The first lady Formula One driver has died

| 14 Jan 2016

The first woman to race in a World Championship Formula One Grand Prix, Maria Teresa de Filippis, has died at the age of 89. 

Like many pioneering female racing drivers, de Filippis’ career began on horseback, and she proved a keen sportswoman while growing up in her native Naples. By her early 20s she developed an interest in racing cars, goaded by her brothers, Giuseppe and Antonio, who suggested she would be too slow. She proved them wrong with her first drive, finishing second in class during a 10km dash between Salerno and Cava de Tirreni at the wheel of a Fiat Topolino. 

Spurred on by her early success, the Italian became a regular entrant at hillclimbs, going on to participate in the Italian Sports Car Championship. She campaigned a number of curios, including a motorcycle-engined Taraschi-Urania and an 1100cc Osca, before attracting the attention of Maserati. She became a works driver for the Italian stable, finishing second during a support race for the 1956 Naples Grand Prix while driving a 200S.

De Filippis’ Formula One career began in 1958, entering a private 250F in that year’s Monaco Grand Prix, but failing to qualify - as did a young Bernie Ecclestone. She went on to compete in that year’s Belgian, Italian and Portuguese Grands Prix. 

For the following season, de Filippis signed for Porsche, racing with her friend Jean Behra. She was due to take the wheel at the AVUS circuit that year, but insisted Behra took her place after he had been fired from Ferrari for punching team manager Romolo Tavoni. The Frenchman went on to suffer a fatal crash during a supporting sports car race, which, along with the death of her early mentor and lover Luigi Musso at Reims in 1958, convinced her to retire. 

She returned to her roots in later life, joining the Internationale des Anciens Pilotes de Grand Prix F1 in 1978 and becoming vice president in 1997, as well as becoming a founding member of the Maserati Club in 2004 and later serving as its chairman.