F is for Maria Teresa de Filippis

As usual, I am again focusing on the famous, the forgotten and the misbegotten for round 19 of the popular ABC Wednesday meme. But finding suitable characters is getting harder, so apologies in advance if I miss out some of the alphabet.

Maria Teresa de FilippisMaria Teresa de Filippis was an Italian racing driver who in 1958 was the first woman to enter the Formula One Championship and is one of only two women ever to make it to the starting grid.

Filippis was born in Naples in 1926, the daughter of a count, her career began on the Amalfi coast when her brothers bet that she couldn’t drive quickly.

She proved them wrong by winning her very first race, the Salerno-Cava dei Tirreni hill climb, in a Fiat 500 in 1948.

But this was an era when women were not accepted in the world of motor sport – you could argue that it still is. She recalled the time when she was barred from entering the 1958 French Grand Prix, with the race director saying: ‘The only helmet a woman should wear is the one at the hairdresser’s.’

Filippis at the wheel of her MaseratiIn an earlier example of the prejudice against women driver, Filippis was disqualified after the finish of the 1950 Giro di Sicilia when it was claimed that she had been push-started. She had stopped a few inches short of the starting line and her mechanic had pushed her into position. This seemed unfair in the extreme and her compatriot, Tazio Nuvolari observed: ‘You made a girl drive over one thousand kilometres on wet roads only to then disqualify her. This is crazy.’

But Filippis persevered and n 1958 and 1959 she raced in three grands prix in a Maserati 250F and failed to reach the qualifying time for two other races, including her first, the 1958 Monaco Grand Prix. This in a year when fourteen male drivers also failed to make the grade, including a certain Bernie Ecclestone.

Filippis on her 89th birthday

Filippis on her 89th birthday

Her friend and mentor, the great Juan Manuel Fangio, told her: ‘You go too fast, you take too many risks’ and at 5ft 2ins, her Maserati had to be specially adapted with padding so she could reach the pedals. Even so, she posted her best finish of 10th on her debut world championship race at the 1958 Belgian Grand Prix at Spa.

Formula One racing was a much more dangerous sport than it is today and 1958 was a particularly bad year with several driver fatalities and Filippis turned her back on motor sport.

In 1960 she married Theodor Huschek, an Austrian textile chemist, with whom she had a daughter, but she returned to the sport in 1979 when she joined the International Club of Former F1 Grand Prix Drivers, serving as vice-president in 1997. She was also a founding member of the Maserati Club in 2004 and talks about her love affair with the car in the video on the right.

Filippis died in January this year aged 89 at her home in Scanzorosciate in the north of Italy.

For further information, see her Wikipedia page, the Telegraph, Top Gear and Formula1.com.

Nobody’s prefect. If you find any spelling mistakes or other errors in this post, please let me know by highlighting the text and pressing Ctrl+Enter.

7 comments… Add yours
  • leslie 17th August 2016

    Wow! What a fabulous woman! Taking on men in “their” sport! There still aren’t many women in this particular sport but cheers to them.

    Leslie
    abcw team

    Reply
  • Melody Steenkamp 17th August 2016

    Quit a daredevil, although I am not scared easily, I wouldn’t not do what she did!

    Have a nice ABC-W-day / – week
    ♫ M e l ☺ d y ♫ (abc-w-team)
    http://melodymusic.nl/19-f/

    Reply
  • Reader Wil 17th August 2016

    What a fantastic lady. It is true that women have always been discriminated against since the beginning of times. It’s a shame. Women always have to prove that they are the best and even then they are not believed.
    So thank you for this formidable tribute to a woman.

    Reply
  • Yorkshire Pudding 17th August 2016

    “We’ve got some very strong and robust ladies, but, when your life is at risk, I think the strain of that in a competitive situation will tell when you’re trying to win. The mental stress I think would be pretty difficult for a lady to deal with in a practical fashion. I just don’t think they have aptitude to win a Formula 1 race.” – STIRLING MOSS (F1 Racing Legend)
    “Stirling Moss is a sexist twat” – YORKSHIRE PUDDING (A1 Blogging Legend)

    Reply
  • Roger O Green 18th August 2016

    I love that ad.
    As Sinatra might say, “That dame got guts.”

    ROG, ABCW

    Reply
  • Roger O Green 18th August 2016

    I love that ad.
    As Sinatra might say, “That dame got guts.”

    ROG, ABCW

    Reply
  • Joy 18th August 2016

    Driving on the Amalfi coast road probably gave her nerves of steel.

    Reply

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