Interview: Helmut Zwickl
Photography: Getty Images 

The First Woman in F1, Maria Teresa de Filippis, talks about life behind the wheel in the ’40s and ’50s

She was born into a rich family in Naples in 1926 and lived an extraordinary life. The Grand Prix racing drivers of her day worshipped her; she married Vienna-born Theo Huschek and she is currently the honorary president of the Grand Prix Drivers Club. Just a few years ago, the first flush of youth well behind her, she sped around in a Maserati Grand Prix car at the Ennstal-Classic. She has since become gravely ill. 

THE RED BULLETIN: You were the first woman in Grand Prix history. What was it like back then?

MARIA TERESA: I drove my first race in 1948. In my second race, I won the category driving a Fiat Topolino. And I overlapped with the greatest Italian racing driver of all time – Tazio Nuvolari – and, if I remember rightly, he was driving in his last ever race. Of course there was prejudice, along the
lines of what’s that woman doing here? But between 1949 and 1953, I had a number of wins in a Fiat Giannini sportscar. In 1954, I came second in the Giro di Sicilia road race, at which point Maserati noticed me and in 1955 they gave me a factory car. And I managed to live up to their expectations. I came ninth in the Targa Florio and third in the 10 Hours of Messina in a Maserati A6GCS. In 1956 I raced in the Mille Miglia, the 1,000km of Monza and the 1,000km of Buenos Aires, where I had an accident. By 1958 I was well-established in motor racing. My nickname was pilotina. I bought myself a Maserati 250F. I was lucky I could afford one. The Maserati 250F was, after all, the car Fangio had won his fifth world championship in the previous year.

Were you friendly with Fangio?

He virtually took me under his wing. He kept warning me not to take such risks.


Italian racing driver Maria Teresa de Filippis, with her collection of trophies, circa 1958

What was your Grand Prix track record?

I came fifth in the Syracuse Grand Prix on a particularly dangerous road-racing course. I had engine trouble at Monaco. At the European Grand Prix in Spa-Francorchamps, I came 10th. I was in fifth place at Monza but retired 12 laps before the end. I sold the Formula One Maserati in late 1958
to Giorgio Scarlatti. 

Back then, Formula One was still a matter of life and death. 

I lost two of my closest friends. In 1958, Luigi Musso was killed in an accident in Reims and in 1959 I lost Jean Behra. Jean lent me his own Formula 2 Porsche at Monaco. I managed to qualify on the very last lap, but the race stewards didn’t accept my time. It was a purely political decision because they wanted to squeeze the Ferrari driver Cliff Allison into the starting line-up. It was scandalous. I have never cried in my life, but I bawled when I got out of the car that time.

Do you wish there was a woman in Formula One today?

Why not? Women can do everything men can.

How did your career come to an end?

I was on holiday on August 1, 1959, when I heard on the radio that Jean Behra had died at a race on the AVUS in Berlin in a Porsche. I was so shocked that I decided to halt my racing career there and then.

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