Lella Lombardi: Winning Points

Lella Lombardi was born near Turin, Italy during the height of World War II.  The city suffered catastrophic bombing during the Second World War as the city was an industrial hub of Italy. Following the war, the automobile industry, including the companies of Fiat, Lancia, and Alfa Romeo, helped rebuild the city. Perhaps it was the speed coursing through the streets of Turin that gave Lombardi the urge to drive. She saved up funds to buy a used Fiat and passed her driving test. As she wasn’t getting traction in her career she became an assistant for a racing driver. That turned into being a co-driver during a rally before finally the driver let her race and she won.

She started her professional racing career around 1965 in Italy’s junior Formulae and her final season in 1973 she obtained a second place finish at Casale as well as winning the Italian Ford Mexico series. She won the British Formula 5000 championship in 1974. That same year she attempted to race in the British Grand Prix, but failed to qualify while driving an older Brabham. Next year though, history was made.

Seventeen years after Maria Teresa de Filippis qualified for a Grand Prix, Lombardi qualified for the 1975 South African but retired before the end of the race due to issues with the car. It is the 1975 Spanish Grand Prix that put Lombardi in the record books.

The 1975 Spanish Grand Prix was, by all accounts, a mishandled race from start to finish. The weekend started with drivers protesting the safety barriers not properly bolted. The track organizers attempted to fix the issues, but the drivers were not convinced and attempted to strike. It took the threat of impounding cars to get the drivers on the track. The race ultimately got off but was marred with crashes from the start. The race ended approximately halfway through the race due to a horrific crash. Driver Rolf Stommelen’s car’s rear wing broke and he went into the safety barrier before ricocheting across the track, hitting the barrier on that side and going over the barrier. Multiple spectators were killed and the race got called. At that time, Lombardi was running in sixth position, two laps down, and earned points for that finish.

She had a downward spiral of a F1 career following the Spanish Grand Prix. She finished seventh at Nurburing, and after the first race in 1976 she was replaced. She tried her hand in other disciplines of motorsports. She ran in the 1977 Firecracker 400 at Daytona. She also competed in the 24 Hours of Le Mans from 1975-1980 and ‘finished’ the race twice.  She continued to race into the late 1980sm having a secondary successful career in sports cars and GTV6 (driving an Alfa Romeo car).

A former crew chief, Roy Wardell, had this to say about her “Most male drivers would have been bitching and complaining, but she drove more than 300 miles flat-out without a whimper.”

Lombardi is the only woman to receive Formula 1 championship points. The timeline of women in Formula 1 is sparse. Maria Teresa de Filippis in 1958 followed by Lella Lombardi in 1976 and then Desire Wilson in 1980. How long until another woman drives in Formula 1? Perhaps closer then we can hope, this season Tatiana Calderon became a development driver with Sauber and ultimately tested in an F1 car this year.

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