At age 22, Maria Teresa de Filippis settled into the driver’s seat of a Fiat 500 with hopes of proving her brothers wrong. Two of her siblings, Antonio and Giuseppe, had wagered that Maria wasn’t capable of driving fast, so she answered by hammering the small Fiat around the Amalfi Coast at breakneck speeds. Ten years later, she was driving a Maserati in Monaco as the first female Formula 1 driver ever.
The Italian legend passed away last week at age 89, Formula1.com reports, but she leaves behind a legacy as a true motorsports pioneer. Despite never winning a major title, de Filippis developed a reputation for her aggressive style and raw talent, so much so that Formula 1 great Juan Manuel Fangio once told her that she “drove too fast” and “took too many risks.” Take that, Antonio and Giuseppe.
De Filippis’ path to Formula 1 was a long one. Her first event was a 10-kilometer road race in Northern Italy, which she won in her trusted Fiat 500. After that, she earned a spot in the 1954 Italian Sports Car Championship, coming in second. It wasn’t gold, but it was enough to attract the eyes of Maserati, who brought her on as a factory driver for various hill climbs and endurance races throughout the 1950s. Then, in 1958, just ten years after accepting an informal challenge from her brothers, de Filippis entered the qualifying round for the Monaco Grand Prix. Her chariot of choice was the Maserati 250F, one of the most jaw-droppingly beautiful racing cars ever built, but unfortunately she didn’t quality.
In terms of F1, de Filippis’ career was largely underwhelming, having scored only three starts and no championship points in her five Grand Prix entrances. Still, her place is history is set. After retiring from competitive racing in 1959 after the deaths of several fellow drivers, it would be another 15 years before another woman, Lella Lombardi, would follow in her footsteps. To this day, de Filippis remains just one of two women to ever start in an F1 Grand Prix race.
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