There is a brash confidence to James Calado.
The Worcestershire native certainly holds himself well and although he does not yet swagger, there is a temerity in his approach to motorsport.
A swagger would definitely be a touch too much.
Unflappable – now there’s a word, not often used enough, to describe Lotus’ youthful rookie.
It is probably better to say “youthful”, because at the age of 23 years, Calado is one of the elder drivers in the category.
Not that it is a bad thing. If anything, Calado can lay some claim to a growing maturity – in the car at least. His matter-of-fact exterior betrays the fact that he is, after all, still a young man – and one with ambition.
With only two rounds remaining in this year’s GP2 Series, the Englishman sits in 3rd place in the standings, ten points ahead of his teammate and former GP3 Champion Esteban Gutierrez.
Calado enjoys GP3 pedigree too – he finished runner-up to Williams F1 favourite Valtteri Bottas last year, only one season after finishing runner-up in the British Formula 3 Series.
Prior to last weekend’s Feature Race at Spa-Francorchamps, I spoke with him about experience in motorsport, teammates and that little thing called Formula One.
The Motorsport Archive: Throughout the season, you’ve had a steady stream of points and Sprint Race wins. How would you, as a rookie, judge your 2012 season so far?
James Calado: I think when you look at how it has gone, it’s been pretty good and I think we’ve pleased quite a lot of people, because I’m 4th in the championship [now 3rd place], a few points off the lead and quite close to Esteban [Gutierrez], so the fight for me is probably 3rd place. The [series] win is still possible, but 3rd place is more realistic.
TMA: There are a few drivers here who would be more than pleased with that.
JC: When you look at it, I’ve had three wins in my career so far in GP2, albeit all Sprint Race wins and a bit of bad luck as well. From Bahrain we had a problem with the car, which we couldn’t identify – we ended up being 100 kilo’s out in the corner weights, so that cost me a lot…
TMA: …that was the round where you and Esteban did not run the practice sessions, wasn’t it?
TMA: Is that something you still look back on?
JC: I still think we made the right decision. We looked bad and had bad results in qualifying, but it was for totally different reasons – Esteban had one problem and mine was a problem with the car; it was kind of one to forget to be honest
Then we went to Barcelona and put it on pole – that was a good highlight, but we lost that in the pitstops and I ended up 2nd behind [Giedo] van der Garde and then there Valencia where the safety car issue really balked me and then there was Silverstone and the car broke down, so for the Feature Races I’ve always been at the front – it’s just having the luck to stay there. But that’s in the past and the last few qualifying sessions; I’ve been in the top three and have been in contention for pole position.
TMA: Beyond your inexperience of the category, you also started the season surrounded by some drivers who had spent some time in GP2. How do you feel that aspect has played out for you?
JC: It’s good and it’s hard for a rookie, especially now in GP2, because it is competitive and also you don’t have the Asia Series, so drivers before were doing the Asia Series, which was the equivalent of their experience and readiness for the year, so I started straight off from and it makes it difficult.
Razia and Valsecchi are fantastic driver’s, Esteban’s a fantastic driver, but they’ve got experience which is something I’m lacking. I’m not complaining now, because I think I’m capable of winning races and I wasn’t at the start of the year.
It’s gone well and Racing Steps [Foundation] are very, very supportive of me and are very happy. There’s a lot of Formula One interest, or so I’ve heard, so it’s gone really well.
TMA: While you have moved up to GP2 Series, you are still competing with Lotus – the team you ran with in GP3. How key have they been to your success this year?
JC: Lotus are probably the most professional and closest teams to Formula One and are a really good team to be with.
Being in GP3 initially was such an advantage, because I could learn the tracks, the Pirelli tyres and start to get myself in the Formula One crowd and I’ve built up a fantastic relationship with these guys – it’s almost like my home here and it was key for moving into GP2.
When I did my first test in Jerez, it was with Ocean [Racing Technology] and it was good and I enjoyed it, but coming back to Lotus for the second day was almost like pressure off my shoulders and they do make very good decisions. The car is fast and it’s not normal for them to get bad luck like they have had this year – that’s just racing and things happen.
They’re a great team; I spend a lot of time out in France as well doing data – they’re very analytical about the way they work, everything’s done to a set time and they don’t necessarily look for fast times in testing either, because it’s all about getting ready for the races and it is a proven, as me and Esteban are always at the top with very competitive machinery, so if I were to do GP2 again, I’d like to stay with Lotus.
TMA: There is, of course, this battle you have with Esteban and Giedo right now. What is your focus in terms of approaching the final two rounds?
JC: Like any other driver would say, it’s not about looking at the championship, because I like to take each race step-by-step and there’s no point looking at the championship, because that’s just an added pressure on your shoulders, which you don’t need.
I always go into the race trying to maximise the performance of the car, maximise the performance of myself with engineers and do the best job that I can. I always like to dominate things as well and love to lead from the front – my job is to, theoretically, impress Formula One teams and people at a higher level and it’s my ambition and aim to try and do Formula One as soon as possible.
TMA: Looking to the future, do you have a set target time that you see yourself in Formula One?
JC: I haven’t really put too much detail or thought into moving up, but it’s difficult to get there. We’ve been speaking to a few people – or my sponsors have – and it all depends on how that pans out.
A majority of young drivers need to bring a sponsor, you need to bring money with you and it’s just finding that and also being in the right place at the right time and performing as well.
Ideally I’d like to be in a Formula One seat next year. I think I’m ready for Formula One – that is obviously a big thing to say, but who knows what will happen. It could be GP2 again next year or maybe a third driver seat with a Grand Prix team and something else like World Series by Renault.
TMA: Coming from the UK and the history that exists with Formula One and motorsport there, does that add a pressure to emulate those around you?
JC: Being British is almost a privilege – not being big headed or anything, but they’re so passionate about motorsport. There is the British Racing Drivers Club, which I’m a part of, the Racing Steps scheme, which is mainly British related, so for me there’s no extra pressure.
There’s three Brits in Formula One, but if I had that chance to make that very difficult step, I’d hope I could put up a match for them and wouldn’t it be nice to try and be in an equal car and try to beat them.
But getting there, it’s all about who’s got the most money at the moment and talent within reason because it’s all well and good getting to Formula One, but staying there is another thing. Who knows? The plan is to get there as early as possible and just show people what I can do compared to a teammate in an equal car.
It’s that confidence again. Again, it’s not overpowering, but it’s well placed. It is not inconceivable that we may see James in a Formula One seat sometime very soon.
My thanks to James Calado and Sandrine Foix for facilitating this interview.