The first woman to drive in Formula One, Maria Teresa de Filippis, passed away Saturday at the age of 89. According to Motorsport.com, she made five attempts to qualify a privateer Maserati 250F in 1958 and 1959, and started three races in the car.
De Filippis got her start in motor racing in Fiat 500s, ultimately finishing second in the 1954 Italian Sportscar Championship, per The Observer. Her success there led to a works drive with Maserati, which later led to her driving a Maserati in F1.
The Maserati 250F was the same car Juan Manuel Fangio had used to win his fifth world title the year before, and Fangio gave De Filippis plenty of advice in driving it. De Filippis told The Observer of Fangio’s advice:
He used to say: “You go too fast, you take too many risks.” I wasn’t frightened of speed, you see, and that’s not always a good thing. He worried I might have an accident.
According to Motorsport.com, she failed to qualify for the first F1 race she attempted, the 1958 Monaco Grand Prix, but got her first start at the Belgian Grand Prix later that year. The Belgian Grand Prix was the only F1 race she ever finished, albeit in last place. At the Portuguese and Italian grands prix she also competed in, engine failure forced her to retire early.
Motorsport.com reports that she attempted to qualify again for the 1959 Monaco Grand Prix on the Behra-Porsche team, but ultimately failed to qualify for the 16-car grid. De Filippis ultimately gave up on motor racing at age 33, after team owner Jean Behra died in a support race for the 1959 German Grand Prix. As to why she got out of motor racing, she told The Observer:
Because too many friends had died. There was a succession of deaths - Luigi Musso, Peter Collins, Alfonso de Portago, Mike Hawthorn. Then Jean Behra was killed in Berlin. That, for me, was the most tragic because it was in a race that I should have been taking part in.
A woman would not reappear in Formula One for fifteen more years, when Lella Lombardi became the only other woman to start a grand prix race, per Motorsport.com. Given the number of women now rising up through support and junior series, hopefully someone we’ll see number three soon.
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