The story of Lella Lombardi, the first woman capable of scoring points in Formula 1

For a day as special as the8 March we have chosen to tell you one of the most legendary but at the same time forgotten stories of the world of motors. Let's talk about the fable of Lella lombardi, the first woman capable of conquering world championship points in Formula 1, in 1975. An example figure for all women but in general for all people who wish to transform their desires into reality. So let's see the story of how he made his dream come true there first and so far the only woman to score points in Formula 1, a few days after the 29th anniversary of his death and a handful of days after his XNUMXth birthday.

  • Who is Lella Lombardi: youth career and successes in the minor categories
  • The landing in Formula 1: Lella Lombardi from "doll woman" to first qualify after 20 years
  • The 1975 season: the arrival in March and the arrival of the sponsors
  • The Spanish GP: the first point in the incredible Montjuic GP
  • Lella Lombardi's arrival in the Sport and Tourism championships
  • The retirement and death of a little acclaimed champion
  • And now? The W Series and the dream of following in Lella Lombardi's footsteps

Who is Lella Lombardi: youth career and successes in the minor categories

Let's start right away from where Lella Lombardi started to arrive after many sacrifices in Formula 1. The story of Maria Grazia Lombardi, known as Lella, begins on March 26, 1941 in Frugarolo, a village of less than 2.000 inhabitants near Alexandria. In the Piedmontese town, Lella immediately showed great tenacity and desire to do things, without the desire for a quiet life in a provincial town.

Born into a middle-class family who owned a butcher's shop and produced cured meats, little Lombardi immediately had a passion for speed. As soon as he got his driving license at the age of 18 he helped the family business driving the van for the transport of meat to the Ligurian Riviera. But Lella's dream was that of run. Purchased a small single-seater in installments, he made his debut in 1965 at the age of 24 in Formula Monza. His career therefore began as a "great", and continued with several years of apprenticeship. First Formula 3, then Formula 850, the championship where, in 1970, he won the Italian title by beating all rivals… male.

His name began to become known in the racing world, and that was just the beginning. The Piedmontese devoted herself totally to her passion, moving to England in 1971, at the age of 30, to compete in the Formula Ford Mexico. Her being a woman and already "ahead" with the years made her a mysterious object, almost frowned upon by the racing world, but here she brought out her tenacity. In the first season he won the title in Formula Ford Mexico, and from there came the great leap to Formula F5000 britannica, one of the last steps before Formula 1. In a championship that is actually somewhat forgotten by the general public and by the teams looking for a new talent, Lella Lombardi impressed everyone for driving regularity and consistency of results, obtaining very few retirements and the fourth final place.

The landing in Formula 1: Lella Lombardi from "doll woman" to first qualify after 20 years

To earn Formula 1, however, a result in Formula 5000 was not enough: you had to prove you could handle the big boys. So to demonstrate his abilities in the world of the "big ones", with his own Lola T330 Chevolet with which he raced the Formula 5000 took part in two Formula 1 races not valid for the World Championship in England, at Brands Hatch and Silverstone. Although for several decades the universe of out-of-league races have no longer been a reality, until the 70s this type of "exhibition" racing was a way for drivers to keep fit, for teams to test new components without risking retirements in world championships and also to see new talents at work.

And it is precisely in these races that Lella stands out. With his F5000, decidedly less competitive than the real Formula 1, he finished both races, reaching an excellent 13th place on the tough Silverstone circuit. These performances obtained between March and April 1974 convinced a team that it was ready for the leap into F1. A second-tier team, Team Allied Polymer Group, entrusted her with a car for the British GP at Brands Hatch, a circuit that Lella knew well.

Once upon a time, F1 was very different from today. In each stage, there were more or less equipped local stables looking for glory in the home GP. Among these was the Allied Polymer Group, which for the occasion rented a Brabham BT42 from Bernie Ecclestone's factory team and gave it to Lella Lombardi. With the race number 208, Lombardi tried to qualify, but the rented car was really underperforming and in poor mechanical condition. In that era of Formula 1, it was necessary to set a minimum time to be able to participate in the Sunday race: with his 29th time, Lella Lombardi failed to qualify.

The 1975 season: the arrival in March and the arrival of the sponsors

In the meantime, however, his desire to arrive, his clean driving and his tenacity did not go unnoticed. However, a historic Formula 1 team focused on her, March. The team led by Max Mosley was pleasantly impressed by the performance of the young woman. At the time, the future President of the FIA ​​already had two drivers of value like in his ranks Vittorio Brambilla e Hans-Joachim Stuck, fast but also very unfriendly and "prone" to commit accidents. Mosley then offered a third car to the now 34 year old Lombardi, a constant and reliable driver, who thus was able to race with the prestigious English team.

On the bodywork of its splendid March 751, equipped with the iconic “spoon” front, then something unthinkable for a woman like her appeared. A sponsor, and not a backup, but the famous coffee company Lavazza. The Turin company decided to sponsor the Italian driver. It was an incredible thing: no brand had ever wanted to approach a female F1 driver. Lavazza, Piedmontese like Lombardi, was the first to believe in the fellow countryman, allowing her to run 12 of the 14 seasonal GPs.

The debut took place at the third Grand Prix in Kyalami, in South Africa. In Africa, the experienced Italian pilot, despite having the previous March 741 in his hands, he managed to easily qualify for the race. His qualification went around the world. In fact, she was the first woman to take part in a Formula 1 race for almost 20 years after Maria Teresa de Filippis, who entered a race for the last time in 1958. Lella Lombardi succeeded in bringing a woman back to the most important championship in the entire world motoring scene. However, our driver's race ended after 27 laps, due to a distribution failure.

That race, however, showed Lombardi's skills to the March team, which for the rest of the season had the new and more performing March 751 available. From that race, however, something changed: from a "world phenomenon" and a "rising star", Lella Lombardi almost became a nuisance for rivals. The failure to get behind a woman was too much, especially considering that it was 1975, a period where women were very far from the freedom and respect we are used to today. Suffice it to say that the honor killing was still legal for another 6 years, until 1981.

The result was a hostile environment to say the least for Lella Lombardi, a situation that reached the limits of ridicule during ainterview on a race weekend. In fact, a foreign journalist asked her if "It was the right sport for her", why she had chosen such a "risky hobby" and if it was "the new Formula 1 doll". Taking these provocations with a mocking smile, Maria Grazia Lombardi went straight on her way, proud and proud to be the first woman to be permanently qualified and to participate in an entire Formula 1 season.

The Spanish GP: the first point in the incredible Montjuic GP

Although the climate was not really of maximum integration, the Italian went to her second Grand Prix as an official March driver with high hopes. The circuit was the citizen of Montjuic, the park in the center of Barcelona. The race itself was one of the most dramatic and controversial in the history of Formula 1.

Under the eyes of the future King of Spain Juan Carlos, the circuit presented itself to the drivers in critical safety conditions. Some guardrails were not even mounted correctly, and several curves placed drivers and spectators in grave danger. The situation was so serious that after Saturday's practice the reigning World Champion, the Brazilian Emerson Fittipaldi, decided not to race on Sunday. His brother Wilson Fittipaldi and the Italian Arturo Merzario instead decided to retire after just one lap.

In this almost apocalyptic scenario, in order not to blow up the race all the mechanics and even some drivers spent Saturday and Sunday morning welding and assembling the guardrails, lacking control of all curves. The FIA, however, approved the race, which began regularly. If Vittorio Brambilla started fifth in his March, Lella Lombardi was in trouble. He settled on the grill at 24esimo place, more than 5 seconds behind poleman Niki Lauda.

In a few laps, however, the race turned into one survival challenge. Accidents were also numerous due to the winding circuit that ran through the Montjuic park. The drivers continued to retire due to an accident or technical problems, including the very favorites Lauda, ​​Jody Sheckter, James Hunt and Mario Andretti. All the drivers finished the race after a few laps. All but a few survivors, including Lella Lombardi, who with a clean and precise race conduct was on lap 25 at sixth place.

During that tour, the Embassy Hill-Ford's Rolf Stommelen lost the rear wing. The German driver from that moment became a passenger in his car, and crashed into the barriers, which ironically had been mounted by his own mechanics. His Hill at that moment took off, passed the wall that divided the runway from the spectators and hit the crowd. Four people lost their lives in the impact, while Stommelen was saved, albeit with serious injuries.

The race was interrupted after 2 laps and was never resumed. For the first time in the history of Formula 1, a race was stopped before 60% of the laps completed. In these cases, the ranking is "frozen" on the last lap before the suspension and they are assigned halved points. So the winner Jochen Mass got 4,5 points, the runner up Jacky Ickx 3 and so on. In such a tragic scenario, however, an indelible page of sport had taken place.

In sixth place, last position in points of the standings, Lella Lombardi was classified. His point was "reduced" to 0,5 points, but it was not important. Lella Lombardi in fact on April 27, 1975 became the first woman capable of scoring points in Formula 1, starting from 24th place and climbing the ranking up to sixth place.

The rest of the 1975 season: an incredible seventh place at the Nurburgring

It was an incredible achievement, which, however, took a back seat at the time due to the incredible events, in a race that went down in history as “the tragedy of Montjuic”. After this incredible result, 1975 unfortunately did not go as well as hoped. He did not qualify in Monaco, as he collected four retirements for unreliability during the season. In the Austrian Grand Prix, lashed by incessant rain, Lella finished 17th, while his teammate Vittorio Brambilla he disputed an unforgettable race, obtaining the victory under the flood, the first and only victory of the Milanese driver in Formula 1.

There was also room for another exploit, perhaps even more incredible than that of Montjuic. On the third to last round of the season, the Formula 1 Circus went to Germany, on the infamous circuit of Nurburgring. On the 22,8 km of the Green Hell, starting from the 25th and last position Lombardi played an impeccable race. Keeping her March out of mechanical trouble and accidents, the Piedmontese driver scored an excellent seventh place, remaining in the lap of the winner Carlos Reutemann and stopping less than 2 and a half minutes from sixth place (excellent result on a 7 minutes per lap track), going very close to the second world championship point of his career.

Unfortunately, the unforgettable 1975 season ended in the worst way, with a accident in the home Grand Prix in Monza. After this incredible season, Lombardi did not renew his contract with March. He ran the last race of the 1975 Championship with the Williams, unable to start at the United States GP due to a problem with the ignition of his car. In 1976, the Piedmontese managed to compete with the team RAM Racing in three GPs, with a 12th place in Austria as the best result.

After Formula 1: Lella Lombardi's arrival in the Sport and Tourism championships

Il 1976 it was also Lella Lombardi's last season in Formula 1. Despite the end of his dream, Lombardi did not let himself down and continued to race in other categories. After a life spent on single-seaters with open wheels, Lombardi discovered a second youth with covered wheel cars.

First he ventured into the Sport Prototypes Championship, where he already raced occasionally in 1975 and 1976. Here he obtained several important placings, first at the wheel of the Renault-Alpine A441 driven with the French Marie-Claude Beaumont in 1975, obtaining several first places in its class. He also participated in the 24 Hours of Le Mans 1976 with the French driver Christine Dacremont, at the wheel of one Lancia Stratos. The all-female crew completed the race in 20th place overall and in second place in the S + 2.0 class.

Returning occasionally in 1977 and then regularly since 1979, she got paired with Giorgio Franciin fourth place overall and first in class in the 24 Hours of Daytona, behind the wheel of a Osella-BMW PA6. Always driving an Osella-BMW, ​​he then obtained the victory in the 6 Hours of Pergusa, paired with Enrico Grimaldi, also getting the fastest lap on the Sicilian circuit. At the end of the season there was room for another victory at the 6 Hours of Vallelunga, again paired with Giorgio Francia.

After a disappointing 1980, Lombardi switched to cars Tourism, participating in the European Tourism Championship in 1982 where he achieved three 2500cc class wins on Alfa Romeo Alfetta GTV6 paired with Anna Cambiaghi. After a victory in 1983 and 4 in 1984, still paired with Giorgio Francia, in 1985 at the age of 44 he won 6 class victories. It even touches the victory of the overall title, which escapes it only for the difference in displacement and class with the more powerful cars.

The retirement, the team and the death of Lella Lombardi, a little acclaimed champion

He still has room in 1984 to participate in two stages of the DTM on the Nürburging circuit in an Alfa GTV6, finishing 10th and 6th. After several years of occasional competitions, in 1988 he permanently hangs up his helmet, ending his incredible career. A career that is still an inspiration today for the strength with which the little driver from Alessandria managed to establish herself in a sport and in a world strongly commanded by men..

After his retirement, however, his mission was not yet over. In fact, in 1988, shortly after retiring at the age of 47, he founded his team, Lombardi Autosport. The “Tigre di Torino”, so nicknamed by the Italian press, wanted to follow up on his experience in the world of motors. The project of a team with which young drivers and, of course, talented drivers will race, however, does not last long. Almost four years after the birth of the team, the March 3, Lella Lombardi fails to win her last race against an incurable disease, which at the age of 51 puts an end to the life of a true symbol of motorsport. A large crowd flocked to the funeral in the small town of Frugarolo, where the most famous driver in the history of Formula 1 still rests.

The other women in F1: from Maria Teresa de Filippis to Giovanna Amati to Jamie Chadwick

Exactly 29 years after his death and almost 46 years after his incredible feat, the exploits of Lella Lombardi continue to inspire dozens of women passionate about motorsport. Despite this, however, the story of Lella Lombardi ended, perhaps deliberately, in oblivion. His death was soon forgotten, and since 1976 no woman has been able to participate in a Formula 1 race.

The only other woman able to compete in the Queen Class was Maria Teresa De Filippis, Neapolitan driver who at the dawn of Formula 1 tried his luck in motorsport at the dawn of Formula 1. Endowed with great talent, the young Neapolitan driver entered Formula 1 in 1958 as a private individual, trying to qualify for several Grand Prix, including the very difficult Monaco GP. He only managed to qualify on one occasion, at the 1958 Belgian Grand Prix behind the wheel of a Maserati 250F, the same car as the World Champion Juan Manuel Fangio.

On the very hot circuit of Spa-Francorchamps, De Filippis qualified for the race and got the tenth place, becoming the first woman to compete and finish a Formula 1 GP. Hired by Porsche for 1959, however, she was traumatized by the death in the race of her team leader Jean Behra. Due to that trauma, Maria Teresa De Filippis decided to retire from racing.

There were then other women who tried to qualify, including the American Divina Galica and, lastly, the Italian Giovanna Amati. And it is the Roman pilotto the last woman who to date has participated as a starting driver in a racing weekend in 1992, ironically the year Lella Lombardi passed away. She was hired by Brabham historic stable now in deep decline, and failed to qualify in the three races in which he tried to participate.

Susie Wolff, the last to drive a single-seater in a race weekend

For almost 30 years now, no woman has been hired as an official driver. There were only fleeting participation of some pilots, most of whom were hired as reserve drivers. In recent years, the experiences of Carmen Jordà, the unfortunate Maria de Villota and more recently the Colombian Tatiana Calderon as third driver have not led to the debut.

To date, the last woman to drive a Formula 1 single-seater in a Grand Prix was Susie wolff. Born Stoddart, the wife of Team Principal Mercedes Toto Wolff was third driver for Team Williams. In these capacities, the Scotswoman was able to participate in the first Free Practice session of the 2014 British GP. His participation brought a woman back to F1, albeit for just one session, 22 years after Giovanna Amati's last time.

And now? The W Series, the Ferrari Driver Academy and the dream of following in Lella Lombardi's footsteps

Returning to today, the presence of Jamie Chadwick for the third consecutive year as the third driver of Team Williams. The English driver born in '98 is at the moment the highest rated and most appreciated driver in circulation. After excellent results in the English minor categories, the British are trying to get the 40 points necessary to obtain the Super License, An essential “license” to race in Formula 1.

Jamie Chadwick's stepping stone, however, was participation in the W Series, the first motorsport championship dedicated to women only. At first accused of lack of inclusiveness, the W Series gave the opportunity to show themselves to the world to several really good drivers, including the winner of the first edition Jamie Chadwick, the British Alice Powell o the Italian Vicky Piria.

All strong women and capable of fighting on equal terms with men, who in the W Series have found a showcase to demonstrate their talent to the world and to sponsors, the latter indispensable for a career in Motorsport. In recent years, the work of the FIA ​​for gender equality is bearing its first fruits. After the W Series expo, stopped in 2020 due to the pandemic, last year ended with a surprise. Within the renowned Ferrari Driver Academy, division of the Scuderia di Maranello, which grows the drivers of the future, the first woman entered. It is Maya weug, A 16-year-old Dutchman who follows in the footsteps of former FDA pilots Charles Leclerc, Mick Schumacher and Antonio Giovinazzi.

The story of Lella Lombardi: dreams are never impossible

The world is now very different from 1975, but it is incredible how the story of Lella Lombardi is still unique 45 years later. In recent years, however, also thanks to the fact that the Piedmontese driver's story has come out of oblivion, smore and more girls have the courage to race and embark on their motorsport dream.

We are the first to see our Fjona that every day stands out more and more in a world dominated by men like that of the car. Lella Lombardi's story moves more and more people and inspires more and more girls to follow their dreams. Because the tale of the young man who started from the province and arrived in Formula 1 is an inspiration for everyone. And we are sure that Lella Lombardi will not remain the only woman in the history of Formula 1 for long.

Certainly, however, Lella Lombardi will remain an unforgettable figure for women and for all motor fans in the world. A woman who started from the bottom made possible things that were impossible in 1975, like the possibility for a "doll" to race among the best drivers in the world. The future is also built thanks to great and unforgettable gestures like this, and by figures that will remain forever in the history of sport.

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