Maria Teresa de Filippis has a special place in the history of motorsport - she was the first woman to race in Formula One, the elite racing series since 1950s.
Too slow in the first race
May 18, 1958, was the historic date in Formula One, because Maria Teresa de Filippis became the first woman to compete in Formula One. Her debut at the 1958 Monaco Grand Prix, behind the wheel of a privately entered Maserati 250F, wasn't so successful as she was too slow and hadn't manage to qualify for the main race. She was one of the 15 drivers who didn't qualify, among which was also Bernie Ecclestone.
Maria Teresa de Filippis debuted at the 1958 Belgian Grand Prix
Failed to qualify in Monte-Carlo, debuted at Spa-Francorchamps
Her next attempt was successful and she qualified for the 1958 Belgian Grand Prix at Spa-Francorchamps. De Filippis drove a privately entered Maserati 250F and finished tenth and last, two laps behind the race winner Tony Brooks. During the 1958 season, Maria Teresa took part at two more Grand Prix races – Portuguese GP at Circuito da Boavista and Italian GP at Monza.
Historic moments for motorsport
She failed to finish both races, at Boavista and Monza, but even her appearance represented a historic moment and she will be always remembered as a pioneer in motorsport. At that time, her racing was a heroic achievement, considering the fact that women were still being discouraged from participating in motorsport. For example, the race director of the 1958 French Grand Prix said: "The only helmet a woman should wear is the one at the hairdresser's" and forbade Maria Teresa de Filippis to take part in the race.
Maria Teresa de Filippis raced at three Grand Prix races
One more attempt at Monaco Grand Prix
In 1959, Maria Teresa de Filippis joined the Behra-Porsche RSK team but again failed to qualify at the Monaco Grand Prix. It was her final attempt in Formula One. She left racing later that year, after Porsche team leader and her friend Jean Behra died in a racing incident during sports car support race for the 1959 German GP.
Married and retired from F1 racing
Maria Teresa got married in 1960, started a family soon afterwards and racing wasn't among her priorities any more. She kept away from all forms of motor racing until 1979, when she joined the International Club of Former F1 Grand Prix Drivers. In 1997, she took a role of the Vice-President of the Club. She was also a founding member of the Maserati Club in 2004 and would go on to become its chairman.
Maria Teresa raced ten years before she tried in Formula One
Six years as a Maserati factory driver
Maria Teresa's five GP races are the most renown parts of her career, but actually she started to race 10 years before she reached her peak; during her driving decade, she spent six years as a Maserati's factory driver. At the age of 22, she sat in her first racecar and soon became quite successful. She won her first race with Fiat 500 on a 10-km drive between Salerno and Cava de' Tirreni.
In 1954, she was a runner-up in the Italian sports car championship. She took part in various events, including circuit racing, hillclimbing and endurance racing. For instance, she finished 9th at the Targa Florio race with Maserati A6GCS. In 1956, she finished second in a sportscar race supporting the 1956 Naples Grand Prix, driving a Maserati 200S.
Video : Maria Teresa talks about driving Maserati
She knew when to quit
Motorsport was extremely dangerous at that time; Maria Teresa de Filippis said that she saw too many deaths and she knew when to quit. Thanks to her wise judgement, we had the opportunity to listen to her stories from the very beginning of Formula One for many years.
In a recent article about the oldest living Formula One drivers, we mentioned her as one of the Formula One veterans. On November 11, 2015, we celebrated her 89th birthday, and on January 8, 2016, sadly, the star of formula 1 history had passed away. Her legend lives on and continues to inspire both male and female drivers, car enthusiasts and fans of motorsport.