The world of cars and racing has always been male-dominated. Consequently, the modern-day automotive and motorsport industries have developed initiatives to help more women progress in the field. Most recently, Formula One announced its new all-women series, which is set to begin in 2023. The F1 Academy aims to help more young women take space in motor racing and, ultimately, into F1. For context on how important this is — the last time F1 had a female driver compete in a grand prix was in 1976 in Austria with Lella Lombardi.
Creating more opportunities for women and young women in racing is key to making a male-dominated sport more accessible. Diverse and inclusive spaces are important across different fields and industries, as it encourages representation by improving the self-esteem and self-confidence of those who may think they don’t belong in a certain sport or field. Diversity may also benefit innovations in and around the field, such as research and developments in urban transportation.
Today, technologies such as big data play a big role in improving urban mobility challenges such as traffic congestion and other inefficiencies. However, women travel and commute differently from men, and having more women in relevant industries can help provide insights into women-specific concerns regarding urban transportation. As women become more involved and accepted in motorsport, not only will it open doors for many more women in the future, but it will also be beneficial to the industry’s advancements. Below, we’ll look at some of the most influential women in racing:
Maria Teresa de Filippis
Known as the first female driver in the F1, Maria entered her first race in her early 20s. In 1958, she got her chance to race in F1 when she attempted to qualify for the Monaco Grand Prix in a Maserati 250F. While Maria missed the mark by 5.8 seconds, she tried again in the same year for the 1958 Belgian Grand Prix, qualifying in last place to become the first female to compete in a Formula One race. After a teammate and friend’s death, Maria retired until 1979, when she joined the International Club of Former F1 Grand Prix Drivers. Since her retirement, no other female F1 driver had entered the scene until Lella Lombardi in 1974.
As mentioned in our introduction, Lella Lombardi’s name stands out in F1 history as the last time a female driver competed in a Formula One grand prix. Lella had developed a passion for racing at a young age and drove her first race in Formula Monza in 1965. In 1976, Lella attempted her grand prix debut but failed to qualify by nine-tenths after a driveshaft failure. Lella would also go on to race in NASCAR and become the first woman to win an FIA Championship Event in 1979.
Last but not least, cars and racing aren’t necessarily restricted to the world of Formula One. In the world of drag racing, Nellie Goins became the first African American woman to drive in the funny car racing category — a specific racing class in organized drag racing that featured cars with customized chassis and other modifications. Together with her husband, Nellie had to save up much of their hard-earned money to afford the high cost of racing. In 2014, “Nitro Nellie” Goins was inducted into the Drag Times Hall of Fame.