May 6, 2015 / 12:30 AM / 4 years ago

Lombardi feat was mere footnote to tragic 1975 race

LONDON (Reuters) - The 1975 Spanish Grand Prix at Barcelona’s Montjuich circuit has gone down in Formula One history as a safety shambles after a deadly accident that might have been prevented.

It also entered the record books, almost as a footnote, for a unique result that remains unrivalled 40 years on as Formula One returns to Spain for Sunday’s race at the modern Circuit de Catalunya.

Finishing sixth, two laps behind McLaren winner Jochen Mass in a race stopped at one third distance with only half points awarded, was Italian Maria Grazia ‘Lella’ Lombardi in her March car.

Even if race reports focused more on her ability to keep out of harm’s way from the back of the field, it was the best ever result by a woman driver and made her the only one to finish in the points — in only her second race.

No other driver has scored only half a point in their entire F1 career.

Only eight cars finished the Spanish race, and there was little to celebrate.

A photographer, fireman and three spectators died when the high rear wing on Rolf Stommelen’s Lola Hill broke, sending the car over barriers with flying debris hitting bystanders. The German driver survived with broken bones.

The potential for tragedy had been flagged up before the start, with some drivers threatening a boycott when they turned up at the circuit to find hastily-assembled temporary barriers unbolted or tied together with thin wire.

The teams sent out their own mechanics to fix the problems as far as possible but even that was not enough for some drivers.

Defending world champion Emerson Fittipaldi declared the situation unacceptable and refused to race.

When told by then FIA president Jean-Marie Balestre that he would be banned from the following race in Monaco, the McLaren driver did one lap and retired.

Fittipaldi went on to race in Monaco but Lombardi, a butcher’s daughter from a village near Turin, was absent after failing to qualify — along with the likes of Jacques Laffite and Graham Hill.

Although she managed a seventh place in Germany that year — when only the top six earned points — and finished ahead of American Mario Andretti in 10th, the Italian left F1 in 1976. She died of cancer at the age of 48 in 1992.

Montjuich never again hosted a grand prix and Mass never won another either.

Reporting by Alan Baldwin, editing by Pritha Sarkar

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