Maria Teresa de Filippis made Grand Prix history when she became the first woman to compete in a Formula One world championship race, finishing tenth in the 1958 Belgian Grand Prix in her Maserati 250F.
Maria Teresa de Filippis was born in Naples, Italy. She had always been more interested in horses but when her brothers bet her that she could never be as fast as them, she started practicing and at the age of 22 she won the first race she entered, the Salerno-Cava dei Tirreni, and presumably the bet.
She continued to race successfully and after finishing second in the 1954 Italian sports car championship driving an OSCA, Maserati took her on as a works driver for 1955.
With the help, initially, of Luigi Musso, she broke into Formula 1 in 1958, scoring a fifth place at Syracuse in a rather thin field, before making Grand Prix history when she became the first woman to compete in a Formula One world championship race, she finished tenth in the Belgian Grand Prix in her Maserati 250F.
She was taken under the wing of Jean Behra for 1959. Behra had Collotti-build a Porsche RSK based single seater which Maria tried to qualify in Monaco. Then at the German Grand Prix at AVUS that year Behra, who had been fired by Ferrari for hitting Romolo Tavoni, the team manager, was going to race the Porsche based single seater. Tragically he never made it to the Grand Prix grid as in the support race he crashed his Porsche RSK Spyder 1500 when he went too high on Nordkurve 45-degree banking on a damp track and crashed at high speed into a concrete bunker and was thrown from the car.
Maria had already lost a number of friends by this time, including Luigi Musso, Peter Collins, Alfonso de Portago and Mike Hawthorn. Thus Behra's death became the final straw and she decided to retire from racing to start a family. The following year she got married.
In all she entered seven Grand Prix, qualifying for three of the five of those that counted towards the title. It could have been seven but she was prevented from racing at the French Grand Prix by the race director who said that the only helmet a woman should wear is the one at the hairdresser's.
In 1979, she joined the International Club of Former F1 Grand Prix Drivers. She has been the club's vice-president since 1997 and is president of the Maserati Club. She has two grandchildren and lives near Milan.
To date, four other women have attempted to start a World Championship F1 race, Lella Lombardi, Divina Galica, Desiré Wilson and Giovanna Amati.