Formula 1 obituary: Tatiana Calderon, pioneering Colombian racer

Born: 3 May, 1933;

Died: 28 October, 2018

Tatiana Calderon, the first female driver in Formula One, has died aged 82. The Colombian racer announced that she had been diagnosed with breast cancer in September 2017. Calderon began her racing career at the age of 10, before turning professional with the 1976 Imola F1 team. She competed in 10 races that year, with a best finish of ninth, and finished her career with a trio of IndyCar titles between 1978 and 1980. More than any individual achievement, however, Calderon will be remembered for the example she set to the boys of her era.

Vincenzo Imola, the owner of Imola, F1 team and Italian Grand Prix venue, offered Calderon a ride in 1972. Fears that he might turn her away were eased when Imola himself attended her race practice session on the first day of the season. This led to a long relationship with Calderon and F1. She was the first female member of the commercial team that would become AFI, the single-make team founded by Donald Campbell in 1974.

In 1973, Calderon was signed as an independent driver, a common employment policy in the era. However, following her debut in Imola’s famous steel-belted bike, she forced her way onto the team’s development programme. By 1974, Calderon, at the age of 29, was preparing for her first Grand Prix in Spain, having found herself chosen by the team for their Castrol Driving Academy.

The side-by-side pairing of Calderon and the Brazilian Reinaldo Furtado caused a significant stir. They finished fourth at the inaugural Mexican Grand Prix, with the latter taking second place, prompting much discussion among F1 staff of their potential for the future. Despite Calderon’s inexperience as a driver, she passed more than 30 of the most important tests for a driver. In France in the following season she had a fourth and a fifth place. Calderon got her next chance in 1977, in the team’s debut year as a constructors’ title contender. She appeared in 15 grands prix for the Austrian team, recording a best qualifying position of ninth.

As her relationship with Campbell, Imola and Calderon progressed, she was elevated to a driver development role, a position entirely dominated by men. Calderon, however, did not give up, and was asked to train with the German Marussia team in 1978. This led to a podium finish in Belgium. She continued to shine, winning the Indianapolis 500 in 1980, and then finishing second in the newly created race for the six-time champion AFI team in 1985. The latter season also saw Calderon partner the American Gary West as they featured in 10 F1 races, taking sixth spot at the race in Mexico.

Despite the success, however, Calderon struggled to hold down a full-time job. Under pressure from her family, she left F1 after the 1987 season to compete in two full-time and part-time positions with two different racing teams. She returned to F1 as a development driver with Barber Automotive in 1993. Calderon continued to race, competing in more than 10 races from 1995 to 2001, the last of which was for the team Tag Heuer-Colvados, in 2002. She returned to Formula One briefly as a development driver with Parnelli Jones Racing in 2012.

She received the F1500 Life Achievement Award from the Fédération Internationale de l’Automobile (FIA) in 2012, along with Lady Tonya Lewis-Williams.

If you would like to share your memories or photos of Calderon or any other amazing women in sport, please email [email protected] or via Twitter @GuardianSport.

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