Rembering Maria Teresa de Filippis – the first woman driver to enter an F1 world championship

Following on from the excitement of W Series, this new blog will focus on the stars of the motorsport world throughout the years. It will show their achievements and the pioneering contributions they made to the sport while sharing their passions and success. 

Maria Teresa de Filippis is remembered as the first women to have entered a Formula 1 World Championship grand prix, but she had a successful career in many different strands of motorsport. 

Maria Teresa was born on the 11th November 1926 in Naples, Italy. As a teenager, she was a keen horse racer and tennis player before beginning her racing career aged 22. She began racing after her brothers bet that she wouldn’t be fast enough and went on to win her first event driving a Fiat 500 on a 10km route between Salerno and Cava de Tierreni. For the remainder of the 1940s, Maria Teresa forged a career in hill climbing and endurance racing. 

Before her debut in Formula 1, Maria Teresa competed in and finished second in the 1954 Italian Sports Car Championship. She made her first F1 outing in the non-championship Gran Premio di Siracusa, where she finished fifth. 

Maria Teresa’s first World Championship race would come at the 1958 Belgian Grand Prix at Spa-Francorchamps, driving the Maserati 250F and, ending with a 10th place finish. She took part in two more World Championship races in 1958 at Oporto, Portugal and Monza. However she would fail to finish both of these races due to reliability issues. In Monza, she was running in fifth place fourteen laps from the end when her engine cut out. If the Maserati’s engine had made it the end of the race, she would have been remembered as the first women to score points as well as the first to drive in a championship race.

Despite her success in these races, she was unable to take part in the season’s French Grand Prix. In a 2006 interview she shared that the race director had not allowed her to take part, stating “the only helmet a woman should wear is one at the hairdressers”.

Maria Teresa failed to qualify for the 1958 and 1959 Monaco Grand Prix. She called it a day on her racing career in 1959 after the untimely death of her team principal Jean Behra. Maria Teresa got married and started a family after leaving the sport, she did however return in 1979. 

In 1979, she became a member of the Club International des Anciens Pilotes de Grand Prix F1 for Retired Drivers (now called the Formula 1 Grand Prix Drivers Club). She became the club’s secretary-general before advancing to vice-president and then honorary president. Maria Teresa was a founding member of the Maserati Club in 2004 and went on to become its chairperson. She was also an honorary member of the BRDC. 

Maria Teresa de Filippis died in January 2016, aged 89. She was, indeed, a pioneer in our sport and her achievements should always be remembered. Her involvement in five World Championship events and her three World Championship race starts, despite the difficulties she faced, truly helped to pave the way for the acceptance of women in motorsport. 

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