Go-kart champion, stunt driver, racer, mentor, Aston Martin ambassador… now Jessica Hawkins has ticked another milestone off the list: first woman to test drive a Formula 1 car in almost five years, when she lapped the Hungaroring F1 circuit in the Aston Martin AMR21.
Yet Jessica’s career behind the wheel began almost by chance when she spotted a go-kart track while playing golf with her dad. “He wasn’t thrilled at the idea and luckily for him, I was too small to drive, but six months later the track reduced its height restriction,” smiles Jessica. “I was seven or eight years old and completely fell in love with it.”
Jessica proved such a natural that she won a British karting championship aged ‘around 12’ and eventually progressed to occasional drives in junior single-seater categories, including Formula Ford and Formula 4.
“I was so underprepared for my first Formula 4 race,” recalls Jessica. “I’d never driven the car or the circuit, so I had to adapt fast and learn fast – that’s probably paying dividends in my career now.”
Unlike many racers, Jessica didn’t grow up in an active motorsport family, and only later learned that her dad had raced in his mid-20s before running out of funding. “I don’t think he wanted me to go through the same heartache, perhaps that’s why he was initially sceptical about me karting,” says Jessica.
With Jessica also struggling to find budget, history seemed to be repeating itself until Fast & Furious Live threw as much of a curveball as a lifeline.
“I hadn’t done any stunt driving before but I applied for the job and got it,” grins Jessica. “It was a tough decision because it meant touring the world and everyone was saying I was about to crack racing. But the stunt work was one of the best things I’ve ever done and it taught me so many skills I didn’t even know existed.”
The all-female W Series championship brought Jessica back into single-seater racing, where she caught the attention of the Aston Martin Aramco Formula One® Team. The 28-year-old is now in her third year with the team, with commitments involving everything from media engagements to fast passenger laps on track days. But it’s driving 26 laps in the AMR21 Formula 1 car that is Jessica’s clear highlight so far, especially as she was able to prepare and get the most from the experience.
“Driving the Aston Martin simulator was a massive benefit, [reserve driver] Felipe Drugovich was very helpful with any questions and I upped my training at the gym,” explains Jessica. “By the time the drive came around, I felt more excited than nervous.”
Despite some mixed weather conditions, including an early downpour that briefly left Jessica lapping on slick tyres, she quickly settled into a rhythm behind the wheel.
“It took two or three laps for my senses to adjust to everything, but after that I felt very comfortable and started to push on. Everybody in the team was happy and I surprised myself,” enthuses Jessica, who still vividly recalls the unique driving experience. “The AMR21 is everything you’d wish a racecar to be – it turns in when you want, stops when you want and it puts all your senses on high alert because you feel everything. The power steering also made it easier on my arms than I expected, but wow my neck was in a bad way afterwards!”
As three sessions and 28 laps whizzed by, one corner continued to prove more daunting than any other – Turn 4, a notoriously fast left-hander with a blind entry that challenges even F1’s elite.
Jessica recalls the leap of faith: “I spent so long practising on the sim so I said to myself ‘if I can do it on the sim I can do it in real life’. The car is pretty much at its maximum there, you’re carrying so much mid-corner speed, you’re under high downforce, it’s quite a sharp turn but it was absolutely incredible.” When she’s not driving, Jessica mentors Tina Hausmann – the Aston Martin-supported driver competing in the all-female F1 Academy series – in her role as Aston Martin’s Head of Racing for F1 Academy. “I’m really excited to be working with Tina and helping her on her journey – she has an incredible attitude for such a young woman,” sums up Jessica.
As for the future? Jessica is targeting a career in GT racing, in which Aston Martin has a long and successful history, most recently with the Vantage GTE, GT3 and GT4 racecars. “But if I get another chance to drive the F1 car… I wouldn’t turn that down!” laughs Jessica.
Given her impressive debut, we’d be as excited to see part two as the woman herself.