South African born Desire Wilson is one of the five women to take part in Formula 1 alongside Maria Teresa De Fillipis, Lella Lombardi, Divina Galica and Giovanna Amati, and is considered one of the most accomplished female drivers of all time. Today is her 66th birthday!
In attempting to qualify for the 1980 British Grand Prix at Brands Hatch in a year-old Williams FW07 she became the sport’s last-but-one female participant – only Italian Giovanna Amati has followed her into participating in a world championship event since.
But for the FISA/FOCA war of 1981 that led to her home Grand Prix in South Africa being taken from the Formula 1 calendar and held as a Formula Libre race (essentially a Grand Prix in all but name, and without the FISA associated teams of Alfa Romeo, Ferrari, Ligier and Renault), Wilson would have had a second opportunity of participating in a Formula 1 Grand Prix, in a race where she would indeed qualify in 16th before crashing out. (Carlos Reutemann won the race for Williams incidentally).
Wilson remains the only woman to win a race for Formula 1 cars when she triumphed in the 1980 Aurora British F1 championship – a non-Grand Prix series that featured many of the Cosworth-powered cars of previous Grand Prix seasons.
She also won both the Monza 1000km and the Silverstone 6 hours world championship for makes, becoming the first female to victorious in an FIA World Championship race.
Desire Wilson made three attempts to qualify for the Indy 500 in 82, 83 and 84 (achieving the fastest ever lap by a female driver – 191.042 mph) but failed to make the cut each time, although she did manage a top ten finish in the Indy Grand Prix of Cleveland in 1983.
She also tried her hand at sportscars, competing in Le Mans three times with a seventh in class in 1983 a best result, and took a class win in the Sebring 6 hours alongside Indycar winner Scott Pruett, before finally hanging up her helmet after a season in North American touring cars in 1997.
Happy birthday Desire!