Hamilton, hope and making history: Willy T Ribbs’ pioneering F1 path

Trailblazing racer fought past discrimination with talent and panache and is now a diversity advocate for Formula One

Always outspoken, always entertaining, Willy T Ribbs has never pulled punches. On the eve of the Miami Grand Prix the groundbreaking, black American driver is typically effusive in his admiration for Lewis Hamilton, who he believes has fundamentally changed Formula One. “I knew before I met him he was the second coming,” he says. “You won’t see another driver who will achieve as much as Lewis Hamilton in 200 years.”

Ribbs is bold and confident, the 67-year-old speaking with authority and wit, a smile never far from his lips having earned his place in racing’s history the hard way. Ribbs was the first black driver to test an F1 car, doing so for Bernie Ecclestone’s Brabham team in 1986 at Estoril and the first African-American to qualify and then race at the Indy 500 in 1991.

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