Lella Lombardi

Maria Grazia Lombardi was born in Frugarolo, a village near Turin, in the middle of World War II. Her father was a butcher and the family did not even own a car. Lella was very sporting in her teenage years and legend has it that her interest in motor racing came only after she was driven to hospital at great speed after being injured in a handball game.

Lella saved her money, passed a driving test and bought a second hand Fiat. Her career was going nowhere except around the streets until she met a racing driver and began to work as a gofer for him. She acted as a co-driver when he entered a rally and eventually managed to convince him to let her have a try at a race and won. This opened doors in the sport and for a while she raced touring cars but then decided to try to make it in single-seaters, working her way up to the British Formula 5000 Championship in 1974 with help from Shell.

She tried out for the British GP in an old Brabham but failed to qualify. That winter, however, she met Italian nobleman Count Vittorio Zanon and he paid for her to enter F1 in an ex-Vittorio Brambilla March 741. In South Africa that year she became the first woman to qualify for a Grand Prix since Maria Teresa de Filippis 17 years earlier. At the next race she had a new 751 with sponsorship from the Lavazza coffee company, which was associated with Zanon. Success was immediate with Lella finishing sixth in the accident-shortened Spanish GP, becoming the first woman ever to score a World Championship point (or rather half a point, as the full points were not awarded). Later in the year she finished seventh at the Nurburgring. At the end of the year she switched to Williams. After the first race of 1976 in Brazil she was replaced at March by Ronnie Peterson. She briefly tried an old Brabham being run by RAM but it was not a success and she dropped out of F1.

She went on to a successful career in sports and touring cars and even took part in a NASCAR race at Daytona in 1977. She enjoyed considerable success with Giorgio Francia in Osella sportscars and later in Alfa Romeo GTV6 touring cars. She continued to race into the late 1980s but was eventually diagnosed as having cancer and died in early 1992 at the age of only 48.