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Feature

Jak Crawford: Chasing the F1 dream

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At a glance, Jak Crawford's rise through the motorsport ranks in Europe looks much like any other. Scratch beneath the surface and you discover a story that's anything but.

"I was only 10 years old when I knew I had to start racing in Europe."

There are meteoric rises through the junior ranks of motorsport, and then there's that of the newest member of the Aston Martin Aramco Driver Squad, Jak Crawford.

The American has belied his years at every turn of his career. Like so many of his peers, he's raced from an early age, but his journey since has been far from ordinary.

From missing the start of seasons because he was too young to compete and travelling around Europe by himself as a teenager, to candidly admitting he has sometimes felt quite rushed on his journey, Jak is a young driver who has moved across the world and shot up the ranks in pursuit of his dream.

Currently dovetailing his second season in F2 – the final step on the FIA single-seater pyramid to F1 – with being on the Aston Martin Aramco young driver development programme, we caught up with the 19 year old before he takes to the track at the storied Imola Circuit this weekend to learn more about the realities of pursuing a dream.

Jak, you moved to Europe at a young age, why did you make the switch?

"I was doing a lot of karting in the US as a kid and there are a couple of big races a year in the States where European drivers come over and do really well. It was at one of these events when my family and I realised that top-level karting is in Europe and you need to race there to truly show what you can do."

How does karting differ in Europe?

"Karting in Europe is a different challenge, it's intense; you learn a lot – fast – and you can get humbled pretty quickly. Everyone is so hungry to reach the top of the sport. You have to keep up or you get left behind."

Was there a moment when you realised you had what it took to not just compete, but win in Europe?

"I entered my first race in Europe in 2015 and it was massive. I was 10 and I finished second; that's when my family and I knew we had to start racing in Europe more often.

"When I look back on it, that was a pivotal moment. It kind of confirmed what I believed all along – that I have what it takes."

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Aged just 13, you moved to Europe on a semi-permanent basis so you could embark on the next step of your junior racing career. What was that like?

"It was weird. Very weird. 2018 was my first experience of travelling alone.

"My parents had always travelled with me everywhere. That was the first time that they weren't with me every step of the way, but I had a good group of people around me and I was very fortunate. In that situation, you mature quickly. You have to do things for yourself, you have to become more self-sufficient. You grow up fast.

"I was offered a great opportunity to drive in Europe that year and I took it. I didn't really live anywhere. I was just going to all the races for about six or seven months, travelling around with the team.

"In 2020, I started competing in Formula 4 in Europe. I did Italian and German F4 and that's when I moved over almost permanently, so from 2018 onwards I've mostly been alone."

Does the distance make it harder for young American racers to compete successfully in Europe?

"It’s hard for any young person to make it as a professional racing driver. You can't go to school like you would normally do, you have to leave your family and there will be times when you're on your own.

"It's clear when I go to a karting race in America now that the young kids want to be in F1, which is cool, but it's not easy for Americans who are based far away. They have to have a lot of commitment. You have to sacrifice so much to race in Europe, especially if you're not European.

"I was at such a young age when I moved. I didn't really understand the sacrifice needed at the time. Racing is what I wanted to do and I got the opportunity – so I took it. I was barely a teenager when I came to Europe to race. It's a huge thing and you sacrifice so much of your life to do it."

For most of your junior career, you've had to compete against drivers who are older than you. Was it tough going up against drivers who were often more experienced and physically stronger?

"I moved quite quickly from karting and entered F4. I was 13 when I did my first race in the Americas-based NACAM Formula 4 Championship and I've always been very young compared to my rivals.

"The first time I tried driving an F3 car I was 15. You're only allowed to enter F3 at 16 and the first race of the 2021 season was six days after my 16th birthday, so I had hardly any experience for that level.

"It was quite intimidating because I was racing against people that were always ahead of me age-wise. I raced against people who were 18 and 19 years old in F3 and drivers I almost looked up to in karting. I had watched their careers and they were always ahead of me but then I was racing against them on quite a big stage. It was daunting.

"It does add pressure because you almost feel like everyone has a bit of an advantage – like the mountain you've got to climb is just that little bit bigger.

"If your competitors are older, they might have a bit more experience, but when you're on the track, you don't think about it. You reach a certain point when you've been racing the same people for long enough that you feel the same age as them even if they're three or four years older. Ultimately, if you're quick enough you're old enough."

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How did you deal with the pressure that came with your rapid climb up the motorsport ladder?

"My second season of F3 felt like my first one because I didn't have the discipline and maturity to learn from the experience of my first year.

"I was in F3 when I was barely 16. Then I joined F2 when I was 17 years old and even now, I'm only in my second year having just turned 19.

"And drivers are getting younger and younger. Drivers like Max Verstappen and Lance have shown you can be super young in F1 and do well. You see young people performing and you realise that you can be that young and still compete with those at the top of the series.

"I don't have any regrets but looking back, it would maybe be even better to have gone a bit slower – just in terms of building more experience more than anything."

The next stage of your career comes with Aston Martin Aramco. You joined our driver squad and young driver development programme earlier this year. What are you looking forward to most about this year and how have you settled in?

"There are definitely some milestones to tick off with the team. I have a great opportunity to drive an F1 car for the first time this year which is obviously huge for me personally.

"It's been great being here. I learn so much every time I'm at the track with the team and back at the AMR Technology Campus. I've really enjoyed getting to know everyone and embedding myself in the team. I've done a lot of simulator work and have been learning from some of the engineers and about the car itself. It’s been hugely beneficial for me."

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Finally, Jak, what immediate targets have you got your sights set on?

"I'm young but it feels like I'm a veteran on the junior series ladder. It's like I've been around a while even though I haven't and I'm proud to have accomplished so much at such a young age.

"Looking ahead, I take it year by year and see where I end up. My sole focus this season is on F2 and doing the best I can, which would be winning the championship. I'm not huge on making long-term goals; I don't want to get too far ahead of myself. I want to enjoy the ride."

Driver Squad

Meet Jak

Get to know the latest addition to the Aston Martin Aramco driver squad and our Young Driver Development programme.

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