Maria Teresa de Filipis

Italian Maria Teresa de Filipis had a short but successful career in motorsports, which opened up the opportunity for her to become the first woman to drive a car in Formula One.

1958 Belgian Grand Prix. Spa-Francorchamps, Belgium. 13th – 15th June 1958. Maria Teresa de Filippis (Maserati 250F)

This is how her life sums up:

  1. She was born in Naples on November 11, 1926 and died in Scanzorosciate (also in Italy) on January 9, 2016, at the age of 89.
  2. Her path in motorsports began with a bet. Her brothers said she couldn’t drive really fast, so to prove otherwise, the signorina signed up for the Salerno-Cava dei Tirreni race, which she won in a Fiat 500, at age 22. From there, she triumphed in numerous competitions in the 750cc category. From 1953 to 1954 she drove an 1100 cc Osca and conquered the 12 Hours of Pescara, the Trullo d’Oro, Catania-Etna, and the Caserta and Siracusa circuits; by 1955 she went on to pilot the Maserati 2000 A6GCS.
  3. After finishing second in the Italian championship, Maserati offered her a contract in 1954.
  4. On May 18, 1958, she made her Formula One debut and became the first woman to do so, and one of the five who have managed to be on the starting grid in the entire history of the category. During the 1958 season, she drove the car in which Juan Manuel Fangio had won the drivers’ title the previous year (the one that completed the five-time championship).
  5. In total, de Filipis participated in seven grands prix, qualifying for three of the five that counted for the title. Her best qualification was a tenth place at the Belgian Grand Prix.
  6. In 1958, she was not allowed to drive in the French Grand Prix, in 1958. The race director claimed that “the only helmet a woman should wear is the one at the hairdresser’s”. She assured that she never felt prejudice or bad attitude on the part of her colleagues, it was hardly a surprise at her success and Juan Manuel Fangio himself was one of those who highlighted Maria’s skills behind the wheel.
  7. In 1959, she was asked to race for Jean Behra’s Porsche team; however, the French driver died testing the car. This tragedy deeply marked Maria Teresa de Filipis, who decided to retire. In an interview for The Guardian in 2006 (available in English at this link), Maria explains that she decided to stop “because too many friends had died. There was a succession of deaths – Luigi Musso, Peter Collins, Alfonso de Portago, Mike Hawthorn. Then Jean Behra [whose team de Filippis had joined earlier in 1959] was killed in Berlin. That, for me, was the most tragic because it was in a race that I should have been taking part in.”
  8. Shortly after making his retirement official, she married and had a daughter.
  9. In 1979, she joined the International Club of Former F1 Grand Prix Drivers. She was vice president of the club in 1997 and president of the Maserati Club.
  10. When asked about the small number of women who have managed to drive in Formula One, Maria replied in 2006 that she was a bit surprised, “maybe they just don’t feel like it. Then, of course, there is the question of money. Many backers don’t believe that a woman can compete on equal terms. It’s a shame because I think there would be huge interest if a woman was given a chance in Formula One.”

A few months before her death, Maserati released a video in which it pays tribute to Maria Teresa de Filipis and her legacy in the team:

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