The Legacy of Lella Lombardi

As the only female point scorer in F1, Lella Lombardi was a formidable force in motorsports. As we return to the city of Barcelona where she triumphed, ATRL’s Aimée Jenkins takes a look at the Italian driver and her talents. 

Written by Aimée Jenkins

June 1, 2023

As the Spanish Grand Prix celebrates its 110th anniversary in the same year that the F1 Academy begins, it feels only right to celebrate one of the many historical moments for this circuit and for women in Formula 1. That is, of course, Lella Lombardi’s first points in Formula 1 at the 1975 Spanish Grand Prix.

Lella was born on Mar. 26 1941 in Frugarolo, Italy and began her career as a delivery driver for her family’s butchers, taking early successes with the 1970 and 1971 Formula 850 Championships, and the 1973 Italian Ford Mexico Championship. She also competed in the Italian F3 Championship, taking a best 2nd place finish with Lotus in 1973 before moving to the 1974 F5000 Championship.

Lella at the start of her career (Photo via formula1.com)

Her road to Formula 1 began in 1974 with a failed qualifying attempt for the 1974 British Grand Prix but her efforts would secure her Count Vittorio Zanon’s sponsorship for the 1975 season.

Lella joined the Mach Engineering team for twelve of the fourteen races, becoming the first woman to qualify for a Formula 1 Grand Prix since 1958 at her first outing in South Africa. Of her twelve race starts, she secured five finishes, including an impressive 7th at the infamous Nurburgring, but it is the 1975 Spanish Grand Prix that she remains best remembered for.

While the Montjuic street circuit in Barcelona would prove the site of Lella’s triumph, it was one of tragedy too when four spectators were killed after Rolf Stomelens’ car crashed into the crowd. Even prior to this, it had been a chaotic race, with only eight of the starting twenty- six drivers finishing, and drivers like Niki Lauda and her former USF5000 teammate James Hunt failing to finish. Throughout this chaos, Lella drove confidently, keeping # her car out of the troubles that befell her competitors to secure 6th place and her first Formula 1 Championship point. Though this was reduced to a half point in light of the race being cut short due to the tragedy, the importance of this half point went beyond Lella; it remains the only points ever secured in Formula 1 by a female driver.

Lella in front of her car (Photo via formula1.com)

Sadly, Lella’s Formula 1 career would be hampered by technical issues. At the next round in Monaco, Lella complained of violent understeering and oversteering following a crash in qualifying. The team investigated but found no issue. It wouldn’t be until Ronnie Peterson took over Lella’s seat and car in the 1976 season and complained of similar issues that a sizeable crack in the chassis was found. After leaving Mach, Lella briefly joined RAM with whom she had a best finish of 12th in Austria.

Lella competing at the 1975 24 Heures Du Mans (Photo via @femalesinmsport on Instagram)

While her Formula 1 career ended prematurely, Lella still enjoyed considerable success, including competing four times in Le Mans with a best class finish of 2nd in 1976 and a best overall finish of 11th in 1977. She would also win the 1979 Enna Six Hours with Enrico Grimaldi, becoming the first women to win a FIA championship event, as well as becoming the first woman to qualify for and compete in the 1974 and 1975 Race of Champions. Lella officially retired in 1988 and passed away of breast cancer at the age of 50 on Mar. 3 1992, survived by her long term partner Fiorenza.

In an interview at the 1975 Swedish Grand Prix, when asked if women belonged in Formula 1, Lella answered with a wry grin, “Considering that I race, judge for yourself.” It is with this quiet dignity and her trust that her racing would speak for her that Lella navigated life and the male dominated world of motorsports. To this day, she remains only one of five women to have ever entered a Formula 1 Grand Prix and the most successful woman in Formula 1, a record we hope to see broken. But as we enter an era where female racing talent is becoming more visible with the likes of the F1 Academy, it is more important than ever that we remember those who came first, those who paved the way with rubber and left no doubt of their right to occupy the realms of motorsports. Those like Lella Lombardi. Those whose tyre tracks may long be faded, but whose racing legacy remains.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Aimée has been a fan of Formula 1 since she first saw Sebastian Vettel terrorize the entire paddock in the early 2010s. While this has unfortunately translated into supporting Red Bull in the recent seasons, her favourite driver remains Lewis Hamilton. When she’s not studying for her Masters in Criminal Law, you can find her rewatching the older series of Formula 1 as far back as she can find, or doing her best to catch up on her new interest in electric racing in the FE and Extreme E seasons. She is particularly interested in the legal side of the formula series and in the world of electrical racing. Outside of the world of motorsports, you can find her horse- riding, auto- testing, reading, trying to learn a new language or indulging in a glass of wine with her friends.

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