rounding off a campaign in which he failed to score any points with the Arden team.
The Colombian went into the weekend knowing it would very likely be her final race weekend in the series, which she admits made for a "quite emotional" experience.
"There were mixed feelings, obviously," reflected Calderon. "The season was so hard in so many ways, but it was such a great opportunity to do F2.
"Given the circumstances of the whole year, with sponsorship and stuff, I knew it was probably my last race in the F1 support paddock, so it was quite emotional as well.
"I really enjoyed it. In Race 2 at least at the beginning I was competitive – I overtook [Nyck] de Vries, I was up there fighting for a little while. So that felt like a good closure.
"But it was obviously emotional because I want to be there fighting, but it’s hard to get the opportunities, especially after such a difficult year."
Tatiana Calderon, Arden
Photo by: Joe Portlock / Motorsport Images
Many of Calderon’s difficulties stemmed from her having trouble suitably preparing the tyres in qualifying, often leaving her towards the back of the field and running alternate strategies in a bid to make up ground in the feature race.
The 26-year-old's task was made harder by losing her race engineer on the eve of the new season, with another new engineer having been brought in from Spa onwards.
"At the beginning of the year I was trying too hard to make the car suit me, I was not trying to change my driving to suit the car," Calderon admitted looking back on the season.
"Those last two rounds, I changed a bit my mentality – ‘this is what I’m gonna get, I’m not gonna get anything better than this – so let’s see how I can try to get this feeling and adapt myself’.
"For Sochi I had a new teammate and Artem [Markelov] was struggling a bit in the same areas as me. That was a little relief.
"He adapted quicker than I did, and I know I still have to work on that, but it was good to see it was not just my feeling. To compare with someone like this was positive, I think."
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