Panasonic Jaguar Racing signed James Calado to complete their driver lineup for season six, a decision which few had anticipated beforehand. However, we take a look at the Englishman’s career thus far to argue that Jaguar have made a very shrewd and inspired driver choice.
It’s fair to say that many people were expecting one of either two names to be announced to partner Mitch Evans at Jaguar this upcoming season: The previous incumbent of the seat, Alex Lynn, or veteran Formula One driver Nico Hulkenberg, who recently became a free agent after the Renault F1 team announced Esteban Ocon as his replacement for next season.
The logic went something like this: If Jaguar wanted someone who was well-integrated into the team already, and who was very much a known quantity, they would pick Lynn. If they wanted a big-name signing, then they’d need look no further than F1 pole-sitter and 2015 Le Mans winner Hulkenberg. It seemed a simple, binary choice.
What they were probably not expecting was for a third party to land the coveted seat: 30 year-old British driver James Calado, who last raced a single seater in 2013, will now drive for one of the most prestigious manufacturers in motorsport.
But a closer inspection of his career to date reveals a talented driver who was arguably unlucky not to get a shot at a race seat in Formula One, and still has much to offer.
Like fellow Formula E drivers Oliver Turvey and Oliver Rowland, Worcestershire-born Calado was a talented and successful karter who was picked up by the Racing Steps Foundation in 2008, who funded his transition into cars.
After finishing second in Formula Renault UK in 2009, Calado moved into British Formula 3 with Carlin, where he again finished the season as runner-up, this time to his teammate; none other than double-reigning FE champion Jean Eric Vergne, who won thirteen races that season to Calado’s five. However, victory at the end of the season in heavy rain at Brands Hatch was especially impressive, and Calado began to build up significant career momentum as he advanced ever closer up the ladder to Formula 1.
Calado made the step up to GP3 in 2011 with ART Grand Prix, thanks to the team’s co-founder (And later Calado’s manager) Nicholas Todt, who was helping to partially fund his career along with Racing Steps. For the third year in a row, Calado was runner-up, after a year that was more challenging than the final standings might suggest.
The team did not win a race until Calado’s triumph at Valencia in round 6 of the season, but this ended up being Calado’s only victory of the year, despite taking five further podiums. From mid-season onwards ART dominated and Calado’s teammate and current Mercedes F1 driver Valtteri Bottas took the upper hand, winning four races to wrap up the title by seven points with a round to spare. With Bottas promoted to test-driver at Williams for 2012, the way was clear for Calado to transition to ART’s GP2 squad, with second-year driver Esteban Gutierrez as his teammate.
The season started promisingly with two sprint race victories at Sepang and Hockenheim, and Calado took a total of seven podiums, and with four rounds left was third in the driver’s standings. However a crash in practice at Monza, followed by food poisoning in Singapore, saw him have a disastrous end to the season, dropping him to fifth behind future F1 drivers Gutierrez and Max Chilton. Nonetheless, he was comfortably the best placed rookie of the season.
Although ART is one of the powerhouse teams in GP2/F2, famously running Nico Rosberg, Lewis Hamilton, Nico Hulkenberg, and more recently George Russell to rookie titles, 2013 was a difficult year for the team; Calado was expected to mount a title challenge, but instead struggled for much of the season, ending up a long way adrift of title contenders Fabio Leimer and Sam Bird. He did however recover from a disappointing start to the season to beat Felipe Nasr to 3rd, after late season victories at Spa and Abu Dhabi. Rookie teammate and current Audi Formula E driver Daniel Abt on the other hand, finished a lowly 22nd.
Racing Steps founder Graham Sharp mentioned in an interview with Autosport in 2017 that he believed Calado’s disappointing second season in GP2 was down to factors outside of his own control: “James was very satisfying; he was just unlucky. He just happened to be with ART when they were off the boil. They lost a couple of (technical) people and it was bad luck. He probably got the closest to F1 (of the RSF drivers), and I honestly think if he’d won GP2 that year he’d be in F1 today.”
After testing outings with the Force India F1 team in 2013, Calado signed the following year to drive for Ferrari in the World Endurance Championship’s GTE Pro class. In his first season he was injured in a terrible crash in qualifying at Le Mans, forcing him to miss the race.
“I had two small brain haemorrhages, which is like if you were a boxer and had been knocked out.” Explained Calado at the time. “I was kept in hospital for five days and luckily the bleeds stopped. I felt bad for a week after the accident and I had a week of basically resting. The positive thing is apart from some scar tissue there is no lasting damage.”
Since then Calado has come back to win his class on six occasions, the most recent being this year’s 24 hours of Le Mans. He also won the GTE championship in 2017 alongside teammate Alessandro Pier Guidi. Calado will continue to compete for the WEC GTE crown with Ferrari alongside his assault on Formula E with Jaguar.
Calado’s move to partner Mitch Evans at Jaguar could prove to be one of the biggest challenges of his career, given that Evans has soundly beaten capable teammates like A1GP champion Adam Carroll and inaugural FE champion Nelson Piquet Jnr. But Calado has unfinished business in single seaters, and after his impressive form in WEC, expect him to adapt quickly to Formula E and give Evans a run for his money.