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The first woman to race in the Formula 1 World Championship – Maria Teresa de Filippis has a place in the sport’s history that cannot be erased. That was a short-lived venture that was brought to an end by tragedy.
Upbringing and early racing career
The daughter of an Italian nobleman and Spanish mother, she was one of five children. Her first sporting interests were equine but her brothers loved cars and she drove a Fiat 500 on a minor hillclimb in 1948. Class victory persuaded de Filippis to switch sports.
Circuit racing followed a year later in 750cc sports cars before she swapped her little Giaur for an 1100cc OSCA in 1953. Her career was not without incident and de Filippis had a lucky escape on the 1955 Circuito di Mugello when her Maserati was left teetering on the edge of a precipice after a crash.
Formula 1 with Maserati
She was then injured after rolling her Maserati A6GCS during the 1956 Buenos Aires 1000Kms but soon graduated to F1. De Filippis first met Luigi Musso when they competed against each other during the late 1940s and Musso persuaded her to buy a Maserati 250F in 1958. Fifth on her debut at Syracuse, she failed to qualify for that year’s Monaco Grand Prix before racing in the Belgian, Portuguese and Italian GPs. She finished 10th at Spa-Francorchamps and ran fifth at Monza before retiring.
Musso was killed during that year’s French GP but de Filippis returned for the 1959 Monaco GP with a Formula 2 Behra-Porsche now under the tutelage of Jean Behra. Again de Filippis failed to qualify for the race and she decided to retire from the sport after the Frenchman was killed at Avus that summer.
Maria Teresa de Filippis later worked in motorsport administration for a period and appeared at historic events from time to time before her death in 2016.