‘First black Formula One driver…’

Posted on | Author Keith Collantine

Lewis Hamilton, Valencia, GP2, 2006Inevitably enough, no sooner has Lewis Hamilton’s name been linked with an imminent to switch to Formula One than the stories hailing the ‘first black Formula One driver’ have cropped up.

If anyone thinks that Hamilton’s ethnicity has anything to do with how he has gotten where he is, they have obviously never witnessed his prodigious speed. At the Nurburgring, Silverstone and Istanbul Park in GP2 this year he tore the field to shreds.

F1 anoraks will already have an inlking where I’m heading with this one: Hamilton is not the first black person to have driven a Formula One car. That unique place in F1 history belongs to American William Theodore Ribbs Jnr, better known as Willy T. Ribbs.

Lewis Hamilton, Hockenheimring, GP2, 2006He entered the Formula One history books in January 1986 when he tested for Brabham-BMW at Estoril, Portugal, back when the team was owned by Bernie Ecclestone. It did not lead to a full-time drive, which Hamilton is likely to claim at McLaren if not for next year, then very soon.

He went on to race in CART, NASCAR (after an earlier foray into the sport which ended in his sacking) and the Indy Racing League. Sadly during his first CART season in 1990 he was involved in an collision at the Vancouver street circuit in which a marshall was killed. He retired from motor sport in 2000.

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