Lella Lombardi: adding the feminine touch to F1

28 Jun

Today marks the fourth of the Formula 1 Formula week of legends (25th June – 1st July). These legends are drivers who have been unsung but have completed achievements that deserve merit. Today’s driver is Lella Lombardi, the only female driver to start more than 10 races and pick up championship points.

Since it’s inaugural season in 1950 there have been 802 F1 racing drivers. Of which only 5 have been female. Not a statistic to be proud of in a society where equality is almost present everywhere. Of these five only two have actually started a race: Maria Teresa de Filippis (3 starts) and Lella Lombardi who started twelve races and is the only female to have picked up F1 points (o.5 of them to be precise).

Maria Grazia Lombardi, a.k.a. Lelle Lombardi was born in Italy in 1941, and at the age of 33 she made he F1 debut, driving for Allied Polymer Group, a privately entered Brabham car. She was only entered for one race in the 1974 season, Great Britain, but she never started the race due to failing to qualify. But in 1975 her career took a turn for the better, she secured a drive with March and despitie retiring from her first race of the season at South Africa she impressed enough to race for the team again in Spain.

It was Spain 1975 where she picked up her 0.5 points, the race was held at the Montjuic circuit, a street circuit in Barcelona. The race was supposed to be 75 laps long, but the race ended after just 29 when Rolf Stommelen crashed killing five spectators, due to the race not reaching 50% distance only half points were awarded, and because Lella was sitting 6th at the time she picked up the final o.5 points. She drove for the team for most of the rest of the season but it was disappointingly average, of the 10 races she drove after Spain she finished 4, and only contested for points at Germany where she finished 7th, one place off the points. She finished off the season with Williams.

In 1976 Lella started the season driving for March, but after a disappointing 14th in Brazil she was dropped. She did enter three more races that season with RAM Racing, only qualifying for one of the races, finishing 12th in Australia.

In 1992 Lella died of cancer.

There have been other female successes in motor sport, Desire Wilson won the British Aurora F1 series race at Brands Hatch in 1980. In the Indy 500 Danica Patrick finished 3rd in 2005, 4th in 2005 and 6th in 2006, and there were plans for her to test for Honda in 2009 before the team went bust. Since 2000 9 female drivers have competed in the Le Mans 24 hours with Vanina Ickx (daughter of former F1 driver Jacky Ickx) finishing 7th in 2011. Michelle Theriault has won four races in the Camping World Truck Series.

And there is still hope for female F1 drivers, there are currently two female drivers contracted to Formula 1 teams, DTM driver Susie Wolff is contracted with Williams to be a development driver. Whilst Maria de Villota is a test driver for Marussia.

There is hope for F1 equality yet!

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