- March 26, 1941
- March 03, 1992
- Not Active
Maria Grazia Lombardi aka Lella Lombardi (1941-1992) was a female racing driver from Italy who recorded 17 participations (12 starts) in the Formula One World Championship between 1974 and 1976, setting the record as a woman who raced the most in Formula 1. She was also the only woman to score a point (in a fact half of a point) in the F1 Championship race.
Outside F1, Lella Lombardi was a serious competitor in many other open-wheel championships, such were Formula Italy or Formula 3 Formula 5000. She was also active in sports car racing, recording four starts at Le Mans 24 Hours, climbing on a podium once after finishing second in GTP class in 1976.
She proved that she could be versatile and successful by participating also in stock car racing (NASCAR) and touring car racing (ETCC, DTM). She ended a career in 1988, after spending six years with Jolly Club in the European Touring Car Championship.
Successful start of a career
Born in Frugarolo, Piedmont, in March 1941, Maria Grazia gained her first driving experience by driving a delivery van for a shop of her father, who was a butcher. She started to race with go-karts and then both her first race car in 1965.
In the following years, she was competing in different open-wheel championships (Formula Monza, Formula 850, Formula 3), becoming the F3 vice-champion in 1968 and F850 champion in 1970.
Step up to Formula One in 1974
Formula 3 was her main discipline until 1973 and then, in 1974, Lella made a step up to Formula 5000 and Formula 1. She spent a full season in the European F5000 Championship, driving a Lola T330-Chevrolet for ShellSport Luxembourg and finishing fifth in the points.
Before her F1 Championship attempt, she appeared with her F5000 car in two F1 non-championship events, the Race of Champions at Brands Hatch and BRDC International Trophy at Silverstone. And then, in July 1974, she came to Brands Hatch in the #208 Brabham BT42-Cosworth, supported by the Italian Automobile Club and sponsored by the Radio Luxembourg. She was too slow to qualify for the race and her first attempt failed.
First woman in the F1 since Maria Teresa de Filippis in 1958
For the 1975 Formula One season, Lombardi was invited to join March team as a teammate to Vittorio Brambilla and Hans-Joachim Stuck. She made her F1 Championship debut in the third round, at the South African Grand Prix at Kyalami Circut.
She qualified for the race, becoming the first woman after Maria Teresa de Filippis in 1958, to qualify for the Championship Grand Prix race. In the race, she retired after 23 laps in the #10 March 741-Cosworth.
The first woman to earn an F1 championship point
Before European championship rounds, Lombardi made two starts in non-championship races in a new March 751-Cosworth, retiring at Race of Champions and finishing 12th at BRDC International Trophy.
And then, on April 27, Lombardi sensationally scored a point in the Spanish Grand Prix at Montjuic Circuit by finishing sixth. In a fact, she earned half of a point because the race was shortened following a fatal accident in which five spectators were killed. However, she made a history with a point-scoring result, staying the only woman to do that until today.
Full Formula 1 season with March team
Until the end of the season, Lombardi made eight more starts in F1 Championship Grand Prix races, failing to qualify only for the Monaco Grand Prix. She retired four times (Belgium, Sweden, Great Britain, Italy) and reached the finish line four times.
Her best result was the seventh place in the German Grand Prix at the notorious Nurburgring Nordschleife. In the season-closing US Grand Prix at Watkins Glen, Lombardi had a one-off attempt with Williams. She qualified for the race in the #20 Williams FW04-Cosworth but an electric failure prevented her from starting the race.
Le Mans 24h debut in 1975
Parallel to her open-wheel racing commitments, Lombardi participated also in sports car races. In 1974, she raced with Jolly Club's Lolla T282-Cosworth in one Interserie race and Brands Hatch round of the World Championship for Makes.
In 1975, she raced with Alpine A441-Renault in several races (Mugello 1000, Dijon 800, Monza 1000, Coppa Florio) before making Le Mans 24h debut in June. She and Maria-Claude Charmasson (Beaumont) took the S2.0 class victory at Monza. At Le Mans, they didn't finish the race.
Two more Formula 1 starts in 1976
For the 1976 Formula season, Lombardi stayed with March but she was replaced after the season-opening round by Ronnie Peterson. She finished 14th in the Brazilian Grand Prix. A few months later, she made a deal with RAM Racing Lavazza to drive their Brabham BT44B-Cosworth.
In July, she failed to qualify for the British Grand Prix at Brands Hatch. This was the only Grand Prix event in which two female drivers appeared. The other was Divina Galica, who also failed to qualify for the race. One more DNQ for Lombardi followed in the German Grand Prix and then, in August, she made her last F1 start in the Austrian Grand Prix at the Österreichring. She finished 12th, four laps behind race winner John Watson.
GTP class podium at 1976 Le Mans 24 Hours
Outside F1 World Championship, Lombardi made two starts in the British Shellsport International Series, opened also for F1 machinery, driving a Shadow DN1-Cosworth for Team PR Reilly.
In sports car races, he made few starts with different Porsche cars but the highlight of the season was her second attempt at Le Mans. She joined Aseptogyl team to drive the #3 Lancia Stratos HF Turbo in GTP class. She and Christine Dacremont finished 20th overall and second in GTP class.
Racing with Inaltera at Daytona and Le Mans in 1977
Lombardi was out of open-wheel racing in 1977, focusing on sports car races. In February, she joined Jean Rondeau's Inaltera team to drive the #21 Inaltera LM-Cosworth at Daytona 24 Hours, sharing a car with Christine Beckers. They didn't finish the race due to an accident.
In June 1977, the crew Lombardi/Beckers came to Le Mans in the #2 Inaltera LM, finishing in the 11th place overall and fourth in S+2.0 class. That year, Lombardi also raced with Jolly Club's Lola T282, Osella Squadra Corse's Osella PA2 and Kenneth Leim's Porsche 911 Carrera RSR.
One NASCAR start for Lella in 1977
The season 1977 was also remembered by Lella Lombardi's debut in NASCAR Winston Cup Series. In July, she raced at Daytona International Speedway's Firecracker 400 race, driving the #05 Chevrolet for Charles Dean.
Her co-driver from sports car races Christine Beckers also participated in that race. They were invited to grow a popularity of NASCAR. An idea was to face three women in one race because American racer Janet Guthrie also participated. Lombardi retired after 103 laps, as the best among three female drivers.
DNF at 1978 Spa 24 Hours
In 1978, Lombardi was driving Jolly Club's Fiat 128 Sport Coupe in touring car races and Kenneth Leim's Porsche 934 in sports car races. She scored several class wins in the ETCC together with Carlo Giani in a Fiat.
1979 – third place in the Interserie with Osella
In 1979, Lella Lombardi finished third in the final classification of the Interserie, driving an Osella PA7-BMW for Scuderia Torino Corse. She also scored one victory with the same car in the World Championship for Makes, together with Giorgio Francia at Vallelunga 6 Hours.
In 1979, Lombardi also recorded one-off appearance in the British Formula 1 Championship, driving a Williams FW06-Cosworth for Team Agostini at Mallory Park. She finished 14th.
One more last attempt at Le Mans in 1980
Lombardi continued to race with Osella prototypes in 1980, including her last start at Le Mans 24 Hours. In her fourth attempt at Circuit de la Sarthe, Lombardi was sharing the #28 Scuderia Torino Corse Osella PA8-BMW with Mark Thatcher, son of British Prime Minister. They retired after 157 laps.
She wasn't much more successful in other major races that, recording DNFs at Brands Hatch, Mugello, Monza, Silverstone, Nurburgring, Vallelunga and Dijon.
World Championship victory at Mugello in 1981
Lombardi finally stopped a streak of disappointing results with a victory at Mugello 6 Hours in April 1981, sharing the #14 Osella PA9-BMW with Giorgio Francia. Later in the season, she added two more podiums on her account to finish fifth in the World Championship for Makes and Drivers.
In the same season, she was driving Jolly Club's Chevrolet Camaro in the European Touring Car Championship, sharing a car with Anna Cambiaghi.
Racing with Alfa Romeo from 1982 to 1986
In 1982, Lella Lombardi and Anna Cambiaghi were driving Jolly Club's Alfa Romeo Alfetta GTV6 in the European Touring Car Championship. They scored several Division 2 wins. At Spa 24 Hours, Lombardi competed in Luigi Racing's Alfetta, finishing 12th together with Marcello Gallo and Tony Palma.
Lombardi stayed in Jolly Club's Alfetta in 1983, sharing a car with Giancarlo Naddeo but the results were not good. In 1984, Lombardi's' ETCC teammate was Giorgio Francia and she improved results, scoring few class wins. They were also first in Division 2 at Spa 24 Hours. In 1984, Lombardi also participated in the inaugural DTM season, driving Alfa in two races at Hockenheim.
In 1985, Lombardi's fourth season with Alfa, her co-driver was Rinaldo Drovandi. They scored few class wins in the ETCC but retired at Spa. Alfa Romeo 75 replaced Alfetta in 1986. Lombardi was sharing a car with Giancarlo Naddeo or Rinaldo Drovaldi.
Last season at the wheel of Ford Sierra RS Cosworth
In 1987, Jolly Club switched to Ford Sierra RS Cosworth and Lombardi spent one more season in the European Touring Car Championship, sharing a car with Federico D'Amore.
Lella Lombardi retired from racing in 1988 but stayed in motorsport through his own team Lombardi Autosport. She died of cancer four years later, in March 1992.
Photos: Getty Images,