Maria Teresa de Filippis: The first lady of motor racing
The Formula One circuits of the 1950s may seem an unlikely place for a female pioneer – but 60 years ago an aristocratic Italian became a trailblazer for women in the sport.
In 1958 Maria Teresa de Filippis competed at the Monaco Grand Prix as a privateer, driving the Maserati 250F in which friend Juan Manuel Fangio won the world championship the year before. Although she failed to qualify for a place on the grid, she was in good company – future Formula One supremo Bernie Ecclestone also missed out.
De Filippis was unsuccessful in qualifying a year later as well, but did finish 10th at the 1958 Belgian Grand Prix and finished eighth at Monza in 1958, despite retiring with 13 laps to go.
Born in Naples in 1926 to an Italian Count and his Spanish wife, de Filippis began racing in 1948 after being dared to by her brothers.
She made rapid progress, finishing second in the Italian Sports Car Championship in 1954 before signing with Maserati as a works driver.
Unsurprisingly she came up against plenty of opposition, and she claimed she was banned from the 1958 French Grand Prix after the race director told her the only helmet a woman should wear was at the hairdressers. Fangio once told her “you go too fast, you take too many risks”, but after the death of her close friend Jean Behra in a support race at the German Grand Prix in 1959, a devastated de Filippis quit Formula One and started a family. She never lost her passion for motor racing though, joining the Formula One Grand Prix Drivers Club, becoming its Honorary President in 2011.
Where de Filippis led others followed. Lella Lombardi started 12 races in the 1970s, while three other women – Divina Galica, Desiré Wilson and Giovanna Amati – tried to qualify for Grands Prix around the world.
We pay tribute to the former Honorary President of the Formula One Grand Prix Drivers Club, Maria Teresa de Filippis, the first woman to compete in a Formula One car.