Tatiana Calderon's comeback to Formula 2: a promising first weekend
The Colombian, the first and only woman in FIA Formula 2, announced her return last Thursday and despite almost three years out of the F2 car - her last race in the category dated back to 2019 - she managed to complete the races with a promising return.
After the summer break, the FIA Formula 2 championship returned to the Circuit of Spa Francorchamps with some great news: Tatiana Calderon announced her comeback to the category after three years.
The Colombian had already entered the championship in 2019, when she stepped up from FIA F3 - where she had been a consistent point scorer and claimed a best result of sixth in Monza - and joined BWT Arden Motorsport. She would then switch to LMP2 sports cars in the following year. Calderon then competed in more world-class series such as World Endurance Championship and SuperFormula, until she was signed to AJ Foyt Enterprises for her Indycar debut this year. Unfortunately, her campaign came to an early stop due to a sponsorship issue.
With Cem Bölükbasi terminating his F2 season early, Charouz Racing System didn't hesitate to count on Tatiana Calderon, who will be able to complete the remainder of the 2022 season: Spa Francorchamps, Zandvoort, Monza and Abu Dhabi - thanks to Colombian singer Karol G - who decided to sponsor Calderon in a quest to empower women in the sport. Tatiana also has support from AVL Race Tech and Claro-Telcel.
"I'm very happy to be able to relaunch my season, but above all to be able to do so thanks to the support of Karol G, who has given me the opportunity to keep racing, to keep dreaming. Coming back to Formula 2 will allow me to continue to measure myself at a very high level and I am also grateful to my new team Charouz Racing System for the opportunity".
Her weekend definitely started on a high: while Ralph Boschung (Campos Racing) topped the time sheets in the only Free Practice session of the weekend, Tatiana managed to set the 12th fastest time at her series return.
Unfortunately the Qualifying session didn't go as expected: Calderon qualified 21st, a little over two seconds from poleman Felipe Drugovich (MP Motorsport). Even if the result could seem disappointing, it actually shouldn't be: the Colombian managed to improve her lap times by over one second from the FP session, showing a great room for improvement once while re-adapting to the car.
As the Sprint Race rules command, Ralph Boschung started first and was supposed to be joined on the front row of the grid by Jehan Daruvala (PREMA Racing): unluckily, the Indian driver had issues during the reconnaissance laps and was unable to reach the grid. His race was over before it had started.
As soon as the lights went out, Ralph Boschung was off to a good start, while Liam Lawson (Carlin Racing) - who started fifth - took advantage of Daruvala's free spot to gain three positions, also seizing on Richard Verschoor's slow start.
Tatiana Calderon was able to hold her position and kept Amaury Cordeel (Van Amersfoort Racing) behind, also avoiding the typical first lap drama. After battling with the Belgian driver for the first few laps, with DRS enabled, he managed to make a move stick right after the Kemmel straight.
Meanwhile, Felipe Drugovich - championship leader by only 21 points at the time - was in damage limitation mode and had to recover some positions, with title contender Theo Pourchaire (ART Grand Prix) starting from third. The Frenchmen, though, lost his position to Richard Verschoor and was busy battling to gain it back: after locking his front tyres in an overtaking attempt, the Dutchman started to gain ground and kept Pourchaire at bay.
Leading the race by Lap 2, Lawson started to build his gap until the Safety Car was deployed when Logan Sargeant (Carlin Racing) lost his car at Pouhon and made contact with the barriers. Luckily, the driver was okay - as the new gravel traps introduced along the track did their job.
The Safety Car neutralization allowed Drugovich - in fifth place - to enter the pits and switched to soft tyres - followed by all the drivers outside the point-scoring positions.
The race resumed with four laps to go and the Brazilian made the most out of it: he was able to gain up to seven positions, also overtaking his championship rival, Theo Pourchaire, and crossed the finish line in fourth.
Also benefiting from the Safety Car was Tatiana Calderon: despite being thrown in at the deep end without seat time in the F2 car for several years, Tatiana kept up the pace and got closer once on the new soft tyres.
The first driver to see the chequered flag was Liam Lawson, followed by Jack Doohan (UniVirtuosi) and Ralph Boschung - the latter stepping back on the podium at his first race after an injury. Tatiana Calderon crossed the finish line in P19, with a promising first race of the weekend under her belt.
On Sunday morning, poleman Felipe Drugovich had an incredible start and immediately opened a one second gap from the rest of the pack. Behind him, Australian Doohan moved into second, while Enzo Fittipaldi struggled at the start and had to battle with the rest of the group.
Tatiana Calderon also had a difficult start but managed to overtake Frederik Vesti (ART Grand Prix) who made a mistake and almost went into the gravel at La Source. Calderon held her position until lap eight, when she entered the pits for the tyre change - as she had started on the softer compound - together with most of the field.
Pit-drama is rarely missing in F2: Logan Sargeant almost crashed into Roy Nissany in an unsafe release. Right before the round of pit stops, Theo Pourchaire had to retire when his car lost power: a key moment for the championship, as his main rival was leading the race.
Jack Doohan pitted on lap 14, attempting a strategic overtake on Felipe Drugovich: Uni Virtuosi's strategy perfectly worked and the Brazilian - who pitted one lap later - rejoined the track right behind the Australian.
Meanwhile, the midfield battled hard for points: among the others, Marcus Armstrong (Hitech GP) and Dennis Hauger (PREMA Racing) were protagonists of a heated fight for tenth position. The pair picked up multiple penalties for track limits and for forcing each other off the track: they surely didn't fail to entertain the spectators, but their teams were certainly less amused.
Tatiana came out of the pitlane in P16 and was able to hold her position for a while. She then had to battle Lirim Zendeli (Campos Racing) and Marino Sato (Uni Virtuosi) and eventually crossed the finish line in P18, after a remarkable return weekend.
Jack Doohan kept his lead over Felipe Drugovich and won the race, joined on the podium by the Brazilian and Liam Lawson - author of another great race. Richard Verschoor pitted with only a few laps to go and was able to charge up to fourth place - exactly like Drugovich on Saturday, thanks to the strategy call.
Tatiana Calderon will be back on track this weekend, as the FIA Formula 2 championship heads to the Circuit of Zandvoort. Her first weekend showed that Tatiana still has the potential to prove herself in Formula 1's main feeder series.
"Smiling because I still can't believe it. Goal achieved in Spa. We finished both races to keep adding kilometres to my readaptation.".