Decades before Janet Guthrie and IndyCar, Maria Teresa de Filippis braved the trials of F1

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Before Janet Guthrie, Lyn St. James, and Danica Patrick, there was Maria Teresa de Filippis. Few Americans know of de Filippis because, unlike the other female drivers listed above, she didn’t race in the Indianapolis 500.

She did them one better.

Maria Teresa de Filippis became the first woman to compete in Formula 1, decades before Guthrie qualified at Indy for the first time in 1977. In 1958, de Filippis made her debut in the Grand Prix of Syracuse and then competed in her first Formula World Championship Grand Prix in Belgium. The Italian’s car of choice was one built in her native country, a Maserati 250F. She remained a Maserati loyalist for the rest of her life.

Maria Teresa de Filippis with Juan Manuel Fangio and Jean Behra in 1959. Maserati

“I’ve been inspired by many people in my life, but only one type of car,” de Filippis says in a 2015 Maserati commercial titled Fearless. “For me, the feeling of driving a Maserati has been one of the most constant sources of pleasure in my life.”

De Filippis immediately proved it, pulling on a helmet and climbing into a vintage Maserati for another turn around the track—at age 89. She passed away only months later, on January 8, 2016. In anticipation of International Women’s Day on March 8, Maserati is once again saluting de Filippis’ passion, courage, and audacity both on the track and throughout her life.

Maria Teresa Female Race Car Driver At Silverstone
Keystone/Hulton Archive/Getty Images

Born in Naples in 1926, de Filippis entered the world of motor racing in 1948 as a 22-year-old prodigy and won her very first race, the 10-kilometer Salerno-Cava de’ Tirreni, (500-cc touring car category). Not surprisingly, she was the only female driver entered. Equally thrilled and motivated by her win, de Filippis advanced to the 750-cc category the following year and continued to rack up victories.

“I was either courageous or reckless or foolhardy,” she once said. “Call it what you want; I just liked to go at full speed.”

During 1953–54, de Filippis moved to an OSCA (Officine Specializzate Costruzione Automobili—Fratelli Maserati S.p.A.) 1100-cc race car and won the 12 Hours of Pescara, the Trullo d’Oro, the Catania-Etna, and races on the circuits of Caserta and Syracuse before transitioning to a Maserati 2000 A6GCS in 1955. Although de Filippis joked that she was hard on the car, she won the Catania-Etna in record time and finished second in the 2000-cc class championship that year.

She described the Maserati 2000 A6GCS as “a powerful car with which I felt I could do anything … and I did. Poor car! So many spectacular accidents, but also so many victories.”

Maria Teresa Female Race Car Driver Grand Prix of Italy
Grand Prix Photo/Getty Images

Her success during the following three seasons led de Filippis to her Formula 1 debut in ’58, an unheard-of accomplishment for a female. She quickly earned the respect and esteem of her rivals and brought attention to her favorite manufacturer, Maserati.

“I’m lucky enough to have spent the best part of my life racing and driving what I believe to be the finest cars ever created,” de Filippis says in the 2015 commercial. “So, take it from someone who knows: The greatest kilometers are ahead of you!”

Maserati plans to release a new video via social media on March 8. Now that you know Maria Teresa de Filippis’ name and the breadth of her accomplishments, you won’t want to miss it.

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