De Filippis' career started when she was 22 and her brothers told her she wouldn't be fast enough to compete as a professional racing driver. She entered a Fiat 500 in a road race and won, proceeding from there to compete in various sports car, hillclimb and endurance racing as a factory driver for Maserati before getting her shot at the big leagues.
She failed to qualify on her first try at the 1958 Monaco Grand Prix, but came in tenth place in the Belgian Grand Prix at Spa the same year. De Filippis started a handful of other F1 races, but never managed to score any championship points. She retired from racing later that year after the death of her team owner Jean Behra, returning only to drive in historic racing events.
De Filippis was the first in only a handful of women to compete in F1. Her countryman Lella Lombardi competed from 1974-76, becoming the only woman to be ranked when she scored half a championship point in the 1975 Spanish Grand Prix by placing sixth before the race was tragically aborted. Several others – including Divina Galica, Desiré Wilson, and Giovanna Amati – also tried their hand at F1 racing, but none succeeded.
We've recently seen a number of female drivers testing in F1, but none thus far have been granted a race seat. Sarah Fisher tested for McLaren in 2002, Katherine Legge drove a Minardi in 2005, and Maria de Villota died behind the wheel of a Marussia in 2012. Last year Sauber signed Simona de Silvestro and Lotus signed Carmen Jorda as development drivers, and Susie Wolff retired after several seasons under contract with Williams.