Jessica Hawkins will never race in F1. But she might find a woman who will


Five months ago Jessica Hawkins tested an Aston Martin F1 car, but not for personal glory. The team's new F1 Academy Head of Racing is focused on a new generation. "Until it isn’t seen as a huge thing that a woman is racing in F1, we won’t have achieved our goal," she tells Matt Bishop

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Could Jessica Hawkins's F1 test inspire another woman into an F1 seat?

Aston Martin

In September last year, on a damp day at the Hungaroring, Budapest, Jessica Hawkins did something remarkable. She became the first woman to test a modern Formula 1 car, a 2021 Aston Martin AMR21 to be precise, since Tatiana Calderon had tested a 2018 Sauber C37 at Autodromo Hermanos Rodriguez, Mexico City, five years before. The Aston Martin F1 team did not publish Hawkins’ lap times, for lap times were not the point. She had never driven a modern F1 car before, nor even a modern F2 car; the fastest single-seater she had ever driven prior to that historic first F1 test was a Tatuus T-318 F3 car, its Alfa Romeo single-turbo 1750cc in-line four detuned by the Italian race engine consultancy Autotecnica Motori to just 280bhp to suit W Series, in which she was an ever-present competitor.

Nonetheless, her lap times in the AMR21 were comparable to those of regular Aston Martin F1 test and reserve driver Felipe Drugovich, the 2022 F2 champion, who had already completed many hundreds of F1 testing miles. So does that mean Hawkins did well? Yes, it does: massively well. I worked for Aston Martin as its F1 comms chief in 2021 and 2022, and I still have a large number of good friends within the team. So it is that I can tell you that the engineers and mechanics who ran her test in Hungary five months ago were mightily impressed.

Was I surprised? No, I was not surprised because I began to wax lyrical about Hawkins’ ability soon after I first met her in early 2019, when I was W Series’ communications director. Here was this shy, petite woman, who had had no advantages in terms of parental wealth or influence, yet had won British karting championships against boys in 2005, 2007 and 2008, aged 10, 12 and 13. After an agonising hiatus during which a lack of funds had interrupted her progress, she had then won races in the UK Mini Challenge in 2017, finishing second in the series to a far more experienced male rival, and she has subsequently won races in the TCR UK Touring Car Championship and the Britcar Prototype Cup, also against more experienced male opposition.

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An experienced and decorated competitor: Jessica Hawkins is a role model for many aspiring female racers

Aston Martin

When she arrived at W Series, she had done almost no single-seater racing at all — just a handful of Formula Ford and Formula 4 outings in 2015 — and she had not raced a single-seater of any kind in the four years that had passed since then. Nonetheless, although she took a little time to get used to the W Series F3 car, she was soon among the front-runners, missing out on a number of possible podium finishes owing to a mix of car problems and the odd impetuous lunge born of a burning desire to win untempered by the kind of restraint that only experience can instil. She finally bagged a podium finish in Miami in 2022.

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When Lawrence Stroll appointed me to head up AMF1’s comms/PR operation in January 2021, it soon became clear to me that our title partner Cognizant — and three significant if lower-paying sponsors, SentinelOne, NetApp and Peroni — were to varying degrees unnerved by F1’s extremely white male heterosexual profile. Diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) are not merely nice-to-haves for progressive corporations such as those listed above; no, their commercial profitability is increasingly predicated on a need to demonstrate that they genuinely embrace DEI rather than merely litter their social media posts with appropriate hashtags. Our two race drivers, Sebastian Vettel and Lance Stroll, were white, male and heterosexual, as was our reserve and development driver, Nico Hülkenberg. So was almost everyone else in a senior, prominent and/or outward-facing role. OK, I was and am a gay man, but that was about it as far as manifest diversity was concerned.

So it was that I approached Hawkins, a bisexual woman, and asked her whether she would be interested in becoming the team’s driver ambassador, supporting me and my department’s comms and PR efforts by doing media interviews, making VIP appearances, and working with our partners and sponsors to make their activations less exclusively male and heterosexual. There was a degree of opposition to her hiring from a few senior AMF1 board members, but in the end we managed to get a deal across the line — and she was an instant and enormous hit. All our partners and sponsors loved not only her work but also her chummy, funny and eager team-player personality. She is about to embark on her fourth year with AMF1, and she has become ever busier and ever more embedded in the workings of the team with each season that has passed.

As early as the summer of 2021 she began to contribute regularly to engineering debriefs at grands prix, and, not long after that, to take on important work in the simulator at the team’s Silverstone factory. Once she had begun to show her worth in those crucial areas of car development, Martin Whitmarsh, who is junior only to Stroll Sr, decreed that she should be given a proper test in a real F1 car. We scheduled exactly that at Silverstone in November 2022, providing a 2021 AMR21 for the purpose, but a few operational glitches meant that Drugovich’s stint overran, which in turn meant that bad light stopped play before Hawkins got her chance.

She was gutted, understandably, but philosophical. “Can I at least sit in the car for a minute?” she asked. Obviously, yes, she could and she did.

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A dream realised: Jessica Hawkins gets behind the wheel of a F1 car for the first time

Aston Martin

She finally realised her dream — to drive a modern F1 car in anger — in Hungary last September, which is where we came in. No, she does not have an FIA super licence so, no, she will not be able to run in an F1 FP1 session at any time this coming season. No, at 29, she will never become an F1 race driver. But she has a number of exciting opportunities to race in 2024, and, whichever she selects, she will do plenty of racing over the next few months. She will also attend the majority of F1 grands prix, including all those that will include F1 Academy rounds on their support cards — Jeddah (Saudi Arabia), Miami (USA), Barcelona (Spain), Zandvoort (Netherlands), Marina Bay (Singapore), Losail (Qatar) and Yas Marina (Abu Dhabi). She will be taking on more than merely an ambassadorial role on those weekends, for she has been appointed Aston Martin’s F1 Academy Head of Racing, in which capacity she will be providing high-level managerial counsel as well as mentoring 17-year-old Tina Hausmann, who will be representing Aston Martin while racing for Prema.

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Will Hausmann, or indeed any of her teenage F1 Academy rivals, make it to F1? Hawkins is bullish about her young charge’s ability — “she’s proper talented” — but she is not so rash as to make such a prediction. “Getting a female driver into F1 isn’t going to happen immediately,” she says. “We’re not going to see a woman race in F1 next year. Maybe I’m wrong — I hope I’m wrong — but I think a few things would have to change first. But until it isn’t seen as a huge thing that a woman is racing in F1, we won’t have achieved our goal. Like, it’ll be great to have a woman race in F1 grands prix again one day, because it’s been far too long [48 years – ed], but it needs to be normal for a woman to be racing in F1. And that’s going to take a long, long time.”

There is one thing of which I am sure. If, one day, perhaps 10 years from now, you find yourself tuning in to a TV news bulletin on a Sunday evening, and you hear the newscaster saying something like “This afternoon, on the tortuous streets of Monte-Carlo, Sally Simpson won the Monaco Grand Prix; second was Oscar Piastri, and third Yuki Tsunoda”, then Sally Simpson (whose name I have just invented) would become, overnight, the biggest sporting superstar in the world. Bar none. No contest. Anyone and everyone involved in global motorsport should be doing his, her or their utmost to help make it happen. Jessica Hawkins certainly is.

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Matt Bishop (left) and Jessica Hawkins (right) at Aston Martin in 2022

Matt Bishop