Born Maria Grazia (Lella) Lombardi in Frugarolo, a village near Turin, her father was a butcher and the family didn't even own a car, but never the less, Lella started racing before she had her driving licence. She drove in Formula Monza and F3 with Lotus and Brabham cars, before winning the Italian Ford Mexico Championship in 1973.
In 1974 she was signed to race the Shellsport-Luxembourg Lola in F5000 and silenced her critics by finishing fourth in the final standings. She also tried to qualify for the British GP in an old Brabham but failed. However that winter she met Italian nobleman Count Vittorio Zanon and he paid for her to enter F1 in 1975 driving the ex-Vittorio Brambilla March 741 with sponsorship from Zanon's Lavazza Coffee company.
She qualified for the South African Grand Prix becoming the first woman to qualify for a Grand Prix since Maria Teresa de Filippis 17 years earlier. By the next race she had a new March 751. She the became the only woman to have registered a top six finish in a World Championship Grand Prix by taking half a point for sixth place in the prematurely terminated 1975 Spanish Grand Prix at Barcelona's Montjuich Park. She also did well to finish seventh in the German GP.
She joined Williams in 1976 but her hopes of continuing in F1 were dashed after the first race in Brazil when she was replaced by Ronnie Peterson. Ashort lived association with RAM Racing, driving another Brabham. was predictably fruitless.
Squeezed out of Formula 1, Lella continued her career, mainly in sports cars, through into the early eighties.
She enjoyed some excellent results in the Osella prototype with Giorgio Francia, the pair winning the Ignazio Giunti Trophy at Vallelunga in 1979, and the Ore di Mugello in 1981, a year which also saw them finish second in the Monza 1000 Km.
She sadly died of cancer on March 3, 1992 in Milan at the age of 48.