Jessica Hawkins is not only a driver in W Series – the single-seater motor racing championship for female drivers only – she doubles up as a stunt driver, once working on the Fast and Furious Live shows and more recently featuring in the upcoming Bond film, No Time to Die. Here she explains that the road to success in motorsport is not without its obstacles.
Images courtesy of W Series
How old were you when you first went karting and how did you first come to try it?
I first went karting aged about eight. I was a really sporty kid and on the weekends I spent with my dad we would always play different sports. One day we were playing golf at Sandown Park, and there was a go-kart track in the distance so I asked if I could have a look. He reluctantly took me over there but lucky for him I was too small. Six months on I begged him to take me back there even though I hadn’t grown. They must have had some smaller karts in because the height restriction had been dropped. As soon as I had a go that was it, I fell in love with it and gave up all my other sports. I had even been playing football for Reading but gave that up too. I knew karting was what I wanted to do.
How long was it before you started competing seriously?
When I turned 10 was when it got serious and we started competing, we had our own kart and someone who helped us out. That was when I began competing in the British Championship, which I went on to win in 2008.
When you came up through karting as a teenager, how aware were you of the fact that you were largely surrounded by boys?
I’m sure I have a different story to a lot of females, but at the time I was oblivious. Because I was so focused on the sport, I never really saw the fact that I was one of very few girls, and I never felt any kind of negativity from my male competitors. It didn’t cross my mind that I was different because I was mates with the boys as much as they were mates with each other.
You came up against financial roadblocks with racing – can you talk about that?
As you progress up the motorsport ladder the more expensive it gets. It’s as simple as ‘if you don’t have the money you can’t do it’, and if you’ve got just about enough to be doing it there will be other people spending double, triple what you are, who are able to go out testing more. I never had lots of money, but I had enough to take part. It really became an issue when I moved into cars at the age of 16, because it was so expensive that I was only able to do the odd race here and there. The races I did went well – I finished my first one in second place and got the lap record - but the inconsistency hindered my development. Although it was frustrating at the time that I didn’t have the budget to compete in full seasons, I now look back and it’s probably done me a favour because I’ve had to adapt to everything I’ve driven quite quickly. So, in hindsight, there are positives to be taken from that struggle.
What were your thoughts when W Series was first announced, and how did you feel when you qualified for the competition?
Prior to W Series being announced I hadn’t done a single race in two or three years, because I couldn’t get the funding I needed. At that point, I had become busy with stunt work so had pretty much written off racing. When I first heard about W Series I just thought ‘great idea but not for me’, because I wasn’t sure I wanted to go through the ordeal of starting again, only to have to stop again at a later point. But the more I heard about W Series and the ethos behind it – they don’t charge drivers a single penny to take part - the more I realized that I was still in love with racing and I’d be stupid not to give it a go. I applied, still unsure about whether I wanted to put myself in that vulnerable position again. I remember thinking ‘it doesn’t matter if you get through’, trying to protect myself from the disappointment. But then when I heard I’d got in I was just so happy. If it weren’t for W Series I wouldn’t have had that entry back into racing. That inaugural season in 2019 was one of the best years of my life.
Would it have changed anything when you were growing up to know that W Series existed?
Yeah, if I were ten now W Series would definitely be something I’d be looking at and taking inspiration from. I suppose it would be a goal to work towards. There are so many routes within motorsport, and the amazing thing about W Series is that as drivers we all have such different stories and backgrounds. It’s good for young girls to see such a range of women in the sport, and to see that your background doesn’t matter
How did you first get into stunt driving?
I started out in the Fast and Furious Live shows. It all came about from a Facebook post which said something like ‘we’re looking for a female with good car control’, for an unspecified project. I sent in my CV and during a Skype interview was told what I’d need to be able to do: drift, donut, j-turn, all of which I’d never done in my life. I just blagged it and said ‘yeah I can do that.’
The audition was two weeks later and the only place I could find to teach me those skills was over in Ireland. I literally had an hour slot the day before my audition, in which they taught me to do a basic drift and donut, and I was very average. The next day at the audition they had flown in all these expert girls from around the world, including the Drift Queen of Europe. I turned up thinking I didn’t stand a chance, but I somehow fluked it, to the point that they said they wouldn’t have been able to do it better themselves. I got the job and suddenly my 9 to 5 became drifting cars and doing stunts, training for the show for three and a half months. Then we went on tour around Europe for a year and a half, and that taught me everything that I needed to know.
What was it like working on such an iconic film as Bond?
No Time to Die was my first movie. At all the auditions I’d previously been to for other jobs there had been about 50 other women, but for Bond, there was just me. The stunt coordinator set out a few cones and told me what he wanted me to do and I gave it my first go and nailed it. When I’d finished I wound down my window and he said ‘welcome to the team, Jess.’
I felt really thrown in at the deep end, as it was my first film. But I just cracked on with it and got it done; they were super happy and I was super happy. Being one of the first people to be able to drive the new Defender was a complete privilege, and I’m now an ambassador for Land Rover off the back of that. Thanks to Bond I’ve worked with some incredible names and people and I’ve entered this new world. I feel very lucky to be where I am.
Single-seater motor racing and stunt driving both require a degree of fearlessness, would you call yourself an adrenaline junkie?
Yeah, I suppose so. I’ve never really thought about it that way but as a kid, I was pretty fearless. I probably should have broken a lot more bones than I have. A year ago I got quite into bikes and bought my own motocross bike, which has been sitting in the garage doing nothing. I am going to take it out at some point but I’m slightly scared I’m going to do myself some damage.
The Female Lead is all about finding strength in setbacks, is this something that has applied at any point in your life?
A hundred percent, it’s a huge part of racing. Not just because I stopped and came back to it, but the thing with motorsport is it’s 99% disappointment for 1% happiness. And, of course, the 1% happiness makes the disappointment all worth it. There are millions of setbacks throughout a year and you’ve just got to keep working through it. In my case - and for 90% of other drivers - it’s the budget thing. When it comes to finding funding and sponsorship you get a hundred no’s and you have to keep going until you find that yes. I’ve succumbed to the disappointment many times, as has everyone else, but you just pick yourself up, dust yourself off, and go again.
What’s your best experience to date?
There are lots. When I won the British Kart Championship 2008; working on Bond; competing in W Series. Also, my dream since I was a little girl has been to compete in BTCC; I’ve knocked on the door so many times, had so many meetings about doing a season, and for budget reasons, it’s never materialized. I finally drove my first races with them on 24th/25th October. So that was a real dream come true.
Is there a particular woman who inspires you?
My mum; I think that she’s the bee’s knees. She hasn’t had the easiest life and I think she’s done really well for herself. There are loads of influential women in sport, not just motorsport, but I try not to compare myself to other athletes as there are so many varying factors in a person’s career, and we are all at different stages on our own paths.
To find out more about W Series, the ground-breaking women's racing series with a serious ambition: to change the face of motorsport, visit their website: https://wseries.com/