W Series is poised to become bigger than ever as it enters its third season in 2022; so much so that, according to driver Jessica Hawkins, the category has now placed itself within the "pinnacle of motorsport."
The 10-round calendar – which marks the most races that the series has held in a campaign so far – kicks off at the upcoming Miami Grand Prix weekend, with a double-header held on the support card of the inaugural F1 event at the venue.
With the Miami International Autodrome a new addition to the line-up, the race will be a step into the unknown for most. Hawkins, though, was given the opportunity to visit the temporary circuit during the process of it being formed, as part of her role as an ambassador for the Aston Martin Formula 1 team.
This small preview left her feeling excited about the prospect of racing there.
"It's going to be amazing," Hawkins explained in an exclusive interview with RacingNews365.com.
"I love street circuits as well, and it's obviously a street circuit. I am super excited about Miami. Obviously I had a glimpse of it when I was over there before with Aston.
"I only really got to walk kind of two or three corners that weren't yet finished so, unfortunately, it was too early to get a real sneak peek of [the track]. Obviously, I will do what I can."
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New tracks an exciting addition to W Series calendar
After visiting Miami, the W Series 2022 season will go onto various locations in Europe, including the Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya in Spain and Silverstone in Great Britain.
The series will then make its debut in Asia, with a race held at Japan's famous Suzuka track in October. Following this, a second visit to the United States will take place via a trip to the Circuit of the Americas in Austin.
Another double-header rounds the season off at Mexico's Autodromo Hermanos Rodriguez on 28-30 October.
Hawkins is keen to return to COTA, one of her favourite venues on the calendar, but is also looking forward to exploring new territory.
"I really enjoy COTA, to be honest, so I'm excited to go back there," she explained.
"I've also heard such great things about Suzuka, so that I think is going to be great. But honestly, the one I'm most excited for is Silverstone.
"I could throw a stone from my house and it might just get there should the wind blow in the right direction, so I'm very excited to go to Silverstone, and it's always special racing in front of the home crowd."
Hawkins pleased to see W Series' continued growth
Formula 1 has been experiencing a boom in popularity in the United States in recent times. When asked whether this can expand to W Series, Hawkins stated: "Definitely.
"I don't know why we have the races we have, but we must have them for a reason, and the crowd in COTA last year were absolutely incredible. The Americans really seem to have taken to Formula 1 over the recent years, so I guess that's why we're going there twice.
"They've been incredible, and if they were anything like they were at COTA [in Miami], it's going to be an incredible atmosphere."
Hawkins also believes that the fact that W Series has been on the support card for F1 events since last year has helped with the category's growth.
"I think the series is growing every year, and that's mainly due to the fact that it's doing such a good job and what it stands for," she added.
"It's run extremely professionally, and it's really aiming and hoping to further the career of many females within motorsport, and that's what it's doing, to be honest. It's grown and grown, and so it should."
Another potential factor in increasing interest even more in 2022 is the news that Sky Sports will cover every W Series qualifying session and race broadcast live, in a deal covering the next three years.
On the impact of this, Hawkins said: "I think it's going to attract new fans. [It's] a whole different world. Obviously, Formula 2, Formula 3 and Formula 1 are already on Sky Sports.
"We're new, and to be accepted under that package I think is a big milestone for W Series, and for myself and for everyone.
"It's going to bring a whole new audience, and I feel like we're in the pinnacle of motorsport now."
What does the 2022 season hold for Hawkins and her competitors?
Hawkins will arrive into her third season in W Series off the back of success elsewhere, having taken victory on her debut weekend in touring cars at Oulton Park in April.
Whilst this is a very different category, Hawkins feels that the win has given her "a lot of confidence" heading into Miami. In terms of her prospects for the season as a whole, though, the Briton is not putting any definite goals in place.
"I'm not going to set any expectations," she said.
"I'm just going to drive to the best of my ability, and hopefully some podiums, and potentially wins, follow."
Hawkins admits that reigning champion Jamie Chadwick remains a "safe bet" as the favourite, but warns that there is a "whole field of other drivers that are going to try and stop her in her tracks."
For 2022, Hawkins will again be teammates with Alice Powell, with the pair this year racing alongside each other at the Bristol Street Motors team.
Powell proved to be Chadwick's closest competitor in the battle for the 2021 title, and Hawkins thinks that she can continue to benefit herself from her compatriot's experience in motorsport.
"It's great to be staying with Alice because we get on well, we work together well, and I think we're a great duo," the 27-year-old commented.
"Obviously, she has a lot of single-seater experience, so it's great for me to be able to learn from that as well."
How outside success can be positive for W Series
With the likes of Hawkins, Chadwick and Powell all having experienced success in other categories of motorsport, Hawkins believes that this can be a positive in further adding to the appeal of W Series.
"[W Series is] making waves," the Aston Martin ambassador explained.
"I wouldn't have got back into racing if it wasn't for W Series, so I have a lot to thank them for. They're doing some great things for female drivers and just females in general.
"They're definitely a stepping stone, and young kids are definitely looking up to it and saying to their parents, 'I want to race in W Series', which is great to see."
As for her own future in the category, Hawkins' recent victory in touring cars hasn't changed her view on staying in W Series.
"I'll race as much as I can, as often as I can, and we will just see," she said.
"I've always made plans in my career and I've never been able to stick to them, because other opportunities arise and I take them.
"So we'll see. I'm going to have a plan, but then I'm always open to options."
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