IWD : Women in Formula One

Kimberley Ng
maria teresa de filippis before a 1949 race

International Women’s Day: Despite being mostly male-dominated, did you know that there have been women in the history of F1 as well?

Earlier this year it was announced that Singapore had renewed its contract with Formula One to continue hosting the iconic night race until 2028. The first race for this year’s world championship is set to begin later this month, and Singapore is expected to play host once again come September. 

Throughout its history Formula One has been a male-dominated sport, but did you know there have been five women that have driven in an actual Grand Prix?

Maria Teresa de Filippis

maria teresa de filippis maserati 250F 1958 italian grand prix

In 1958 de Filippis became the first woman to race in Formula One, and at the iconic Monaco Grand Prix no less. Driving a Maserati 250F, de Filippis failed to qualify for the race. At the Belgian Grand Prix that same year, despite qualifying at 19th place and being lapped twice in the actual race, de Filippis finished in 10th place, her only finish in Formula One.

In 1959 she joined the Behra-Porsche team but yet again failed to qualify at the Monaco Grand Prix. This marked her last entry in Formula One. Because of the numerous deaths that were happening within the sport at the time, de Filippis eventually left the sport. She did however serve as Vice-President of the International Club of Former F1 Grand Prix Drivers in 1997, before passing away in 2016.

Lella Lombardi

lella lombardi 1975 race of champions
Lella Lombardi at the 1975 Race of Champions | CC BY-SA 2.0

After de Filippis, Formula One would not see another female driver for 20 years until Lella Lombardi. Lombardi is also the only female driver to have scored points at the championship. At the Spanish Grand Prix in 1975, the race was halted on the 29th lap due to an accident. This sudden stop placed Lombardi in sixth place. 

At the 1975 German Grand Prix however, Lombardi finished in seventh place. Lombardi continued racing after leaving F1, competing in the 24 Hours of Le Mans in 1976, and finishing 9th in a Porsche Carrera. 

Divina Galica

divina galica lime rock circuit 2009 in a Brabham BT37
Divina Galica driving an ex-Carlos Reutemann Brabham BT37 in a Historic Grand Prix at Lime Rock Park in 2009 | CC BY-SA 2.0

Apart from being a woman in F1, Galica is also one of seven Formula One drivers who have also competed in the Olympics. In 1976 she entered the championship with a Surtees TS16 car but failed to qualify. Her second chance came in 1978 when she raced in the Hesketh 308E, but also failed to qualify. 

Despite this she continued her racing career outside of F1 and even in 2018 at the age of 74, Galicia still works as a driving instructor at Bertil Roos Racing School in the United States. 

Desiré Wilson

Since 1978, Wilson has been regarded as the most accomplished female racing driver in the world. In 1980 she had the opportunity to compete in the British Grand Prix. However due to her car being replaced at the last minute with an inferior model, her lack of experience at that point led her to not qualifying. She had a second chance at the South African Grand Prix that year, but due to issues with the gearbox, Wilson was forced to retire from the race. 

Formula One certainly wasn’t the end of her racing career as she continued to race internationally. To this day she still occasionally races at the Goodwood Revival. 

Giovanna Amati

Giovanna Amati raced in the Formula One World Championship in 1992. Signing for the Brabham team, she went on to race at the South African, Mexican, and Brazilian Grands Prix. However, she failed to qualify at all three races. Her racing career did not end there as she went on to win the Women’s European Championship at the 1993 Porsche SuperCup. 

Despite only five women making it into the Formula One World Championship throughout history, there are numerous more in today’s teams as test drivers and development drivers. Perhaps one day we might see a woman next to the legendary names we know today.

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Kimberley Ng

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