In some sports, there are obvious reasons why men and women don’t compete against each other, but then there are others where they totally should. More and more in motor racing, we are seeing women compete against the men, with Danica Patrick being a big name. While many sports have moved to embrace female drivers, Formula 1 seems to be lagging behind in second place.
It wasn’t always this way though, and back in the ‘70s, one female driver stood out above the rest. Lella Lombardi was the first ever woman to score a point in Formula 1, and to this day remains the only one to do so.
Learning to drive
Lella Lombardi was born in Turin, Italy, and neither of her parents knew how to drive. How did someone with such little exposure to driving become one of the pioneers for motor racing women? She worked hard, just like most other sports people.
Lombardi learned how to drive by getting behind the wheel of a van for her family’s butcher shop. The Italian was good at sports, and that was driven by her desire to be the first or the best in everything that she did. It wasn’t until she was in her 20s that she found and fell in love with racing though.
Doing it her way
Lombardi had just discovered motor racing and knew if she was going to get into this sport seriously, she was going to have to make some sacrifices. She worked for her parents and saved up whatever money she could to buy herself her first race car. There aren’t many records of her racing career before she made it to the big time, but it’s fair to say that she had to fight her way to the top.
He demeanor wasn’t attention seeking, in fact, she barely even gave any interviews, and she chose to dress as casually as possible. Life was not about being in the spotlight for Lombardi, for her, it was all about winning races.
The Tigress of Turin
Thanks to that very first motor car Lombardi bought herself she began racing on the local circuit and soon became known as the Tigress of Turin. In 1968 she came second in the Italian Formula Three championship which really put her on the map. The more she raced in the lower tiers of motorsport, the more she continued to win.
Her reputation had grown so strong by 1974 that finally it was time to see if she could cut it among the elite racing drivers. Lombardi was ready to embark on an amazing journey into the world of Formula 1 in 1974, but there was one problem. She didn’t qualify.
Paying her own way
So often in sports, it’s not necessarily about your ability, but your connections. Lombardi had bags of talent, and after making some connections, she was able to get herself a Formula 1 car, even if she paid for most of it herself. Typically the drivers have most, if not everything, paid for them, but Lombardi was doing things the hard way.
She was staying in Italy and flying out to the races on her own expenses. She was stubborn and would not be denied her opportunity to show these other races she was just as fast as them. Lombardi didn’t manage to qualify for a race that season. For Lombardi, it wasn’t about being a female driver, she just wanted to be the first across the checkered flag.
First full season
Lombardi joined the March team in 1975 for a full season, and this was when she made her first piece of history. The first race of the 1975 season was in South Africa, and Lombardi had made it in thanks to her quick qualifying time. She had just made history by becoming the first female driver since 1958 to qualify for a championship Formula 1 event.
This was her only race of that season, however, and that ended in failure as she had to retire after just 23 laps. Her car wasn’t up to the challenge, and Lombardi was finding it difficult to put herself into the championship races. Then it came to the Spanish Grand Prix, and Lombardi made history once more.
An important race
The Spanish Grand Prix of 1975 was an important day in motorsports. It was where spectators would, unfortunately, lose their lives after driver Rolf Stommelen crashed his car. The race was just 25 laps in when the crash occurred, and Lombardi found herself in sixth place at the time.
After just four more laps the race was ended with Lombardi in the final points position. She had just become the first female Formula 1 driver in history to register championship points. Due to the circumstances, it was difficult to celebrate these points, especially as they were eventually halved to just 0.5 as they didn’t complete a full race.
Not conscious of gender
Lombardi’s first points in Formula 1 was huge, but because of the events in the race, they were overlooked. Over 40 years later she remains the only female driver to score any points in a Formula 1 race.
For Lombardi, she wasn’t even aware of it at the time, for her life was all about racing, and she was focusing on competing. She just saw herself as a racing driver and that was it, she didn’t care about her gender.
It’s amazing to think that 40 years after the first female racing driver scored points in Formula 1 there hasn’t been another. We’re sure it’s not going to be 40 more years before female drivers are featuring more regularly in Formula 1 championship races.