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New Sauber test driver, Danica Patrick defend women in F1

March 6, 2018

FILE - In this Thursday, Oct. 26, 2017 file photo, Sauber driver Tatiana Calderon talks during an interview in Mexico City. Formula One team Sauber has signed on Tuesday, March 6, 2018 Colombian driver Tatiana Calderon as its test driver for 2018. The 24-year-old Calderon was the team’s development driver last season. The team says “she will be completing simulator training sessions and coaching with engineers” during gran prix weekends and at the team’s headquarters in Switzerland. (AP Photo/Eduardo Verdugo, file)

MONTMELO, Spain (AP) — Tatiana Calderon was announced as Sauber’s test driver on Tuesday and quickly had to defend women’s presence in Formula One.

The 24-year-old Colombian spoke a day after Carmen Jorda, a former development driver in F1 and a member of FIA’s Women in Motorsport Commission, reportedly said women can’t compete equally with men because F1 is too physically demanding. According to ESPN, Jorda said women should try racing in a series like Formula E, which uses electric cars.

“I don’t think there is a physical barrier,” Calderon told Spanish media during preseason testing near Barcelona. “Obviously women and men are different and we have a little less muscle mass, but I can make up for that with training.”

Calderon is the first woman to become a test driver in F1 since Susie Wolff drove for Williams in 2015.

“Wolff has already shown that there is no physical barrier,” Calderon said. “I hope to show that we can compete.”

There was widespread reaction to Jorda’s comments, with former NASCAR and IndyCar driver Danica Patrick saying she didn’t agree with the notion that women are at a disadvantage in racing.

“I don’t buy into that,” Patrick told The Associated Press in a phone interview. “We are in a competition of repetition and staying calm and loosening up the death grip on the wheel, and staying focused and using your mind. These are the things that help you with endurance: Keeping a level head, keeping relaxed and having general fitness. If we were going for Olympic lifting, how strong can you possibly be? Then women would not win because that’s not how our bodies are built. But that’s not the game of racing.”

Former F1 champion Jenson Button also criticized Carmen’s comments.

“Oh Carmen, you’re not helping proper female racing drivers with this comment,” he said in a tweet. “Ask @DanicaPatrick about being (strong) enough to drive a race car! She’d kick my butt in the gym & she’s probably as strong as any driver on the F1 Grid right now. Physical barrier is not your issue Carmen.”

In separate comments after a Formula E test in Mexico City last week, Jorda said her goal as a member of FIA’s commission is to get more women into racing.

“I’ve been racing since I was 11 and a lot has changed,” she told channel 3iMexico. “It’s not a sport only for men, it’s also for women. We obviously support all women in the sport.”

Jorda, who was appointed a development driver for F1 team Lotus in 2015, has been an advocate of an all-female racing championship, but Calderon disagreed.

“We don’t need that,” Calderon said. “I really think women can do really well.”

Calderon, who started racing at age 9, was Sauber’s development driver last season.

“I have been able to substantially expand and develop my skills as a race driver, and I am convinced that I will be doing so throughout this year,” she said. “I look forward to this season, and will give my all to demonstrate my capabilities.”

Sauber said Calderon “will be completing simulator training sessions and coaching with engineers” during race weekends and at the team’s headquarters in Switzerland. Calderon competed in the GP3 series that last two seasons, and will remain in the development series along with her role as Sauber’s test driver.

Before Wolff, the last woman to participate in an F1 race weekend was Italian Giovanna Amati with Brabham in 1992, but she failed to qualify for a race in three attempts.

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AP Auto Racing Writer Jenna Fryer contributed to this report.

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More AP Auto Racing: https://racing.ap.org

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