Jessica Hawkins has a crushing handshake. After the 5-foot-4 British racing driver finishes demolishing my mitt — while flashing a sly smile — we hop into an Aston Martin DBX707 so she can just as thoroughly demolish Austin's Circuit of the Americas ahead of the US F1 Grand Prix.
The 28-year-old former British champion driver grins over the bellowing 707 horsepower from the Aston SUV's 4.0-liter V8. "It’s crazy for a big car, innit?" she remarks, as we smash up the front straight hill at 100 miles an hour. When I ask what the DBX707 weighs, her reply is swift: "A lot. I dunno, but it’s a lot." (4,940 pounds, for the record.)
"There’s no way a big car like this should be keepin' up with a little car like that, y’know?" she adds, gesturing to an Aston Martin Vantage F1 Edition that’s snaking its way around the track ahead of us.
Under Hawkins’ control, the DBX707 feels supremely neutral, and she’s able to fling it precisely where she wishes with surprising compliance. "I love this circuit," she says, after absolutely acing her favorite interchange – a series of fast left-right exchanges between Turns 5 and 8.
And Hawkins would know a thing or two about driving quickly on a track. As we sit in Aston Martin’s F1 team lounge, post-hot lap, she tells me that it's been a month to the day since she was in Budapest testing Aston Martin’s new F1 car.
"That was crazy," she says, meaning the car itself, but her sentiment could also apply to the fact that she’s the first woman to test an F1 car in five years. As she recounts the experience, her soft, quiet voice and calm demeanor downplay her momentous accomplishment.
"It was very realistic to the simulator, so I already had a preconditioned idea of what it would be like, and it was everything that I expected," she says. "It was fast, it had a lot of aero, so much grip, it stopped fast. It was probably the brakes that really impressed me the most. I thought a Formula 1 test is a massive step up for me, from what I’ve done, but if that’s where I can brake in the sim, that’s where I can brake in real life. And that was quite true."
Hawkins was thrilled to bits with her performance during the Budapest test, though the driver – who’d cut her teeth in the British Touring Car Championship, the British Formula Ford Championship, the W Series, and more – was, oddly, the last person to know she’d be getting behind the wheel.
"I first heard it might happen at the beginning of last year then nothing for a long time," she says. "Then I was boarding a flight for an F1 race [a few months back], and I got an email from someone in the factory, asking me to come in for a seat fit the following week. And I thought there's only one reason I'd be coming in for a seat fit."
After landing, she approached some F1 techs and asked about the email. "They're like, 'You're driving the car. Do you not know?' And I did not," she chuckles.
"They're like, 'You're driving the car. Do you not know?' And I did not."
Hawkins is currently serving as an Aston Martin F1 ambassador, a role she’s occupied since 2021, but she’d love to drive the [F1] car again.
"I don't want that to be the only opportunity that I get, but I know that chances like that don't come around very often at all, so I'm pushing to go racing, getting some sponsors on board to get me into an Aston Martin GT3. I’m going to be working hard over the winter to make that happen."
In a GT3 car, many series are present as options, including Asian Le Mans, European Le Mans, IMSA, and more. Press her for which she’d most prefer, and she pauses. "At the moment, I'm not fussing. As long as I'm racing an Aston Martin GT3 in a high-profile championship, I'm happy."
Working to secure sponsorship dollars is a hustle unto itself, and Hawkins has branched out from racing into stunt driving, most recent and notable for the forthcoming James Bond flick No Time To Die, but also for the Fast and Furious Live arena show a few years back.
"That was my first stunt job and the most amazing thing that I've ever done," she says. "We did live shows, in places like the O2 Arena, with sell-out crowds, and we were doing all the big stunts from the movie."
She trained for months, learning synchronized drifting and J-turns, finding the limits of "truly proper drift and stunt cars. We even had a car shooting out of an airplane; it was amazing." She adored the experience but fell in love with Drift King’s Nissan 350Z, used in the film Fast And Furious: Tokyo Drift.
"I bought it off the production company at the end of the show," she smirks. "I loved it that much. I've used it maybe three times. It's very difficult because it's not road-legal so it needs to be in an enclosed area, and to find time to do that is impossible. I don't get to drive it as much as I'd like to."
While Hawkins would much prefer to be racing, issuing hot laps ahead of F1 races is the next best thing, she muses with a light grin. "I get to drive fast, cool cars, get to scare people, and they’re completely blown away. Some people are completely dead silent; some scream a lot."
Inquire if she thinks a reserve seat on the Aston Martin F1 team may be in her future, and there’s a pregnant pause as her eyes fall to the table.
"That is the dream, but there's quite a few things that are standing in the way," she says. "I would need to be able to fund F3 and F2, which is impossible unless I stumble across a big sponsor. I need more super license points, but should the rules change, or should that change, that’s a conversation I’d be able to have with the team. It's not completely out of the question, but it's unlikely."
In the meantime, she’s keen to pilot an Aston Martin Vantage GT3 or perhaps one of the marque’s new Le Mans hypercar, the Valkyrie, when it debuts in the French endurance race in 2025. Before we part ways, I ask if there’s any format of racing she gravitates towards, but I don’t get to finish my question. "Any racing; I don’t care," she cuts in, smiling.
"It really doesn’t matter so long as I'm racing."