BBC TopGear
BBC TopGear
Subscribe to Top Gear magazine
Sign up to our Top Gear Magazine
Formula One

Celebrating some of the fastest women in motorsport

In honour of International Women's Day, here are some drivers past and present who've taken an anvil to the glass ceiling...

Women in motorsport
  • Maria Teresa de Filippis

    Maria Teresa de Filippis

    The first woman ever to compete in Formula One, de Filippis raced in five grands prix in 1958 and 1959.

    Born in Naples, she began racing at the age of 22 after two of her brothers bet that she couldn’t drive fast. She could. De Filippis won her first race on the Amalfi coast in a Fiat 500, and made it all the way to F1.

    Speaking in 2006, she said: “The only time I was prevented from racing was at the French Grand Prix. The race director said: 'The only helmet a woman should wear is the one at the hairdresser's.' Apart from that I don't think I encountered any prejudice - only surprise at my success.”

    Advertisement - Page continues below
  • Lella Lombardi

    Lella Lombardi

    So far the only female driver to score points in Formula One, Lombardi finished sixth at the Spanish Grand Prix in 1975. The race was shortened from 75 to 29 laps after an accident that killed five spectators, meaning only half points were awarded. So Lombardi collected half a point for her exploits. 

    Starting her career as the delivery driver for the family business, the Italian – who died of cancer in 1992 – entered 17 F1 races, competing in 12. Lombardi's 'competitive spirit' set fire to a trail, lighting the way for other females to consider motorsport more broadly for job ops. Grazie mille, signora. 

  • Michele Mouton

    Michele Mouton

    The greatest female driver ever? Mouton won four rallies for Audi, and finished runner-up in the world championship in 1982 behind Walter Rohrl. She also won the Pikes Peak International Hill Climb in 1986, setting a course record in the process.

    “One of the best” in the eyes of Sir Stirling Moss and a “superwoman” according to Niki Lauda, Mouton began her career on the hills on the French Riviera in a Citroen 2CV at 14 years old, but didn't get into rallying until invited by a friend at 19. Watch her rise to success in the 2022 Emmy-winning doc, Queen of Speed.

    Advertisement - Page continues below
  • Desiré Wilson

    Desiré Wilson

    The South African started out driving midget cars, though is arguably the most accomplished and most unlucky female racer, having numerous qualification attempts ending in engine failure or other such technical issues.

    Another of the five women to have entered (although in this case not raced) in a grand prix, Wilson failed to qualify for the British GP in 1980. Wilson was more successful in the short-lived British Aurora F1 series, where she claimed the chequered flag at Brands Hatch. As a result, one of the circuit’s grandstands was named after her.

  • Jutta Kleinschmidt

    Jutta Kleinschmidt

    Universally viewed as one of the toughest motor races in the world, Jutta Kleinschmidt first took on the Dakar Rally challenge on two-wheels in 1988. In 2001, the German took victory in the car category in a Mitsubishi Pajero alongside co-driver Andreas Schulz, making history as the first woman to win the rally.

    "It’s unbelievable. The car was very solid but it was not the fastest. But we did not make any navigation mistakes and we did not make any driving mistakes," said Kleinschmidt after the race.

    She's since competed in the electric off-roading series Extreme E with fellow Dakar winner Nasser Al-Attiyah.

  • Sabine Schmitz

    Sabine Schmitz

    Anyone who’s watched TGTV over the years will be familiar with Sabine Schmitz. The ‘Queen of the Nurburgring’ completed tens of thousands of laps of the fabled German circuit during her lifetime, including that extraordinary 10:08 run in a Ford Transit van. Many more TGTV appearances ensued.

    Schmitz also won the hugely demanding 24 Hours of Nurburgring before the turn of the century. Twice. Sadly her life was cut short by cancer in 2021, and a corner of the circuit where she made her name was renamed in her honour. Rest in peace, Sabine.

    Celebrating the wonderful Sabine Schmitz

  • Sarah Fisher

    Sarah Fisher

    Fisher holds the record as the woman with the most starts in the Indianapolis 500 with nine, registering a best finish of 17th in 2009. Starting at a very young age - the daughter of a mechanic who also raced - Fisher set a fair few records for being the youngest participant, as she rose up through the ranks of her racing career.

    The Ohio-born driver made a total of 81 appearances in IndyCar, winning the ‘Most Popular Driver’ award three times running between 2001 and 2003. Her book - 99 Things Women Wish They knew Before Getting Behind The Wheel of Their Dream Job – was released in 2010.

    Advertisement - Page continues below
  • Danica Patrick

    Danica Patrick

    Patrick became the first (and so far only) woman to win an IndyCar race, taking the chequered flag at the Indy Japan 300 in 2008, just over five seconds ahead of runner-up Helio Castroneves.

    "It's a long time coming,” she said afterwards. “I knew I was on the same strategy as Helio and when I passed him for the lead, I couldn't believe it. This is fabulous."

    Patrick spent nearly all of her career in the States, claiming poles and podiums in both IndyCar and NASCAR. In 2009 she finished a career-best fifth in the overall standings in IndyCar, the same year in which she placed third at the Indy 500.

    Since retiring from racing she has turned her hand to broadcasting, and she gave her insight and expertise in Season 6 of Netflix's Drive to Survive.

  • Susie Wolff

    Susie Wolff

    Wolff drove in DTM for seven years and earned a testing and development role with Williams in 2012, later taking part in four GP weekends for the Grove outfit.

    During her time as a pro driver she beat the likes of Lewis Hamilton, Paul di Resta, Mika Hakkinen, Ralf Schumacher, Tom Kristensen and David Coulthard at various points in her career, hanging up her helmet for good in 2015.

    After a stint as team principal for the Venturi Formula E team, the longtime advocate for women in motorsport has now taken on the top job as the boss of all-female racing school F1 Academy, which sets out to nurture girls who want to race.

    Advertisement - Page continues below
  • Simona de Silvestro

    Simona de Silvestro

    Known as the Iron Maiden, Simona de Silvestro hails from Switzerland and spent some time on the books at Sauber as an ‘affiliated driver’ back in 2014. However, that ended because of a contractual disagreement between the team and her management.

    She then raced for for Andretti Autosport, finishing fourth in the Indy Grand Prix of Louisiana. She also featured for Andretti in the London finale of the inaugural Formula E championship, in 2020 raced with Porsche in the 2020 ADAC GT Masters and took the role as reserve driver for the TAG Heuer Porsche Formula E team for the 2022-23 season.

  • Jamie Chadwick

    Jamie Chadwick

    Jamie Chadwick began showing promise at the age of 11, later joining Aston Martin to race a V8 Vantage in which she ended up winning the 2015 British GT Championship. In her first year. This made Chadwick the youngest driver and first ever female to win the title.

    Her career has since gone from strength to strength, winning all three seasons of the (now defunct) and female-only W Series championship, making several Extreme E appearances (with one podium finish), and acting as a development driver for Williams in F1.

    In 2023 she made her debut in Indy NXT for Andretti Autosport (the single-seater support series that used to be called Indy Lights), with a best result of sixth. "It’s quite a brutal car," she explained to TG last year. "To drive it properly you have to wring its neck. You really have to just drive it to the absolute limit.”

    She's set to return to the series in 2024.

  • Tatiana Calderon

    Tatiana Calderon

    In 2022 Tatiana Calderon secured a drive in IndyCar with AJ Foyt Racing, with the deal making her the first female driver to land at least a part-time drive in the series for nine years. Sadly, her involvement was cut short because of sponsorship reasons.

    Before then Calderon had acted as a test driver for Alfa Romeo’s F1 outfit for four years, and she’s previously raced in GP3 (now known as Formula 3) and Formula 2. In 2020 and 2021, she competed in the 24 Hours of Le Mans in the LMP2 category alongside Sophia Floersch and Beitske Visser, placing 13th overall at the first time of asking.

    She's also raced LMP2 machinery in the European Le Mans Series, and is currently racing alongside Katherine Legge and Sheena Monk in the IMSA SportsCar Championship.

  • Pippa Mann

    Pippa Mann

    Having raced in Formula Renault 2.0 and 3.5, Mann made the switch to the Indy Lights series in 2009, winning her first race at the Kentucky Speedway the following season.

    The British driver is perhaps best known for her endeavours at the Indy 500, which she has contested eight times. A best result of 16th came in 2019, after qualifying in 30th place and famously booting out Fernando Alonso in the process. "We were hugging and crying down the pit lane like we had won the damn thing," she told TG last year. Have a read, it's a truly epic story.

    In 2021 she achieved an SP8 class victory at the Nurburgring 24 Hours alongside Celia Martin, Christina Nielsen and Carrie Schreiner, returning to the podium in the SP8T category the following year.

  • Molly Taylor

    Molly Taylor

    The inaugural Extreme E championship took place in 2021, and of the five races held that year Molly Taylor won three of them alongside Rosberg X Racing teammate Johan Kristoffersson, with the pair crowned champions that season.

    Taylor has made a number of appearances in the World Rally Championship and became Australian Rally Champion in 2016; the first female driver to win that title.

  • Doriane Pin

    Doriane Pin

    Let's not mince our words here, Doriane Pin is rapid. Crowned French karting champion in 2019, Pin graduated through the Renault Clio Cup series and GT3 Le Mans Cup a year later before making her big breakthrough in 2022: she signed up for a full Ferrari Challenge Europe campaign... and promptly won nine out of 14 races on her way to the title.

    A member of the groundbreaking Iron Dames squad, Pin completed a full season of WEC in the LMP2 class with Prema Racing in 2023, and was such a revelation that she won, you guessed it, 'Revelation of the Year' at the end of the season. Another full year of WEC in the LMGT3 category beckons in 2024, as does a first season in the F1 Academy having gained backing from Mercedes.

    Sure enough, she immediately grabbed pole at the first time of asking and subsequently took the chequered flag in the opening race of the season. One to watch...

More from Top Gear

See more on Formula One

Subscribe to the Top Gear Newsletter

Get all the latest news, reviews and exclusives, direct to your inbox.

By clicking subscribe, you agree to receive news, promotions and offers by email from Top Gear and BBC Studios. Your information will be used in accordance with our privacy policy.

BBC TopGear

Try BBC Top Gear Magazine