The end of the European season is traditionally a time to take a look down the motorsport pyramid to see which drivers are beginning to knock on the door of F1 as the junior categories’ seasons come to a close.
For the first time next week GP2 will travel to Singapore alongside F1 to stage its finale and the lead British driver in the category this year has been James Calado, who goes into the final two races in third place in the standings after a strong debut year at that level.
The 23-year-old from Worcestershire is already guaranteed rookie of the year honours having claimed two sprint race wins, at the season-opener in Malaysia and then Germany, along with five other podium appearances driving for Lewis Hamilton’s former, now Lotus-branded, ART team. Indeed he only dropped out of title contention last weekend at Monza.
Calado arrived in GP2 this year on the back of consecutive runner-up finishes in British F3 and GP3 yet has reached the most complex juncture of them all – working out how to take the next step and break through to F1.
Speaking in an interview for the latest edition of the JA on F1 podcast, Calado said: “Now I’m kind of getting the impression how hard it is.
“For me I think it’s just quite important to concentrate on GP2 and the last rounds I’ve got coming up. Formula 1 is quite political and it’s a big business and for a young driver to do that step from GP2 into Formula 1 normally involves quite a lot of money – no matter how good, or bad, you are.”
The path from GP2 to F1 is certainly tried and trusted – exactly half the grid are graduates from the junior series – yet a glance at the names who have made the step up to F1 over the past two seasons shows that significant backing is a necessity, be it from a large company in the driver’s homeland, a manufacturer or well established driver development scheme like Red Bull’s.
Since 2008, when he drove a single-seater for the first time, Calado’s career has been financed by the Racing Steps Foundation, a trust set up and backed by motorsport enthusiast Graham Sharp and managed by Derek Walters which provides financial support and personal development to young talented British drivers who are without significant funding.
“The philosophy is fairly simple: there was a lot of young talented drivers in the UK with no money and that talent would go to waste if it wasn’t supported,” explained Walters.
“So we’ve been pretty careful basically with the young drivers that we’ve picked and we’ve seemed to pick pretty well.
“James is following on from Oliver Turvey, who’s now working with McLaren doing a splendid job there on simulation work and so on, also finding it difficult to make that final leap into Formula 1.
“But on the other hand James is there, being noticed up and down the pit lane at the moment and is doing an extremely good job.”
Calado is one of 10 young drivers currently on the trust’s books, a roster which includes Oliver Rowland and Jack Harvey who are front-runners in the Formula Renault 2.0 Eurocup and British F3 respectively.
Having made his way into GP2, Calado’s own support from the foundation ends at the end of this season and he admits that finding the funding to continue the forward momentum in his career will be tricky.
“I know now that I’m very fit and suppose I’m probably ready for Formula 1,” he said. “But it’s very, very difficult. This is my actual last year with Racing Steps Foundation so to be able to find the funding for Formula 1 will prove to be quite difficult I suppose.
“But I haven’t really been given any information [about 2013] – quite right I suppose, because like I said I need to just finish this year and discuss everything like that at the end of the year.”
Calado admits that the chance to run in the Abu Dhabi young driver test in November would be a great opportunity for him, but is waiting to see whether he gets an invitation from one of the teams. Nonetheless he says he will continue to back his talent.
“I do believe that if you perform well and your talent shows you will get there one day and progress even in Formula 1. So that’s my ambition.”
You can hear more from James and Racing Steps chief Derek Walters, along with exclusive interviews with leading figures from the F1 world, in episode seven of the James Allen on F1 podcast. Download it here or via iTunes.