Through the Archives: How Maria Teresa de Filippis Made F1 History

In 1958, Maria Teresa de Filippis became the first woman to compete in Formula One. Over 65 years later, ATRL’s Sam Yanis recounts her story and its lasting impact.

Written by Sam Yanis

March 9, 2024

Maria Teresa de Filippis was an Italian racing driver born in 1926. She didn’t start racing until she was 22, winning the Salerno-Cava dei Tirreni event in a Fiat 500 after a bet with her brothers on whether or not she could drive fast. She would go on to win the 12 Hours of Pescara, the Trullo d’Oro and more, also finishing second in the 1954 Italian Sports Car Championship. In 1955, Maria Teresa started driving for Maserati after turning down a drive from Enzo Ferrari. 

Her Formula One debut was in the Syracuse Grand Prix in 1958, which was not a part of the World Championship, where she finished 5th. After this, she failed to qualify for the 1958 Monaco Grand Prix, but she didn’t let that deter her.

Maria Teresa de Filippis behind the wheel of her Maserati 250F. (Photo via maserati.com)

Later that year, Maria Teresa took part in her first World Championship Grand Prix in Belgium, where she finished 10th. She would participate in two more races in 1958, but reliability issues forced her to retire from both. Her last Grand Prix in Monza could have resulted in her first points if it wasn’t for an engine failure towards the end of the race.

 

She drove Juan Manuel Fangio’s championship car from the previous year in these races, and she said in an interview that he often worried about her. He told her “You go too fast, you take too many risks,” but she was fearless. 

Maria Teresa with Juan Manuel Fangio and Jean Behra. (Photo via journal.classiccars.com)

While many supported her, she faced struggles as a woman in a male-dominated sport. She was unfairly disqualified from a 1080-km race earlier in her career after finishing it. In 1958, she was not allowed to participate in the French Grand Prix, later stating in an interview that they told her “the only helmet a woman should wear is the one at the hairdresser’s.” 

 

In 1959, Maria Teresa once again failed to qualify in Monaco. She was supposed to race again that season, but her team boss and close friend, Jean Behra, drove the car in her place after being let go by Ferrari. She insisted he should drive the car instead of her at the German Grand Prix, and he was killed while driving it that weekend.

 

“Too many friends had died,” she said when asked why she stopped racing. Luigi Mosso, Peter Collins, Alfonso de Portago and Mike Hawthorn were all friends of hers who died before Behra, and after his death, she never raced again. She eventually got married and had kids, staying away from motorsports until 1979 when she joined the International Club, a club for retired drivers that she eventually became the honorary president of. She was also a founding member of the Maserati Club.

Maria Teresa de Filippis (Photo via journal.classiccars.com)

Maria Teresa de Filippis passed away in January 2016, but her legacy has lived on. To this day, she is one of only two women to have raced in a Formula One Grand Prix, and she will always be remembered as the first. A woman hasn’t competed in F1 since Lella Lombardi, who scored her first points in Formula One almost 50 years ago. 

 

Both of these women have paved the way for women in racing. With series like F1 Academy providing opportunities for young women to get more track time and become involved with Formula One teams’ development programs, there is hope that we will one day see Maria Teresa’s and Lella Lombardi’s legacies continued. 

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Sam is a university student studying English and Italian Studies. Her grandfather turned on F1 while they were watching tv together one day, and she’s been a fan ever since. Although she’s a newer fan, she loves the history of the sport and enjoys watching documentaries and old races. Her favorite driver is Fernando Alonso, and she’s spent many days and nights watching him race in seasons of the past on F1TV. Outside of F1, she’s also a book lover who writes reviews and blog posts about books for other publications.

Related Articles

Hitting the Apex: Red Bull Ring

Hitting the Apex: Red Bull Ring

It's Austria Race Week! Read on to know everything you need to know about the Red Bull Ring.The Red Bull Ring is a race track located in Spielberg, Austria. It was built to replace the Zeltweg circuit down the road, and was first opened in 1969 under the name...

Hitting the Apex: Firestone Grand Prix of Monterey

Hitting the Apex: Firestone Grand Prix of Monterey

Things are heating up in the IndyCar world this week! ATRL's Eline Luna takes a look at WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca this weekend.IndyCar heads to WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca this weekend for the eighth race of the 2024 season. The series raced at the track...

Stay Up to Date With The Latest News & Updates

Interested in Writing for ATRL?

Contact us now! Fill out the form below and wait for an email from us to get started.

Join Our Newsletter

Subscribe to updates when we post a new article! 

 

COMING SOON!

 

 

Follow Us

Follow us on Twitter and Instagram @ATRacingLine