The Driving Range: Dan Ben-Ari

Several Maserati 250s taken at 1957 British Grand Prix

Several Maserati 250s taken at 1957 British Grand Prix

F1 racing pioneer Maria Teresa de Filippis, passed away last Friday (Jan. 8) at the age of 89. Born November 11,1926, in Naples, Italy, de Fillipis began her racing career at the age of 22, winning her 1st race, a Fiat 500, on a 10 km drive between Salerno and Cava de’ Tirreni, despite teasing from her brothers that she would never “be able to drive fast.” From there she went on to drive in the Italian sports car championship, finishing 2nd in the 1954 season, and gaining the attention of Maserati, which brought her in as the works driver.

She participated in a variety of car racing events, including hill climbing and endurance racing, before becoming the 1st woman to drive in Formula One. She finished 2nd in an event supporting the 1956 Naples Grand Prix, driving a Maserati 200S.

Although she failed to qualify for both the Monaco Grand Prix in 1958 and 1958, de Fliipis did make 3 Grand Prix starts for the Maserati team in 1958, although she scored no points. In fact, her best finish was 10th at Spa-Francorchamps in Belgium, after 9 cars ahead of her crashed out.

She later retired from F1 after her Porsche team boss Jean Behra died while driving in the sports car support race for the 1959 German Grand Prix at AVUS on August 1, 1959. Maria Teresa was supposed to drive at that event and was devastated by deaths of several friends during her time in the sport and especially that of Behra. She left the circuit to get married and raise a family in 1960, and did not participate in anything to do with motor racing until 1979, when she joined the International Club of Former F1 Grand Prix Drivers. She became Vice-President in 1997, and later became a founding member of the Maserati Club in 2004, serving as its chairperson.

Since de Fillipis retired from the track, only 4 other women started an F1 race. The 1st was another Italian, Lella Lombardi, who competed in 3 seasons, from 1974 to 1976. She signed up in 17 races and started 12, having her best result in 1975 Spanish Grand Prix where Lombardi finished in 6th. The race, however was stopped before 3/4 of the scheduled race distance was reached resulting in only 1/2 points being awarded. Yet it was enough to make her the only woman to score points towards the World Championship.

Next came England’s Divina Galica who attempted, but failed to qualify for the British Grand Prix, along with Lombardi (who also failed).

In 1980, Desiré Wilson of South Africa tried to qualify for the British Grand Prix. Although she did not succeed, Wilson became the only woman to win a F1 race of any kind when she won at Brands Hatch in the British Aurora F1 series on April 7. In recognition of this achievement, Wilson has a grandstand at Brands Hatch named after her.

The last woman to try to compete in a Formula One Grand Prix was Italian Giovanna Amati in 1992. She tried to qualify for 3 races, but failed each time. She was replaced by Damon Hill, who also failed to classify the car in the following races.