Why we should be funding women: A chat with Tatiana Calderón

Why we should be funding women: A chat with Tatiana Calderón

By Dariana Almeyda

From the hallmark big tobacco advertisements to the new-age crypto activations of the 21st century, sponsorships in motorsport have been crucial in defining who wins and who loses (think: more sponsorship money, less financial worry, more focus on the driving). The road to success in major racing series has been trodden and beaten by decades of men racing their way to the top–both inside and outside of the car. With more attention on women in motorsport, we’ve seen sponsors play a bigger role in guaranteeing a driver’s seat on the grid–ultimately guaranteeing her credibility as a reliable, successful racing driver.

I sat down with Tatiana Calderón, the multi-hyphenate Colombian racing driver and friend of Parc Fermé, to talk about her experience with securing sponsors as a woman in motorsport. We chatted about her partnership with Karol G, the process of rebuilding in the face of financial adversity, and the future of funding women in a male dominated industry:

“In the US, less than 1% of sponsorships go to female athletes. It’s like women getting paid less than men who are doing the same job as us–I think it’s the same in motorsports. Brands think they can negotiate more with you and get you for less money because maybe you’re worth less. And there’s a lot of credibility tied into that–because there hasn’t been a woman winning or essentially being there on the grid in F1 or in other championships. You see some drivers that get good backing from the beginning and don’t have to worry about money. Unfortunately, that hasn’t been the case with any female driver. We haven’t been given the same opportunities because of the money and credibility.”

After some trouble with funding for her 2022 Indycar season, Tatiana’s plan was to return to Indycar with reggaeton star Karol G’s support. Karol’s team played a key role in designing the branding on the car and the suit, but at the last minute there was no space on the Indycar grid and an opportunity came up in F2. The iconic “Bichota” lettering across Tatiana’s car, race suit, and helmet is a direct reference to Karol G’s hit song of the same name–and an active reclamation of an often derogatory term in many spanish-speaking countries:

“To me, Bichota is a badass woman that we all are deep inside. It’s just those insecurities– sometimes the atmosphere, society–that put limits in our heads. We all have that willingness to fight for what we want. That’s what it really means to me; that I’m a badass woman that can do whatever I want.”

Karol and Tatiana’s partnership feels like the tip of the iceberg in imagining what the future of sponsorships for women in motorsport could look like–and a reminder of the uninterrupted financial support athletes need in a sport as fast paced as this one. Reggaeton is just as male dominated as motorsport, and both industries embody the rush of keeping up with opportunities that disappear just as quickly as they appeared. This collaboration was a huge example of how women supporting women can create a ripple effect that ensures sponsorship is the two-way street we all assume it is: credibility for the racing driver and exposure for the sponsor.

Tatiana explained that there are some brands that don’t want any space on her car, they just want her image and some digital content–like a TV commercial or a few posts on social media. She and her sister, Paula, work to create packages that work best for each potential sponsor. Since most of her sponsors currently come from Latin America, they’ll often connect sponsors to each other as a way of bolstering exposure for each brand. She cites currency conversions as a major factor in securing enough funds for her season since the conversion from pesos to dollars can make or break her drive for any series. The Calderón sisters take great care in who they partner with for sponsorships by centering their relationship on shared values and respect:

“I’m always clear that I'm not an influencer, I’m a racing driver. My priority is my racing program so we work around that. What I love most is being a racing driver and I would do whatever it takes, within a certain range, to get the sponsorship to go racing at the end of the day.”

Tatiana’s desire to work with brands she believes in and actually uses makes her involvement in brand activations and sponsored content that much more valuable. She told me her dream sponsorship as a coffee lover would be with a coffee brand she can represent, aside from the usual athletic sponsorships like athletic wear and foods. For her, the ideal sponsor is one where you don’t have to force a relationship or connection, but build on a trust and respect that already exists.

As a firm believer that women’s fashion and beauty brands should be funding women athletes in all sports (think: Toni Breidinger’s Free People Movement and Huda Beauty sponsorships), I asked Tatiana what she thought the hesitation might be for traditionally women-focused industries to enter the motorsport sponsorship space. Her first thought was data driven–emphasizing the importance of accounting for all of the women being included in viewership stats across a racing series, and their impact in swaying a brand in the direction of funneling money into a traditionally male dominated industry.  

“I think, sadly, motorsport is really expensive. With the amount of money you can sponsor with a little logo on a car you can sponsor maybe a whole team or athlete in a different sport for maybe 1 ½ to 2 years with the same amount of money. And that’s the issue we’re also facing–this competition of other sports that are much cheaper than motorsports. The challenge is not just because you’re a woman, but on top of that because motorsports is expensive.”

She mentioned a cultural difference in opportunities for women to race in America as compared to the other countries she’s raced in. To her, the American market has already begun to see the value in women racing alongside men in motorsport–it’s up to everyone else to catch up. Long term, Tatiana and I chatted about what the future of sponsorship for women in motorsport could look like. We imagined a future where women CEO’s backed women athletes in a sponsorship boom like no other sport has seen before. A future teeming with equitable opportunities for all athletes. A future that is hopefully only a few years away.

Motorsport fans all revel in the beauty of getting to watch a high-speed race on a Sunday without having to worry about how much it would actually cost to physically sit in the cockpit and drive. It’s quite the task to wrap your head around how much money it would take to sponsor a whole team in one sport for the same price as a single driver in a single-seater series. Sponsorships now more than ever have become about establishing a driver’s credibility as a worthy investment. Society has seen countless women-led sports leagues (think: the Women’s National Basketball Association (WNBA), National Women’s Soccer League (NWSL), Women’s Tennis Association (WTA), and so many more) establish their value as steadfast investments. The women paving the way in this era of racing, like their predecessors, are ensuring a more equitable, diverse future in motorsport. We just have to support them.

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